Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Backyard Chickens in the city?

If you are one of the people in Grand Rapids who has been dying for the city commission to allow the city to move further along with the Slow Food movement and allow residents to keep chickens, this month might hold out hope for you.

On Tuesday, February 10, city leaders passed several amendments to a proposed ordinance, modifying the circumstances under which home owners could keep chickens on their property. Among these, they lowered the lot size required to keep 4 chickens from 5,000 square feet to 3,800 square feet which would allow more residents to keep chickens. Commissioners discussed among themselves a provision requiring neighbor consent. If a neighbor sharing a lot line objects to the chickens during the 21-day period after a permit is filled out, no chickens would be allowed.

There was disagreement between the commissioners about whether to allow chickens on duplex properties, but this passed 4-3. Multi-family buildings like apartment complexes will not be allowed to keep chickens. The commission also specified that chickens not be housed within 50 feet of any backyard catch basin, to ensure that any chicken waste would not spread into the water system. Roosters, of course, will not be allowed.

The number of chickens to be allowed per property is still undecided. Commissioners will meet again and vote on this ordinance on February 24. If passed, the two-year trial run would begin May 1, 2015.

It's well known that there are already chickens on many properties throughout the city, and not just on properties that can accommodate the provision that chickens must be housed no closer than 100 feet from any other dwelling, dwelling unit, spring, stream, drainage ditch, or drain. In neighborhoods largely populated by immigrants, they are particularly present - but illegally. Some families have tried keeping chickens semi-secretly but neighbors complained and they were cited and fined.

The passing of this proposed ordinance would allow residents who wish to follow local law to keep chickens and not violate their consciences. Many of these families already have gardens within the city, and are willing to put the time and the money into modifying their landscapes to make them more suitable for chickens, whether that means adding a chicken house, a small pond, or fencing off part of their yard to make room. They believe strongly that adding chickens would strengthen community and be a learning experience for their children and neighbors about where real food originates.

Frankly, given the city's reputation for food innovation, this is long overdue. It's time to make that dream a reality in Grand Rapids.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Housing developers bank on continued growth of downtown Grand Rapids

Last fall Forbes ranked Grand Rapids/Wyoming area the fifth fastest growing economy in the United States based on data gathered from Bureau of Economic Analysis study, and more recently The Brookings Institution rated the Grand Rapids economy 69th in the world for growth. Employment levels and GDP are up, and the continuing development happening within the city would seem to back this up.

A significant part of the recent development involves creating spaces for the knowledge workers moving to the city as a result of increased demand from the area’s manufacturing, healthcare, research, and educational sectors - specifically spaces for them to live.

While the trend during the mid-20th century was for successful people to move away from cities and out to the suburbs, the reverse is true now. Many Millennials are choosing to live a car-free lifestyle, and that can only be done downtown and only when the right amenities are available, which means that they have to be within walking or public transit distance of work, grocery stores, retail outlets, farmer’s markets, restaurants, museums, entertainment and sports venues, and schools. There have to be doctors, dentists, clinics, pharmacies, and hospitals nearby. And in this moment in Grand Rapids, that is possible, particularly downtown.
This is why there is so much interest in building new apartments, condos, and townhouses and revitalizing buildings that have sat empty for years. Demand is back.

On the north side of the city, 616 Development is planning to build a mixed-use space of apartments and retail on the Creston Corridor. Not far from there Franklin Partners is looking to develop the Display Pack building, an old furniture factory. The 375,000 square foot complex on Monroe could be transformed into 200 loft apartments - or possibly be used for office space. A little further towards downtown on Monroe, Orion Real Estate Solutions has tentative plans for a high-rise residential building on the riverfront, and the Belknap Lookout Brownstones development will offer high end condos and apartments across the highway from the Medical Mile, within easy walking distance for healthcare workers and their families.

Near Grand Valley’s downtown campus, Rockford Construction has plans to build two 5-story buildings housing 91 market rate apartments on the south side of W. Fulton St. This housing is to accommodate Grand Valley’s surging enrollment. And right downtown, a multi-story residential tower expansion of the B.O.B. will be moving forward after several previous postponements.

For those tempted to experience the downtown lifestyle in up-and-coming Grand Rapids, now is the time to explore the multiplying options.