Developers plan more than 800 housing units at former Walker golf courses

BY Sunday, June 06, 2021 04:25pm

WALKER — Two former golf courses in the city of Walker are poised to be redeveloped into large-scale housing projects with a combined total of 757 rental units and 67 single-family homes.

The projects at the former Lincoln Country Club and English Hills Country Club would also boost the Grand Rapids area’s increasingly in-demand housing stock.


“There continues to be an increasing demand for not just single-family, but multifamily developments as well,” said Walker Mayor Gary Carey. “There are demographics that don’t necessarily want to own a home at this point in time, and it’s not always that they aren’t able to, so it’s important to have those choices in our community.”

Multifamily housing can also be an attractive option for course owners looking to sell as maintaining a course becomes less economically viable, while also providing a template to reimagine large greenspaces. 

“We have to reimagine how our land is currently being utilized by the city,” Carey said. “It’s not just our golf courses, which are huge financial drains on our owners, but it’s also the large shopping complexes. I’d also like to see some of these big concrete jungles and parking lots not being used for anything. Why would we not find a way to reimagine those to something more purposeful?”

The metropolitan area’s housing supply is tight as the region continues to grow, noted Matt Jones, associate vice president at Colliers International’s West Michigan office. 

“All of the low-hanging fruit is already being developed, so people have to naturally get creative when they think about where and what they develop into housing out of necessity,” Jones said.

English Hills

The former English Hills Country Club located north of I-96 between M-37 and Bristol Avenue NW has been eyed for redevelopment in the past, and was rezoned to high-density residential in 2003 for a multifamily project that never came to fruition. The golf course reopened after that, but closed down again in 2020.

Illinois-based Redhawk Multifamily LLC is planning a 552-unit apartment complex on the property that would include one-, two- and three-bedroom units. The development is set to take up about 30 percent of the 142-acre site, which also includes property adjacent to the golf course at 1470 Four Mile Road NW.

The Walker City Commission approved preliminary site plans and is expected to soon sign off on the project, said Mark Avis, managing member of Redhawk Multifamily. Redhawk’s acquisition of the property is dependent on the approval from the city.

“The development process was great. It was one of my first projects with no opposition from staff, planning commission or council and pretty much no negative feedback from the public,” Avis said. “We did a lot of outreach with the neighbors and worked with staff ahead of time to take into account a lot of questions and concerns.”

Average unit size will be 1,000 square feet with price points expected to range from $1,400 to $1,500 a month.

Redhawk also plans to donate the southeast portion of the property to the city of Walker to expand English Hills Park. 

“It’s a great amenity for our residents, yet we could definitely use more land, and with the growth that’s taking place there, this will be able to allow for more people to use amenities there,” Carey said.

Redhawk is also planning to keep most of the existing trees at the golf course by constructing housing units on former fairways.

“They’re keeping the green space Walker is known for but addressing the needs of the market for multifamily homes,” Carey said. “We’re excited about that, adding another neighborhood to our community.”

Lincoln Country Club

The rezoning and redevelopment of Lincoln Country Club has been more challenging for developers, in part because of the COVID-19 pandemic’s effect on in-person city meetings and notifying the public about the project.

Illinois-based Stoneleigh Companies LLC plans to build 67 single-family home lots and 214 single-story rental units on the former golf course located at 3485 Lake Michigan Drive NW. 

The approval process was paused following city staff concerns about accessibility and public safety, but the planning commission is expected to approve the plan this month with the city commission following suit in July, said Stoneleigh CEO Rick Cavenaugh.

“The revision was more driven by the city commission’s comments as it related to their master plan, so we shuffled the site around a little but did not change the main concept of the development,” Cavenaugh said.

The final connection points into the development have been moved slightly from where they were initially planned to address public safety concerns, Carey said. 

“I give the developer a ton of credit. They’ve bent over backwards and made the needed changes to make this a workable solution for us,” Carey said. 

A Stoneleigh Companies affiliate struck an arm’s length deal with AMF Bowling Centers Inc. in October 2019 to buy the property and closed on the acquisition in January 2021. The golf course was losing about $200,000 a year, Cavenaugh said, and is now closed permanently. The bowling alley on the site also closed permanently last year because of the pandemic.

However, the site plan received an outpouring of negative feedback from some surrounding residents at city meetings, with most comments expressing concern about increased traffic and the potential loss of green space.

“There is a unique dynamic: We know we need more housing, and people in the city know and want that too, but not necessarily in their backyards,” Carey said. “There is a fine balance of what makes sense. We’ve taken the approach with our industrial development of full speed ahead, but with these developments it’s a more controlled growth.” 

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