A public hearing will be held at 9:00 am on Thursday, December 7th in the Antrim County Board of Commissionerâ€™s meeting room.
At this hearing, the public will have the opportunity to express opinions on a proposed 30-year tax break requested by Grand Rapids developers who want to build 138 apartment suites. If this plan is approved, these apartments will be built on a 19-acre parcel located at 6612 Bellaire Highway, on the site of the former gravel pit.Â
The Commissioners plan to vote on this tax break after the December 7th public hearing. The development plan and 30-year tax break have already been approved by the Village of Bellaire, Forest Home Township, and most recently at a meeting of the Antrim County Brownfield Redevelopment Authority.
At the most recent Brownfield Authority and County meetings, residents expressed concerns, mainly over the budget implications of such a project. There were also concerns about how the villageâ€™s character would change. Additionally, issues were brought up about the developerâ€™s past history.
What are Details of the Project?
The 1983 Company will construct 50 townhomes for rent, which will include a total of 138 suites. Each townhome will have one-, two-, or three-bedroom suites, each with a full bath. Four one-bedroom homes will be designed for people with physical disabilities. If approved, modular construction will allow the townhomes to be constructed offsite during the winter months and shipped to Bellaire in the spring, with occupancy planned for late spring/early summer 2024.
Bellaire Lofts will be targeted towards individuals and families earning up to 120% of Antrimâ€™s Area Median Income of $60,378. Rents will range from $825 for a one-bedroom suite to $2,400 for a three-bedroom townhome.
While the monthly rents are comparable to other local rents, the developers say that the cost of new construction will not permit rents at these rates without a housing construction subsidy. â€Without incentives, the project will not be constructed,â€ they stated. â€œRents would need to average about $400 more per person to cover construction debt, operations, and maintenance. This puts rent costs well above what many area working people could afford to pay.â€
In addition to the 30-year tax break, the developers are also receiving a grant from the Michigan Department Housing Authority for environmental assessment, site preparation, and brownfield planning.
How Will the Tax Break Work?
Right now, the parcel in question only generates property taxes on the undeveloped portion. When the property is improved, property taxes would normally increase to reflect the new value.
Instead, the developers are asking for the property taxes to remain at the current amount paid for the undeveloped land. This would mean that $7.8 million in property taxes would be forgiven over the next 30 years. â€œThere will be no cost to local government, since they arenâ€™t collecting taxes now on the improved portion,â€ claimed Susan Wenzlick, consultant for the developer.
However, several residents pointed out that the increase in population will generate more activity for the government units, who are already strapped. In fact, the voters in Bellaire recently turned down a millage for the Village Police Department.
â€œThe $68,258 that the developer will pay back to the township, village and county is not nearly enough to cover the services these people will use,â€ one resident countered.
Citizens pointed out that since there will be more than one person in many of the suites, this project could increase Bellaireâ€™s population by as much as 30%. The new residents will wear down our roads. They will use the ambulance, police and fire departments, and much more.
â€œWho will end up paying for this increased use of government services?â€ a resident asked the board. â€œSince the developer wonâ€™t pay taxes on the improved property, that will leave it up to the rest of the citizens to pick up the slack.â€
The fairness of forgiving taxes was also discussed. There are landlords in the area such as Jason Green in Mancelona, who have fixed up dozens of old buildings to create rental housing for the area.
â€œPeople like Jason have lived here long term, and have greatly improved many buildings in the area,â€ claimed one resident. â€œThese other landlords all pay very high non-homestead taxes on all of their rentals. How fair is it that a Grand Rapids developer pays no taxes, while competing with local landlords like Jason?â€
Most importantly, the developerâ€™s questionable history was brought to the attention of the Brownfield Authority. There have been articles about a recent bankruptcy, and many lawsuits and complaints about past business practices.
â€œAt least nine other lawsuits filed against Coppess and affiliated entities reinforce the same theme: Individuals made investments, were kept in the dark about where their money actually went, and were not paid back in the end,â€ according to one newspaper article written in 2020. â€œSeveral of the lawsuits allege Coppess was deceptive; others accuse him of falsifying documents to swindle potential investors into putting money into projects that never came to fruition.â€
Coppess told members of the Brownfield Authority that despite what was said in the newspaper, he ended up not filing bankruptcy, and said that he has made good on all his debts.
Is there a Housing Need in Antrim County?
A 2023 study by Housing North estimates that â€œAntrim County currently has a need of over 300 more rental units.â€ The long-term rental vacancy rate for rentals in Antrim County is currently 0%.
Ironically, Antrim County also has the highest percentage of vacant housing units in Housing Northâ€™s 10-county region. 42.8% of housing units in Antrim County are vacant, representing seasonal occupancy, short-term rentals, and abandoned housing units.
This study also showed that more than 36% of renters are housing cost burdened, which means that their rent exceeds 30% of their income. More than 14% of renters are severely cost burdened and pay more than 50% of their income for housing.
Housing remains a challenge across the state. In September, the Michigan State Housing Development Authority board approved a brownfield incentives program to create and preserve rental and homeownership projects statewide.
If you can’t attend the meeting, you can email the Commissioners. Here is a list of their email addresses.Â
For more information, see the developerâ€™s plan.
There is also a presentation you can watch at 1:54 during the October 5th Board of Commissioner meeting.