Developers eye new apartment complex on Robbins Road

Alex Doty • Feb 23, 2018 at 11:00 AM

GRAND HAVEN TWP. — A new apartment complex is in the planning stages on the south side of Robbins Road, just east of 172nd Avenue, but Grand Haven Township officials say the developer’s plans have changed since an initial review last year.

Developers are seeking approval for a new mixed-use planned unit development that would bring five apartment buildings totaling 132 units, 88 enclosed garages, a clubhouse and pool, and three self-storage buildings. 

Ben Robbins, one of the developers involved in the project, said the site is currently the headquarters for the Bill Tysman properties.

“We thought this was a better, more efficient use of the property in the long run,” Robbins said. “It brings affordable, market-rate housing to that area.”

Grand Haven Township officials note that developers have proposed a partnership with Gracious Grounds to establish a number of the apartment units that will be dedicated to people with disabilities, mobility issues, the elderly and other needs.

”We’re looking to develop market-rate apartments and be on the affordable end of the spectrum,” said Chad Bush, another person involved in the project.

Based on Monday’s presentation, developers say that rental rates are proposed to be in the range of $800 to $1,100 a month.

“If we can be 15-20 percent below market rate for 30-40 percent of the project — which is our target — it serves everyone,” Bush said.

Township officials say that the current plan for the project, which was presented to the township’s Planning Commission on Monday, differs from what was initially laid out during meetings between the township and developers in 2017.

“It became evident the initial representations provided by the developer will no longer be included in the planned unit development, which are affordable rental rates and fully accessible apartments with a universal design of the complex,” Township Community Development Director Stacey Fedewa said. “It is unfortunate these two attributes will no longer be part of the project to the extent anticipated.”

Fedewa noted that the proposed rental rates are not considered to be affordable per the local Neighborhood Housing Services program. According to the NHS, a one-bedroom apartment should be no more than $656 per month and a two-bedroom should be no more than $820 per month.

During Monday night’s meeting, Bush said he only quoted approximate numbers during last year’s meetings because of uncertainty in construction costs and how those might affect rental rates.

“It comes down to math,” he said. “We need to get our construction costs down.”

Robbins also addressed the issue of affordability and accessibility of the project.

“When we discuss affordability, we’re discussing market-rate affordability,” he said. “There are a lot of options out there that are not quite accessible to a lot of people.”

The project is required to develop as a planned unit development, which has a specific set of standards that have to be met. If those standards are met, developers can request departures from other sections of the township’s Zoning Ordinance, Fedewa said.

In order to be eligible to request departures, Fedewa said the township must receive a specific benefit in return, otherwise a planned unit development could be used to circumvent the zoning regulations.

“As of (Feb. 19), it appears the developer is going to rescind the initial representations, which will result in no benefits to the township,” Fedewa said. “In turn, that will result in no departures being granted — and without the departures, the site is going to require significant redesign.”

For example, the proposed apartment sizes begin at 730 square feet, while 884 square feet is required. Fedewa said the township could justify a departure request for smaller apartments if it meant the units were affordable.

“Without the affordability, or some other benefit, the minimum unit size will have to increase to at least 884 square feet,” she said.

Township officials also say it’s an unusual request to apply for a mixed-use PUD that includes multi-family residential and industrial storage.

The developer also owns the self-storage units on 172nd Avenue — a nonconforming use in the area — and Fedewa noted that it was anticipated based on early discussions that the units would be demolished or sold.

“Removing a nonconforming use in a highly visible corridor would be a direct benefit that would enable the township to approve the unusual request of a multi-family/industrial mixed-use development,” she said. “Unfortunately, it appears the developer is unwilling to relinquish the storage units on 172nd Avenue, which will result in the township being unable to grant a departure for additional storage in a residential development.”

Due to the differences in understanding on myriad issues surrounding the project, township officials asked the developers to take the feedback received during the Planning Commission meeting and revise their plans, and then resubmit them for review.

The project will then be subject to a review and public hearing at a future Planning Commission meeting.

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