Dairy Treat project heads for approval amid dispute

Alexander Sinn • Mar 9, 2019 at 8:00 AM

A local development project mired in neighborhood controversy heads to the Grand Haven Planning Commission for approval Tuesday. 

The proposed new building on the Dairy Treat site, 218 S. Harbor Drive, entails two stories featuring four condo units above a new Dairy Treat ice cream shop on the ground floor. 

Rick Grasman lives next door to to the property at 212 S. Harbor Drive — a building he recently developed that features office space in addition to his residence. He sent a letter to the Downtown Development Authority and met with city officials to say the Dairy Treat development does not belong in the neighborhood. Grasman took to social media in February, calling it a “sad day” if the development goes through. 

A year ago, a cordial collaboration was in the works. 

According to both parties, Grasman and Dairy Treat developer John Groothuis of Capstone Real Estate met in early 2018 as the Dairy Treat owner was pursuing development. While both parties sought a “win-win” solution, communication broke down along the way. 

“It was a respectable plan,” Grasman said. “It had greenspace. It had open space. It wasn’t obtrusive.” 

A rendering released in February painted a different picture. 

Grasman said he abandoned the project because there was disagreement over the appraisal of the Dairy Treat property, and said the project didn’t appear feasible. Groothuis said Grasman backed out of the agreement because he thought the property couldn’t be developed. 

“That was not in his interest at the time to work on a win-win situation,” Groothuis said. “(Grasman) thought only one side should win, and that’s why we are where we are today.” 

What started as an amenable compromise had become what Grasman called a “catastrophe.” He says the development was poorly planned, and should be set back farther back from Harbor Drive to maintain the character of the neighborhood. 

“A conscientious developer walks a fine line between maximizing developer profits and yet integrating a product and design that is beneficial to — and adds value to — the neighborhood and the community,” Grasman wrote to the DDA. “I believe that the building, as currently planned, would not fit in well with the rest of the neighborhood, either aesthetically or functionally.”

Grasman said other residents have joined him in opposing the project. The construction process could cause road closures, he said, and while his own building’s windows would not lose views of the waterfront, he said the neighborhood would suffer. He acknowledged the proposal likely fits the zoning criteria for the district. 

“There’s a level of Planning Commission responsibility that has to be invoked,” Grasman said. “There’s too much potential for trouble here.” 

Groothuis said the 60-year-old Dairy Treat building has myriad issues — it is not handicap accessible, lacks air conditioning and heating, and is prone to flooding. 

Revised plans for the project were submitted to the city on March 4. Setback adjustments reduced the square footage of the two-bedroom, two-bath condos by as much as 200 square feet, to 1,500-1,600 square feet, Groothuis said. The Dairy Treat, which will be accompanied by a parking garage below the living units, will be about 600 square feet, he said. The roof line of the building was also altered in the revised plan, he added. 

Grand Haven Community Development Director Jennifer Howland said the residential-above-retail model being proposed is permitted in the zoning district. The Planning Commission has the authority to greenlight the development on Tuesday, after which developers will need to acquire building permits.

The development is not for specialized use, Howland said, and thus does not require a public hearing. Public comment will be gathered at the beginning of the meeting, which begins at 7:30 p.m. at Grand Haven City Hall.

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