Too many houses?

Marie Havenga • Feb 16, 2018 at 2:00 PM

Development can bring a lot of positives to a community, but Spring Lake Township Supervisor John Nash said he's concerned that some current and planned residential additions could bring more than 1,000 new homes to the township.

“The big concerns to me are all the developments,” he said. “We're talking about Arcadia, Stillwater on VanWagoner, the country club is talking about another one, and somebody is talking about one at M-104 and 148th. There's also the David Bos project out by the county park.”

Arcadia is near Spring Lake High School on 148th Avenue. Eighty-seven condos are proposed for Spring Lake Country Club property east of the club and north of State Road. Developers who once were thinking commercial use for the southwest corner of M-104 and 148th Avenue are now talking residential. David Bos plans to construct a huge neighborhood adjacent to North Ottawa Dunes County Park.

“In 2003 and 2004, people were building like crazy,” Nash said. “You put all these things together and there are potentially three times as many houses being built as in the highest time. It scares me for two reasons — No. 1, can the schools handle it? The other big concern is the sewer pipe.”

The sewer line that runs underneath the Grand River from Tanglefoot Park in Spring Lake to the other side of the river in Grand Haven carries waste from Spring Lake Township, the Village of Spring Lake and the City of Ferrysburg. The line is four decades old and scheduled to be replaced; but, in the meantime, it could be a ticking time bomb. It will cost the North Bank communities about $7 million. Funding will likely come from bonds.

“I think we're getting too many houses,” Nash said. “I've told the developers, 'If I were you, I would very seriously look at the numbers.' I think the thing with David Bos by the park, that's 600 houses. Arcadia is just under 200. That's 800. Add the three little ones at 80 a piece — 240. That's almost 1,000 houses. That could be 20 percent of the existing homes we have right now.”

Nash also said he's concerned about developer experience, and that some developers could start a project and walk away.

“If you look at Arcadia, three-quarters of the year you drive by, there's standing water,” he said. “That's the first problem. The second problem, take a quick gander at where the fire hydrants are — they're at face level. Does that tell you anything about how high that's going to be (with fill dirt)?”

Nash said he hears all the talk about the need for affordable housing, but he said it's almost impossible to attain.

“There's no such thing as affordable housing in Spring Lake Township,” he said. “You can't build an affordable house when you're paying what you pay for the lots — only if you make a 20-story apartment complex, maybe. All these houses are $300,000 to $800,000.”

Nash said the tax base gained from additional housing isn't as great as people think.

“The bottom line is, what do we get, 2 mills?” he said. “It isn't going to affect us. It costs us money in the long run because of the infrastructure. The people who are going to win are the schools.”

But Nash said additional tax money for the schools may not be enough to offset the downside.

The Spring Lake school district currently has about 450 school-of-choice students, which is less than 20 percent of total enrollment.

“By law, we can't kick school-of-choice kids out once we let them in,” Nash said. “Unless all these people (in the new homes) are empty-nesters, we're going to have all these kids. Where are they going to go?”

The David Bos and VanWagoner developments are in the Grand Haven school district and the rest are in the Spring Lake district, so any influx of students due to the new development would be split between the districts.

Spring Lake Public Schools Superintendent Dennis Furton said it's a nice problem to have.

“I think the impact on us is going to be proportionately similar to what they will be having in Grand Haven,” he said. “I wouldn't say I'm concerned about the development happening within our school district. I'm interested in how that affects our future enrollment.”

Furton said it's been five years since the district has undergone an in-depth future enrollment projection study.

“It's definitely time for us to enlist the help of an expert and have them look at housing starts, birth rates and project five, 10 (and more) years down the road, which we will have to do in the near future,” he said.

Furton said Spring Lake Public Schools buildings were built to accommodate 2,500 students, which is the approximate current count.

“We like our size, we like being 2,500 kids,” the superintendent said. “We think it provides us the right level of personalization and the right climate for the community we serve. We don't embrace the notion that we would grow to 3,000 or more students. That's counter to the history that we've had.”

Furton said the district has some flexibility regarding enrollment numbers.

“If we see resident enrollment increasing, we would look to take fewer school-of-choice students,” he said.

School-of-choice students primarily enter at the kindergarten level. Students who move into new housing often enter the district at higher grade levels, and that can make for a lot of moving targets in enrollment numbers.

Although once enrolled, school-of-choice students are allowed to continue in the district through graduation. The district does have flexibility in how many new school-of-choice students it allows in each year.

“It's not necessarily a linear process,” Furton said.

Despite all that, Furton said he welcomes new development.

“I think there are some great opportunities for Spring Lake Public Schools and for Spring Lake Township,” he said. “We'll embrace them and work through them.”

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