Grand Rapids

Planning Staff Report

(1:00 p.m.) Zoning Ordinance Text Amendments


Department:Planning StaffSponsors:
Category:Public Hearing

Content A


City of Grand Rapids

(Planning Department)


Consideration of text amendments to the Zoning Ordinance (Chapter 61 of the City Code).


These amendments are meant to correct minor errors in the updated Zoning Ordinance that went into effect on April 22, 2017, and to modify the requirements for the sale of alcohol for off-premises consumption. Amendments to implement the Housing NOW! recommendations, put forth by the City’s Housing Advisory Committee, are also proposed, including: use modifications pertaining to accessory dwelling units, attached-single family, two-family and multi-family residential uses; dimensional adjustments including lot width, lot area and building width requirements; and the addition of a density bonus for low income housing developments.


5.12.10.              Zoning Ordinance Text and Map Amendments

Staff Assigned:

Kristin Turkelson 

Type of Case:

Zoning Ordinance Text Amendments

Effective Date:

City Commission approval


Content C

The proposed Zoning Ordinance text amendments are a result of three separate issues:

1.      The Housing NOW! Initiative

2.      Changes to state liquor license requirements (for the sale of alcohol for off-premises consumption), and

3.      Interpretation issues resulting from the 2017 Zoning Ordinance rewrite.





The City of Grand Rapids has been discussing and studying affordable housing since 2015. This began with the Great Housing Strategies, a community planning initiative consisting of three City Commissioners and over 200 residents. This group represented non-profit and for-profit housing developers, lenders, neighbors, education institutions, local philanthropy and government officials.


Participants gathered to recommend goals and actions for equitable housing needs. The primary concern was the lack of affordable housing. The group found this was due to increased rent and new developments displacing neighbors.


Residents formed work groups and presented their strategies to City Commission. The City Commission adopted the recommended eight goals and 35 actions in December, 2015.


In 2016, the Mayor appointed the Housing Advisory Committee (HAC) to implement the Great Housing Strategies recommendations. The Committee, chaired by First Ward City Commissioner Jon O’Conner, consisted of three City Commissioners, more than 30 residents and stakeholders and several City staff. The Committee's goals were to provide recommendations for funding to grow an affordable housing fund, ways to allocate funding for significant impact where affordable housing is needed, housing policies for better outcomes, prioritize the Great Housing Strategies goal implementation and changes to State and Federal policy for positive impact on Grand Rapids Housing.


The Committee met seven times beginning in October 2016 and ending with its recommendations to the City Commission on May 1, 2017. The City Commission reviewed the recommendations and directed staff to develop ordinance and policy language to put into place the Committee’s recommendations. The ordinances and policies that were drafted to advance the recommendations from the HAC is now known as the Housing Now! package.


The Housing Now! package includes:

1.       Proposed ordinance amendment to reduce PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) fees

2.       Proposed policy amendment to provide homeownership incentives

3.       Proposed ordinance to provide incentives for small-scale development

4.       Proposed policy amendment to provide incentives for affordable housing in the NEZ tool

5.       Proposed policy to encourage voluntary development agreements for affordable housing

6.       Proposed ordinance to provide incentives for increased density

7.       Proposed policy to provide requirements for affordable housing whenever the City is a partner in an affordable housing project

8.       Proposed ordinance to permit accessory dwelling units by right

9.       Proposed ordinance to permit non-condo, zero-lot-line housing

10.    Proposed ordinance to regulate rental applications

11.    Proposed policy to establish the Affordable Housing and Preservation Fund


Of the eleven recommendations, the City Commission directed recommendations 3, 6, 8 and 9 to the Planning Commission for further discussion and implementation. The implementation strategy is to amend the Zoning Ordinance with regulations that would achieve the stated recommendation.


Community Engagement

Prior to the public hearing on proposed zoning text changes, Planning Staff facilitated a number of community engagements sessions.


On October 23, 2017 and November 2, 2017 staff hosted two input sessions on the HAC recommendations and gained a better understanding of the important issues surrounding these topics. In general, several concerned were raised about the effects of increased density (parking, noise and overcrowding) and the City’s capacity to adequately enforce these complaints. Concerns were also expressed about the lack of citizen/neighborhood involvement in the HAC process.


On November 6, 2017 planning staff hosted a housing developer meeting, including for-profit and non-profit housing developers, to review the proposed HAC recommendations. Included in that meeting were professional architects and planners that routinely do work within the City of Grand Rapids.


On January 8, 9 and 10, 2018 staff hosted three community meetings so to provide an opportunity for the community to learn about the proposed zoning text changes that would be considered by the Planning Commission at the January 25th public hearing. The meetings were intentionally staggered over three days, one in each ward, at various times of the day. Many of the same concerns were raised by the attendees as at the fall meetings. Staff encouraged those individuals to share the concerns with the Planning Commissions at the public hearing.


Summary of proposed changes

The proposed ordinance amendments are presented as separate packets so to ensure clarity on what changes are being recommended for each of the HAC recommendation. Since the proposed amendments operate independently of each other, this approach should make it easier if the Planning Commission choses to recommend some, but not all of the proposed amendments.


A cover memo for each recommendation has been developed. The cover memo includes a summary of the proposed amendments for each HAC recommendation.



As a result of changes to the State’s liquor license laws, the City has seen several requests to allow the sale of beer and wine for off-premises consumption at existing gas stations. The issue has raised significant concern from several neighborhood associations. As a result, the City Commission asked the Planning Department to define a new regulatory approach regarding the sales of alcohol for off-premises consumption.


Attached is a memo prepared by the Planning Director for the City Commissions that clearly explains the recommended approach that was used to develop the proposed ordinance amendment.



In 2017 the City of Grand Rapids adopted a rewrite of the 2008 Zoning Ordinance. Since that time, planning staff has identified a number of items that need clarification or modification for ease of interpretation and enforcement. The proposed changes are shown in the red-line version of the attached ordinance.

One of the most significant “miscellaneous change” affected some parts of the MCN-C and MON-C zone districts. During the discussion of the HAC recommendations, the City Commission also suggested that the Planning Commission consider an amendment that would allow for a more permissive review process for proposed uses along 28th Street, Plainfield Avenue and Alpine Avenue. The goal of this concept is to encourage redevelopment of these areas of the City. After giving some considerable thought as to how such an amendment could be structured, planning staff created an amendment applicable to parcels within the MCN-C and MON-C districts. Within those districts, and when the parcel had frontage on or access from 28th Street, Plainfield Avenue and Lake Michigan Drive, land uses currently identified as Special Land Uses would be considered permitted uses. The exception to this is that any uses involving the sale of alcohol for on-premises and off-premises consumption remains the same as is currently required. It should be noted that Lake Michigan Drive was substituted in lieu of Alpine Avenue because there are not any parcels zoned MCN-C or MON-C along Alpine Avenue.


An alternative approach is to identify which uses within the MCN-C and MON-C districts may be changed from a Special Land Use to a Permitted Use.