After unseating the two-term incumbent in the November election, Holland Mayor Nathan Bocks got right to work after being sworn into office. Holland is in the midst of several large projects, including brainstorming the framework that will inform the development of its waterfront, increasing affordable housing in the region, considering an anti-discrimination ordinance and rewriting its zoning. All of these projects will move along in 2020, as Bocks and city officials also keep an eye on the economy.
Looking to 2020, what are your biggest priorities?
My priorities for 2020 are very similar to the three issues that we had in the campaign: housing, waterfront development, and looking at a nondiscrimination ordinance moving forward in the city. Those three things really tie together. We have the final report and update on the Waterfront Holland visioning process, so now we have a template for us when we’re looking at projects and ideas that are coming with waterfront development in Holland. In my mind, it’s not only just about developing the waterfront, but it’s making sure that we’ve got good public access, and that when we’re looking at projects that include housing, that we’re looking at making sure we’ve got an opportunity, as much as possible, to create housing at all price points.
What is the potential for development along the waterfront?
A lot of people are focused on the James DeYoung plant, but that’s really just one piece of the overall waterfront development. The Waterfront Holland project runs all the way from Kollen Park … over to Windmill Island. (The city is) looking at all of that waterfront and then the space around it and saying, ‘how do we make sure that in the decades to come, we’re creating a plan and putting forward projects and encouraging projects that create a unified waterfront?’
Through the planning process, and frankly because the city does own some of the parcels along the waterfront, the city has the ability to be able to influence the type of development that takes place there and say, ‘does it fit, does it not fit,’ and is able to put ordinances and policies in place to help encourage that kind of development.
What do you mean by that?
We were looking at the idea of creating an ordinance that required continuous public access all the way along the waterfront in Holland, so that any developer that put in a project, whether it was going to be a hotel or a restaurant or retail establishment, would reserve an easement along the water that allowed for public access.
What will get done on the waterfront in 2020?
I think we’re going to be making some small steps over the course of the next year to put foundations in place to make sure that we’ve got the ordinances and the policies that we need to be able to encourage the types of ideas that the community gave us in terms of what they want with waterfront development.
How will Holland’s work on affordable housing continue in 2020?
We’ve been looking at ways that the city can not only help developers through that process, but then the other thing that we’re looking at doing in the city is trying to create areas that increase density gently. The city’s starting to be very proactive in looking at its zoning ordinance and saying ‘how can we meet these desires and these needs in some of our neighborhoods, and do it in a way that does not negatively impact the current property owners?’ I would anticipate that over the course of the next year the Planning Commission is going to move forward with a recommendation on a Unified Development Ordinance and present that to council.
How might those potential housing policies affect the city?
It has the potential of impacting the city pretty dramatically, not only in terms of what kind of change it might make in a particular neighborhood, but also, realistically, how these rules will be and can be used down the line.
The other issue you mentioned is an anti-discrimination ordinance. Why is that a priority?
Eleven years ago, there was a proposal made to city council to add to the city’s current anti-discrimination ordinance protection for the LGBTQ community in the areas of both housing and employment. There was a vote, and it was voted down five-four. For the last eight years, there’s been a discussion about it. The makeup of the council has changed in a way that it is very likely that if a similar ordinance with similar language came back before the council, that it would likely pass at this point.
What other issues are you keeping an eye on in 2020?
The economy is definitely something that we’re keeping a close eye on. We have been in that period of growth for quite a long time and we would be foolish to think that that would continue forever. So then the question is, how do we make sure that we, as a city, are in the best financial position that we can be in, knowing full well that there’s likely to be an economic downturn that comes at some point in the future? City staff have already been making plans for that and saying ‘let’s make sure that we are as lean as we can be and as it makes sense to be, and that we are making sure that if and when this happens — and it’s likely a ‘when,’ not an ‘if’ — that we can be as prepared as possible for it.’
What are you looking forward to taking on in 2020?
I’ve been mayor for all of 28 days. So I think I’ve got a handle on most of what’s going on and what’s coming down the line. It has been a whirlwind month getting up to speed. The council itself has been phenomenal. We’ve got nine great people sitting around the table. It’s a great combination of sage wisdom sitting at the table, we’ve got some people who’ve been around for a little while with some newer ideas, and we’ve got three brand new folks. That’s been working really well. We’ve got a stellar city staff as well. I was lucky enough to know a lot of the city staff before I took on the job as mayor, but I have now had the pleasure of working with them very closely over the course of the last month. We could not have better people doing the job for the people of Holland.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Kollen Park.