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Proposed Heritage Hill apartment complex faces scrutiny

GRAND RAPIDS — A developer’s proposal to build between 83 and 89 apartments on one of the Heritage Hill neighborhood’s few vacant sites may well move forward, but not without scrutiny from neighbors.

Executives from development and contracting firm Orion Construction Inc. met last night with neighborhood residents to discuss their proposed apartment development at 50 College Ave. SE, formerly the site of the Social Security Administration office.

Neighbors in attendance at the meeting — many of whom live next door in a condominium tower at 30 College Ave. — were generally supportive of some of development occurring at the site. However, they laid out three points of opposition to the proposed project, which would also include more than 90 surface parking spaces spread over two different parcels.

Orion Construction executive John Wheeler told residents the firm would work to address their concerns.

Going into the meeting Wheeler told residents the firm planned to seek a rezoning of the site to medium-density residential (MDR) as soon as next week. However, after hearing concerns from neighbors, the firm decided to move that request back, at least until next month, which Wheeler said he’s fine with.

“We’re not in a big rush,” Wheeler said. “We want everyone to be happy. We’re going to walk before we run.”

Specific concerns by neighbors, laid out in a nearly seven-page document and read at the meeting, included an over-abundance of one-bedroom units, too much surface parking with a lack of green space, and not enough regard for the impact the development could have on the existing neighborhood.

However, the neighbors also expressed support for the project, as it returns the site to its historically residential use.

“This development would be the largest residential development added to Heritage Hill or this immediate area in generations and it would impact both significantly,” neighbors said in the statement. “Thus, it deserves close scrutiny, especially by immediate residential neighbors who will have to live close by for decades to come.”

In a follow-up email exchange on Thursday evening with MiBiz, Wheeler pointed to the development firm’s recent work in other neighborhoods such as Belknap and Eastown where it has resolved neighbors' objections to get projects off the ground.

“(W)e always work with the neighbors,” Wheeler said in an email. “That is our reputation.”

Grand Rapids-based Concept Design Group PC is serving as lead architect on the project.