Commission action supports additional housing in business districts

Published on January 27, 2021

A draft/rendering of a typical commercial/residential area.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Action taken by the Grand Rapids City Commission is expected to give a boost to the future development of much needed housing stock.

On Tuesday, the Commission unanimously approved a zoning text amendment that will allow ground-floor residential units in buildings located in business districts. In addition, the amendment will allow four-story buildings by eliminating the bonus height structure but does not increase the allowed height within the district. The amendment results in a 50 percent increase in floor area eligible for residential use city-wide.

Planning Director Kristin Turkelson says the approved amendments come as the city experiences a significant shortage in affordable housing, housing supply and COVID-related impacts which have further strained an already challenging retail market. The policy changes provide greater flexibility in ground-floor use requirements giving building owners a chance to convert vacant or underutilized ground-floor space intended for businesses into residential space.

“The impact of the public health crisis has exacerbated an already challenged commercial market,” Turkelson said, “and, although the demand for commercial space has lessened, the amount of available space has not changed. Additionally, the need for housing units, generally, and affordable units, specifically, is well documented. These changes were necessary and critical to the continued vitality of our neighborhood business areas.”

The City of Grand Rapids is experiencing a significant shortage of affordable housing and housing supply. The 2020 Housing Needs Assessment found a need for 5,340 additional rental units by 2025 and a need for more than 3,548 additional homes for sale. In its report, Housing Next emphasized the relationship between inadequate housing supply and the increasing lack of affordability. It stressed that all new housing supply will not be affordable, but that unnecessary restrictions on new supply will continue to push prices upward and increase the likely displacement of residents who can no longer afford housing.

“Vibrant business districts are critical in creating a livable city and strong local economy,” Mayor Rosalynn Bliss said. “Great neighborhoods and vital business districts go hand-in-hand. Permitting first floor residential will support reinvestment in our traditional business corridors while creating much needed additional housing in our city.”

The Housing Next Needs & Opportunities Report highlighted several options to create additional housing at all price points. Allowing for residential use on the ground floor within commercial or mixed-use zone districts was one of the recommendations. The zoning text amendments also align with objectives listed in the City’s strategic plan.

Turkelson said that over the past several years, the Planning Department worked closely with building owners, investors and developers and became keenly aware of their interests and how they are affected by the community’s needs, market conditions and code requirements. This was the impetus for the strategic zoning adjustments. 

Under the new zoning text amendments:

  • Ground floor residential is permitted in Traditional Business Areas and Commercial zone districts.
  • Office use is permitted in Traditional Business Areas when located at rear of building and when fronting on secondary/side streets. Special Land Use approval is still needed when the office fronts a primary street.
  • Building heights of four stories are now permitted in Traditional Business Areas without a height bonus. Building height allowances were not changed in Commercial zone districts.

The zoning amendments take effect March 1. For more information, please contact the Planning Department at 616.456.4100 or check out this PowerPoint presentation. Building owners, who might consider converting their ground floor space into residential, should consult with an architect to fully understand the building code implications.


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