This article is from Mlive.com
More bars, restaurants and grocery and drug stores topped the list of what Grand Rapids residents said they want to see as the future of Michigan Street NE is mapped out.
City planners held a community forum Wednesday as part of an 18-month study of what they’re calling the Michigan Street Corridor, a four-mile stretch of the road running from the Grand River to East Beltline Avenue NE, which includes some of the city’s biggest and best-known institutions.
The study area is home to about 20,000 residents, and 50,000 people work or attend school in a 50-acre area that includes the Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital campus, Van Andel Research Institute, Grand Rapids Community College and Grand Valley State University, among others.
“That’s not Michigan Street,” remarked Jayne Johns, a resident of the Belknap Lookout neighborhood while looking at displayed photos of what leaders in other cities like Portland, Maine, have done with what consultants say are similar neighborhoods. Johns hopes the plan city officials want to develop over the next year and a half will address issues arising from development near her neighborhood, which she said have been both a blessing and a curse.
“Medical Mile has increased the number of students coming and going and some are great, but with others we feel like we’ve had to play mommy and daddy and tell them where the trash goes,” Johns said. “We also have more people who work at Spectrum in our neighborhood and that’s a plus because they stick around and care about the neighborhood.”
Reaching a workable compromise — encouraging development while maintaining strong neighborhoods — is the study’s main goal, city Planning Director Suzanne Schulz said.
Noting the area has seen $1 billion in development during the past decade, Schulz conceded study results likely won’t please everyone but will at least give her office direct input from residents as she and her staff plan for the future, especially atop Michigan Street hill.
“We want the next billion dollars of development to be on that hill, but how do you do that without disrupting the neighborhoods?” Schulz asked. “Every building that goes up causes a domino effect so we only get one chance to do it right the first time.”
Schulz described the study as a proactive measure to help the city provide needed infrastructure to support development and strong neighborhoods. There are no plans waiting in the wings prompting the study, she said.
The only done deal for now stems from a $1.6 million federal grant the city has to improve the intersection at Michigan and College Avenue NE, which has long been a rush-hour choke point for motorists trying to use the on-ramp to the Gerald R. Ford Freeway (I-196). Belknap neighborhood resident Gretchen Warnimont said she was intrigued by a proposal for a roundabout at the intersection but questioned whether it would work.
Schulz said while the idea has been proposed and has proven effective in other locations, the 30,000 vehicles per day traveling through the intersection might create a continuous flow of traffic, making it difficult for pedestrians to cross the streets.
Virginia VanderVeen, 35, a former Heritage Hill resident who still attends college in the area, said she woudld like to see a streetscape concept making the area more attractive. She said a group of residents she sat with to brainstorm ideas also discussed the roundabout and locating Rapid bus stations along the street.
“The streets aren’t really walkable along Michigan Street,” she said. “It’s not a pleasant place to be.”
Others said they favored safe biking lanes. Still others said they want to see more diverse housing options, something they feel would encourage more people to live in the area rather than commute from the suburbs.
Laurie Volk, one of four consultants, estimated 4,660 households would consider buying a new residential unit in the study area, which could absorb 435 new residential units a year.
Schulz said officials expect to hold at least two more as-yet unscheduled forums on the study. Results from Wednesday’s forum should be posted on the city’s website, www.grcity.us, in about a week.