Planning Commission recommends denial of commercial rezoning

BIG RAPIDS TWP. — Big Rapids Township residents championed for maintaining their rural community at the planning commission meeting Tuesday evening.

The Big Rapids Township Planning Commission voted to recommend the denial of the request to rezone two parcels of land from residential to commercial for the construction of multi-family housing.

The commission held a public hearing to offer the applicants for the land and the public a chance to make their case for why the land should or should not be rezoned.

The request to rezone and purchase the parcels in question, a stretch of land between South State Street and 205th Avenue, came from Rick Lyons with Lyons Investment Properties Management LLC.

Speaking on Lyons’ behalf, Kevin Huss, an attorney with Andrews Scheuerle & Huss, PLLC, said Lyons has a successful track record of managing multi-family housing properties.

Huss explained the purpose of the request is to build multi-family housing for students or other residents in the community who want to live in that type of facility.

Attorney Kevin Huss spoke on behalf of Rick Lyons at the Tuesday evening Big Rapids Township Planning Commission meeting about the request to have two parcels of land rezoned from residential to commercial. Many township residents voiced their concern about the rezoning and the possible negative impact on the rural community. (Pioneer photo/Taylor Fussman)

He added as the proposal currently stands, the development would have the possibility of holding as many as 197 units of mixed styles.

Huss also explained how the property management company planned on maintaining the integrity of the community if their request was granted, such as keeping noise levels down with an on-site security company.

“This type of development, if approved, is attracting a student that is looking for a quiet, clean, new place to live,” Huss said

Upon hearing the specifics of the request to rezone the land, several Big Rapids Township residents voiced their concerns about the project, mainly wanting to preserve the rural environment, being concerned about unsafe or congested roads near the development and whether there is actually a need for more student housing.

Mary Luchies, a Big Rapids resident who lives next to the land being considered for rezoning, explained she went to the Tuesday meeting with the intention of speaking on behalf of several community members who wanted to understand the reasoning behind the request to rezone the residential parcel to commercial.

“We’re not here to pick a fight, we’re not anti-student, we’re not anti-development,” Luchies said, explaining their main concern is maintaining the rural character of the area.

This was a sentiment shared by many at the meeting who voiced their belief having a primarily student housing development could not only take away from the family-oriented environment, but also could hurt the wildlife in the area by altering their habitat.

Another major concern from the public was whether more housing was needed to accommodate students from Ferris State University (FSU).

Ryan Werner, a resident, provided information to the planning commission gathered from the FSU 2017-2018 Fact Book, the FSU 2018-2019 budget proposal, campus security and several off-campus student apartments in Big Rapids. According to Werner, this information revealed a decline in enrollment at FSU in past years, indicating there is not a need for new student housing.

Although Huss acknowledged they have not gathered the data on whether or not there is a market in Big Rapids to support more student housing, he said they think there is the need at this time and the development will not over-saturate the market for student housing.

After hearing the request from Lyons and Huss and the public hearing portion of the meeting, and before moving to vote, the commissioners voiced concern about controlling urban sprawl.

“I think specifically we have a requirement to maintain the rural base and the comfortable lifestyles of the township residents,” said Planning Commissioner Carmen Bean. “I think it does not promote commercial land and industrial centers and growth while avoiding the unnecessary sprawl into rural township locations.”

The request to rezone this parcel of land from residential to commercial, along with the recommendation for denial from the Planning Commission, will go before the Big Rapids Township Board of Trustees at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, July 3, at Big Rapids Township Hall, 14212 Northland Dr., Big Rapids.

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