By Rob Peterson
Vicksburg’s parking requirements will require the Mill development to pave portions of a wetlands area developers have hoped to save, a consultant told the village Planning Commission. Developers are asking the village to consider reducing the requirements.
Commission members asked for more information from the consulting firm, Grand Rapids-based Progressive AE. The commission’s review was requested by the developer, Paper City Development.
Developers of the Mill said paved parking to meet the current ordinance would need as much as nine acres, which would require paving over portions of the wetlands. They considered a parking structure, but said it’s not workable due to the cost, the high water table and the historic designation of the property.
Consultants said reduced requirements for paved parking are consistent with modern best practices in zoning – and would be sufficient because of the mixed-use nature of the development. People who visit the brewery are likely to also visit the museum, for example. The ordinance calls for providing enough parking for each use independently.
The goal, according to consultant Suzanne Schulz, is to make a place for people, not cars. “It’s a Goldilocks scenario: Too much parking actually makes it feel empty and unappealing,” she said. “Too few parking spaces and you deter visitors from coming.”
The consultants illustrated their concerns over the current parking ordinance by comparing required parking in Vicksburg to requirements for a similar project in Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo and the Village of Middleville, southeast of Grand Rapids. Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo were chosen because of their experience with mixed-use developments. Middleville was chosen because it is closest in size to Vicksburg.
For example, the Mill would require more than 1,200 parking spaces under the current Vicksburg parking ordinance. In Middleville, this number would be 1,406, but that village allows up to a 50 percent reduction in parking spaces for a mixed-use development. The city of Kalamazoo would typically require 1,755 spaces, but it does not have a parking requirement in the downtown area, which is the part of town with the most development activity. In Grand Rapids, the required parking could be as low as 303, as its requirements for each use are lower and allow for up to a 50 percent reduction in parking for mixed-use projects.
Vicksburg’s Planning Commission, charged with making recommendations to the Village Council on any changes to the zoning ordinance, requested that the consultants provide estimated attendance numbers at the Mill.
Commissioner Chris Newman asked how attendance would vary by days of the week, adding that he was especially interested in how the planned museum would affect the parking needs. The consultants agreed to provide these numbers, saying that programming for the project is still being developed. The goal of the community comparison was to begin a conversation about how Vicksburg fared in relation to other places; specific numbers will be provided in the future.
The parking study reviewed a similar-size project in Grand Rapids to see how the complementary uses impacted the parking lot. American Seating Park is an 11-acre mixed-use project that houses several uses: the headquarters of American Seating; rented office space; 89 apartments; and New Vintage Place, an event center. The total square footage of all uses there is 355,207 square feet. The Mill at Vicksburg totals 419,000 square feet.
The total number of parking spaces at American Seating Park is 619. The consultants studied the development over several days when events were happening at New Vintage Place. The events on those days were around 100 attendees each. According to the study, the parking lot maintained a consistent occupancy of 75 percent from morning through evening, leaving 151 parking spaces open throughout the day. The consultants presented this as evidence that the Mill will not require the full 1,200 parking spaces that the current zoning code requires.
The Mill project is in a zoning designation called a Planned Unit Development (PUD), which allows the village to create special zoning requirements specific to the property. A PUD is generally used when a developer has a mix of uses for a property that don’t fit into the typical residential, commercial, or industrial zones.
If the Village agrees that the Mill can be served by fewer parking spaces, it could revise the PUD. Landscape architect Mark Robinson, another consultant present at the Planning Commission meeting, believes this is a time “to not do something just for the Mill. Something that benefits the Mill should benefit the community, which is why we are taking our time and making sure that this [potential change to the zoning code] works for everyone.” Village Manager Jim Mallery noted that most of Vicksburg’s parking requirements date back to 1976 and updating them is considered a best practice.
The consultants will now work with Paper City Development to study the expected attendance numbers at the Mill and calculate the expected parking needs. They will then return to the Planning Commission with more information and their recommendations later this year.
Other Planning Commission Action
The Planning Commission also heard a request from owners of a home at 210 N Michigan Avenue planning an expansion of their living area and the addition of a two-car attached garage. Due to the location of the home on the property, they could not attach a two-car garage without building within 8.5 feet of the side lot line. A 10-foot setback is required. The owners also requested relief from the maximum allowed ratio of building to lot size. After conducting a survey, it was found that their plans would cover 21 percent of the lot, where only 20 percent coverage is allowed.
Village Planner Bobby Durkee recommended approval of both requests, the side setback because there is no other way to attach a two-car garage to the structure within the required 10’; and the lot coverage area due to the fact that the property fronts Mill Pond. Waterfront property is notorious for being difficult to survey, as the waterline can move from year to year. The neighboring property owners were informed of the request by the village, but none appeared at the meeting to offer objections. The Commission recommended village council approval of both requests.