HOLLAND — City officials are in the final stages of what has been a three-year process to overhaul Holland’s zoning codes into a model that encourages housing density while balancing neighborhood concerns.
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The Holland City Council unanimously approved the Unified Development Ordinance, or UDO, for first reading at its July 7 meeting. Officials expect further public discussion on a few changes before the ordinance is set to be formally adopted at the council’s July 21 meeting.
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While zoning codes may seem esoteric, Holland officials made it a point to make the new regulations user friendly — with graphics and flow charts — for both homeowners and developers.
“This is a very cutting-edge document, and it’s full of best practices that communities strive for, but don’t necessarily know how to implement,” said Holland Senior Planner Jenna Elswick. “This will be a national template that communities bigger and smaller (than Holland) can emulate.”
The UDO stems from Holland’s 2017 master plan. The ordinance uses a mix of conventional zoning and form-based code — meant to encourage specific development outcomes — to permit mixed uses where appropriate, additional capacity for residential uses, and creative reuses of property.
“That makes for a really unique UDO that is really looking at things very holistically so we can be intentional and focused on context-sensitive zoning and planning,” Elswick said.
Despite the goals, some Holland residents at public meetings have raised concerns specifically related to residential districts. Critics say the new ordinance could reduce the number of single-family homes and negatively affect the character of existing residential neighborhoods.
Fear of change
City leaders say the concerns are based on misinformation.
“I’m very pleased with the process, even though there has been some friction in the community throughout this process,” said Mayor Nathan Bocks. “This is the way these things work. It’s been a three-year, very deliberative process with public input throughout.”
Elswick said the need for the zoning changes is multifaceted, but is centered on the need for more mixed-use developments and additional housing through the city.
“We didn’t want to discriminate in different areas of the city. We wanted to look at how each area and every zone district could potentially allow for more housing and ways that would be appropriate,” Elswick said.
As part of this process, city officials looked at ways to allow for more density in the low-density and traditional neighborhood residential districts. According to city officials, 171 properties in the traditional neighborhood residential zones currently allow for duplexes. However, no property owners in the past 18 years have sought permission to add multifamily units, Elswick said.
The UDO proposes to slightly expand the number of properties that could expand with duplexes if they choose.
“We went from 7 percent of (traditional neighborhood residential) properties being eligible to 10 percent of properties being eligible. That is where the planning commission landed,” Elswick said. “Still, people were fearful that every single house would then convert their home to a duplex. Based on the trend, that would not be the case. But that has been the fear.”
Similarly, only six properties in low-density residential neighborhoods have constructed detached dwelling units in the past six years.
Still, the proposed traditional neighborhood and low-density changes have drawn opposition from some in the community, which Bocks said will be considered before a final policy is adopted this month.
“I’m happy with how this has worked,” Bocks said of the process. “This is going to be a fantastic landmark bit of legislation for the city of Holland that is going to help guide the growth and progress and develop the city for the next generation.”
Opportunity for growth
The proposed UDO also seeks to increase the housing stock in commercial areas of the city that would be renamed as “corridor mixed use.”
“I have two projects we’re working on right now (in a commercial district) that will benefit by being allowed to develop mixed use and provide housing on a second and third floor where we couldn’t do that before,” said Scott Geerlings, president of Zeeland-based Midwest Construction Group Inc.
In the city’s existing C-2 commercial district, developers can build two residential units per lot, but the UDO would allow for unlimited residential density if there is ground-floor commercial and the development meets other height and setback requirements, Elswick said.
In light industrial areas, the UDO would allow for companies to turn outlots of their property into workforce housing. This could potentially benefit companies or employees looking for walkable living situations next to their job, Elswick said.
“This wouldn’t be appropriate next to a higher industrial use, but certainly a lighter industrial property,” Elswick said. “This would allow for some higher density multifamily in residential outlots. We imagine some cool industrial lofts. We’ll see how it works.”
Geerlings also said the UDO could help redevelop some blighted areas around downtown into housing.
“Downtown could use more housing because the housing supply is light and there is some vacant land out there I know is being talked about where you could get 20-30 units,” Geerlings said. “There is a need for housing of all types right now.”