Developers, neighbors build support for ‘Boston Square Together’ project COURTESY RENDERING

Developers, neighbors build support for ‘Boston Square Together’ project

BY Wednesday, July 22, 2020 01:15pm

GRAND RAPIDS — A proposed Community Partnership Agreement aims to build neighborhood support for a major redevelopment addressing housing equity on the city’s southeast side, though some local officials say the project is moving too quickly.

This week, city officials took multiple actions involving the roughly 7-acre Boston Square Together mixed-use proposal. Nonprofit developer Amplify GR needs 12 properties rezoned to make way for the project.

The proposed development has faced opposition from some in the neighborhood concerned about the lack of engagement with residents and the potential for gentrification.

The Community Partnership Agreement is the result of collaboration among four groups, explained Latesha Lipscomb, engagement and relationship manager at Amplify GR. The agreement combines the goals of Amplify GR, the city of Grand Rapids, the Boston Square Neighborhood Association and Oakdale Neighbors.

The agreement outlines objectives that community stakeholders wish to see in the development, including commitments to economic opportunity for business owners, rental affordability, opportunity for subsidized home ownership, as well as green space and community amenities including a community center and early learning center for children. 

“Boston Square is a very diverse neighborhood with multiple personalities and people with different lived experiences,” Lipscomb said. “What makes me confident is (the Community Partnership Agreement) was created for neighbors, by neighbors. When you give people an opportunity to pour into the process, you have to have complete faith in the process.”

Commission activity

This week city officials took multiple actions related to the development, including setting public hearings and votes on rezoning parcels as well as reviewing the partnership agreement.

The Boston Square Together plan includes up to 270 residential housing units with affordable rent prices ranging from 30-60 percent of area median income, mixed with approximately 30,000-square-feet of commercial space. 

Four family apartment buildings would be located along Kalamazoo Avenue and Evergreen Street, two apartment buildings for seniors will be built off of Fuller Avenue, and three buildings will be situated along Adams Street with market-rate townhome style units. The development would take place over stages in the coming years.

The Community Development Committee set an Aug. 11 rezoning public hearing. The city commission is scheduled to vote on Aug. 25 to rezone the 12 parcels, which is needed to redevelop the 7.11-acre site. The commission will also consider the Community Partnership Agreement on Aug. 25. 

The approval process schedule is meant to accommodate Amplify GR’s application for Low-Income Housing Tax Credits through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Applying for the tax credit is “certainly very competitive,” Jon Ippel, executive director of Amplify GR, told MiBiz. If they do not receive approval this year, they will keep applying, he added.

Commissioner Senita Lenear, who also sits on the Community Development Committee, expressed concerns that developers are rushing through the process of approving such a large development. The developers have known about the tax credit deadline, Lenear said, adding that she feels “rushed” given the number of questions she still has about the plan.

“This project has been one the community has paid a lot of attention to, and there are a lot of stakeholders that want to weigh in,” Lenear said.

Equitable opportunities

Rezoning the 12 parcels received the first stamp of approval on Jan. 9 from the Grand Rapids Planning Commission after a lengthy public hearing. Boston Square residents spoke about fears of gentrification and displacement in the historically disenfranchised area of the city.

“Right from the forefront, this process has been about creating more equitable opportunities and mitigating against the effects of displacement,” Ippel said.  

Amplify GR was founded with financial backing from the Doug and Maria DeVos Foundation, the Cheri DeVos Foundation and Rockford Construction Co. 

In the early stages of Amplify GR’s engaging the community about the development plans, it was “difficult at times to be a part of,” said Oakdale Neighbors Executive Director Kenneth Hoskins. He said he is now happy to be part of the process.

Hoskins stressed that allowing community members to have access to home ownership within the development is especially important going forward.

“I would not be involved if I thought the community wasn’t being heard, so I’m excited about that, but it’s a work in progress,” Hoskins said during the July 21 Grand Rapids Community Development Committee meeting. 

Amplify’s project partners include Northbrook, Ill.-based Brinshore Development LLC, Rockford Construction, Chicago-based architecture firm UrbanWorks Ltd., Grand Rapids-based Isaac V. Norris & Associates P.C., Kalamazoo- and Grand Rapids-based landscape architecture firm Viridis Design Group, Grand Rapids-based Integrated Architecture Inc. and Grand Rapids-based engineering firm Nederveld Inc.

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