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Zoning & Planning Services - Development Guide
The city has five zoning districts. Three single-family residential districts surround the central commercial district which includes a large planned unit development (PUD) area. Some areas near the commercial zone also allow multi-family residences along with single family uses. Each zone has different requirements for lot area, lot width, and building setbacks. You can view your property location on the Zoning districts map and learn more by reading our Residential Zoning Quick Guide. You can also view a sample building permit application with drainage plan. To review our zoning ordinances in full, please read EGR's City Code and Ordinances.
The zoning administrator reviews all building construction or remodeling plans and enforces city ordinances regarding fences, signs, dumpsters, and temporary storage units. The zoning administrator processes applications for zoning variances, appeals, land divisions, and site-plan reviews, and acts as the staff liaison to the Planning Commission, the City Commission, and the Zoning Board of Appeals.
The sections below provide a quick guide to the different steps in the building permit or site plan approval process. Some permit or construction categories may require additional fees as set on Page 2 of the City's Fee Schedule. If you have any questions about what you need to submit or complete for your project, please contact the zoning administrator at 616-940-4817.
Step 1 - Conceptual Site Plan Review
For all project types, the City offers conceptual site plan review opportunities prior to the permit submission or pre-application conference (where applicable). This conceptual site plan review aims to help identify potential issues as early in the process as possible and avoid unnecessary delays during the formal review process. This review also helps to identify what permits or requirements might apply to your project. At any point prior to the submission of a site plan review application, you can request a meeting with our Zoning Administrator to discuss your project. There is no cost for this service. While a final plan is not necessary for a conceptual site plan review, it is strongly recommended to have the following information. This will allow the Zoning Administrator to provide more meaningful feedback and guidance.
- Project location.
- Existing land use and zoning.
- Intended development (residential, office, retail, commercial, etc.)
- Preliminary sketches (hand-drawn are acceptable).
- Surrounding land uses.
- Any other additional project information available.
Step 2 - Site Plan Review
All development projects in the City require some form of site plan review. Simple residential projects, such as a single-family home or a duplex, or a building addition, may only require a review from the zoning administrator for approval. Larger projects as defined in Section 5.84 of the zoning ordinance may require site plan review and approval from the Planning Commission and City Commission. These include all commercial uses, residential uses with more than two dwelling units, development involving a special land use, and private recreation areas. Article X of the zoning ordinance lists all the requirements for this process. In addition, you should also familiarize yourself with our Residential and Commercial zoning requirements, depending on the scope of your project.
If your project involves a use or development type listed in Section 5.84 of the zoning ordinance, a Zoning Review Application needs to be filed noting the type of review being sought. Please be ready to provide all of the materials indicated in the application. Depending on the scope of your project, two levels of review may be available. Administrative review is available for minor additions or modifications to a previously approved site plan. Section 5.84B of the City’s zoning ordinance provides a list of site plan review uses that can be approved administratively. For new projects and major additions or modifications to an existing plan, site plan review requires Commission Review before a site plan is approved.
Step 3 - Additional Zoning Review (if necessary)Some projects may require additional approvals and review before moving to the site plan approval or building permit phase. If required, any additional approvals need to be granted before a site plan can be approved. The following subsections describe when these might be necessary and the approval process for each.
Zoning VariancesIf a project you are planning does not meet zoning requirements, you may apply for a variance, or exception from the rules. Historically, variances have been granted only when there are unique circumstances or practical difficulties regarding the property or structures. Variances are not granted solely as a means to avoid compliance with the city's regulations. A public hearing before the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) is required for all variance requests.
The time period from variance application to public hearing is usually six to eight weeks. The following is a general guide for what to expect when seeking a variance.
- A zoning variance application must be submitted along with the non-refundable application fee, a site plan showing all required information, and a brief narrative explaining the request and how it meets the required variance approval criteria.
- City staff will review the application and schedule a date for a public hearing for the request.
- At least 15 days prior to the public hearing, City staff will advertise the public hearing in the press and send notices to all residents within 300’ of the request.
- At the public hearing, the ZBA will hear the request. The applicants will be required to attend to speak on their request. Public comment will also be held to get the views of interested residents.
- After hearing the request, the ZBA will vote to either Approve the request, Approve the request with Conditions, Deny the request, or Table for further information or consideration.
- Approved variances are valid for two years. Variances not acted upon after that time automatically become null and void.
Special Land Use
Special land uses are generally consistent with the purpose of the zoning district in which they are permitted but, due to unique operational characteristics, may not be desirable or compatible in all locations. Therefore, special land uses require city approval following a review of the use and its potential impact on its surroundings. Some specific uses are also subject to additional standards and requirements to mitigate their potential negative impacts.To receive a Special Use Permit, applicants should first review the Schedule of Uses for Residential and Commercial zones to determine if the use is allowable. If so, a Zoning Review Application should be submitted with all required site plans and relevant information. Once received, the City will review the application and schedule a public hearing before the Planning Commission. To allow for staff review and public notification, a minimum of 30 days should be allowed between submission and the public hearing. Once all required materials have been submitted, the request will be heard at a public hearing by the Planning Commission. After hearing the request, the Planning Commission will vote to approve, approve with conditions, or deny the request.
For more information, please see Article XI of the City Zoning Ordinance.
Rezoning requests are an option to change which zoning district a property is located in. Before considering this action, please be aware that rezoning requests are generally reserved for situations where the existing zoning is no longer compatible with current development in the area, or for an area that is recommended for rezoning or change in land use in the current City Master Plan. If you have questions on if your request meets this standard, we recommend speaking to our zoning administrator at 616-940-4817 to determine if this process is right for you.
For all rezoning requests, a Zoning Review Application is required along with information about your request, including any maps, drawings, and other documentation that help explain the reasoning for the request. All rezoning requests are first heard by the Planning Commission, who will ultimately provide a recommendation to the City Commission for approval, approval with conditions, or denial. Public hearings before both the Planning Commission and City Commission are required as part of this process. The standards listed in Section 5.108B of the zoning ordinance define the standards that are used to evaluate rezoning requests.
Step 4 - Site Plan Approval
Once all of the above requirements are met, a site plan can be approved by one of two methods, depending on the review type.
Administrative ApprovalIn these cases, City staff will review your plans and, if it meets all applicable requirements, will issue their approval of the plan.
Planning Commission ApprovalThis generally begins with a pre-application conference with City Staff and consultants. This meeting allows the City to learn more about the project, provide feedback about the proposed site plan, and identify any issues that need to be resolved prior to public hearings or final approval. Once the plan has been revised based on this feedback, the site plan will be introduced to the Planning Commission for their review and feedback. From here, a public hearing will be scheduled with the Planning Commission for final approval. To help summarize this timeline, this table outlines the different steps in the Commission Review process.
Once a site plan is approved through the appropriate process, a building permit may applied for to begin construction.
Step 5 - Building PermitMost new construction in the City requires the submission of a building permit. Our Building Permit Application lists the types of projects that require a permit. In addition, our Residential Zoning Quick Guide provides a quick guide to the most common zoning regulations and questions that would apply to most projects. Depending on the scope of your project, additional permits, such as for temporary rubbish containers, temporary storage units, and work in the City right-of-way, may be required. If your project creates an overall increase in impervious area on your lot, a drainage plan and additional stormwater management treatments may also be necessary. Our building permit package discusses this in more detail.
There are two levels of review for all building permits. When you submit a permit to East Grand Rapids, your project is first reviewed for zoning compliance. In addition, some projects, such as new homes, new accessory structures, home additions, and demolition work may require the payment of an infrastructure impact fee. Once the zoning review is completed and any necessary impact fees are paid, the application is reviewed by Cascade Township Building Inspections. They will review your project for building code compliance. Cascade Township may also require additional permits and fees for their review. Once their review is completed, a building permit will be issued for your project.
There are some projects that may not require a building permit. However, these projects may still have zoning restrictions for setbacks and lot coverage that need to be followed. These include the following:
- Single-story accessory buildings under 200 s.f. in area
- Fences (however, a Fence Permit needs to be completed for such use)
- Retaining walls under 4’ height
- Prefabricated pools that are less than 24” deep.
Land Divisions (Lot Splits)
Land divisions, including lot line adjustments, require the approval of the City Commission following a public hearing. Each resulting parcel and the buildings on it must meet the requirements of the zoning district where it is located. The ordinance sets standards requiring the results to be compatible and harmonious with the surrounding area. View or download the land division application.
The Kent County Treasurer's office now requires a tax payment certification before a local municipality can approve a land division or property line adjustment. This approved certification must be submitted with your land division application. A copy of this Land Division Tax Payment Certification Form can be found here.
Other Zoning and Planning Services
The Zoning Department also administers the following:
- Fence permits
- Fence Variance Application
- Multi-family rental unit certification
- Side yard air conditioner unit (or other mechanical appurtenance) permits
- Sidewalk cafes and other right-of-way encroachment permits
- Sign permits, sign variance applications, and sign ordinance violations
- Temporary dumpster registration information and enforcement
- Temporary storage unit registration information and enforcement
The Zoning Administrator serves as the staff liaison to the City Commission and the Planning Commission, assisting in the processing of zoning review applications for special use permits, site plan reviews, rezoning, planned unit developments, and condominium projects. The Zoning Administrator also serves as the staff liaison to the Zoning Board of Appeals regarding all variance requests. The City's Master Plan was adopted in 2018 and serves as a guide to the commissions in evaluating and reviewing these applications. Copies of the Master Plan are available for review or purchase at the Public Works Administration office.
For more information, or questions about these functions, contact the zoning administrator at 616-940-4817.