Imagine Kalamazoo 2025 sets the stage for plan, zone and build Kalamazoo

Over the past 18 months the City of Kalamazoo has been checking in with residents and business people across the community to find out what kind of city they want to live in. 

Through the Imagine Kalamazoo 2025 process, city planners collected ideas from surveys, at neighborhood gatherings, myriad meetings, and online — for a total of 3,802 points of contact in the community. All the information that would become the basis for a new Master Plan.

As the introduction to the draft Master Plan says: “Meetings were held throughout the City at community-wide events and in neighborhoods. The City partnered with neighborhood leaders, local businesses, nonprofits, religious institutions, and residents to spread the word about Imagine Kalamazoo 2025 events. 

“Outreach tools were wide-ranging: City staff knocked on doors, left flyers in Little Free Libraries, published notes in neighborhood newsletters, and engaged through social media. All meetings were open to the community’s input on any topic at any time. Volunteers (including Spanish translators and sign language interpreters), maps, sample photographs, markers, and plenty of notepads and sticky notes made providing input easier.”

Initial ideas and discussion led to a strategic vision with a number of themes. Next, to shape goals, planners asked the community about specific desires for the identified themes. Goals led to designs, each time checking with the neighborhoods most directly affected by the developing plans. Each phase of Imagine Kalamazoo 2025 focused the input, leading to more detailed information, and the development of specific actions. The result is that the plans developed out of Imagine Kalamazoo 2025 all relate to one another.

Once adopted, the Master Plan will not only be used as a guide for development across the community it also will be used as the City Commission sets budget priorities and will be considered in Foundation For Excellence funding of aspirational projects. It will guide the work of all City departments and staff.

Checking out the plan

About 200 people turned out Sept. 12 to the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts to see a draft of the plan that has emerged. Before and after a formal presentation of the draft Master Plan, the public was encouraged to stop at one of four tables to learn more about the plans and offer input. The topics Great Neighborhoods, Downtown Life, Connected City and the Master Plan itself each had a table where people could offer input and find out more about the plans going forward. 

At the tables there were mini surveys with questions such as: Using the numbers 1 to 5 with 1 being the highest priority, rank the following projects: Neighborhood Public Art; 50/50 shared cost sidewalk replacement and repair; 50/50 shared cost tree replacement; neighborhood business incentives; neighborhood gateway projects. Or: building facade improvements, pop-up parks, public art, new wayfinding (directional) signs and downtown branding, creative crosswalks.

Overheard at the Great Neighborhoods table: “What if you don’t think any of these are a priority?” The facilitator suggested giving low rankings to the suggestions on the square piece of paper being collected at the four tables.

At the table dedicated to Downtown Life people left many comments including one encouraging more variety in public art and “not the same old artists.”

Comments at the Connected City table left on sticky notes pressed to the map there expressed concern that areas designated for Neighborhood Edge development could create problems for some neighborhoods and asked that they be removed.

At the same table Director of Planning and Development Rebekah Kik answered questions about what needed to be done to improve the ways traffic moves through the city. One possibility might be taking back certain streets that are currently maintained by Michigan Department of Transportation, streets that were given to the state in the 1980s when the city could not afford to maintain them. Without local control, many of the improvements the city would like to see that would calm traffic — planters, trees, bus shelters — may not be possible. 

Then it was time to gather in the KIA ballroom to see the plan all in one piece.

Mayor Bobby Hopewell, buoyed by the turnout for the presentation and the 3,500 voices that went into the plan, offered a call to action that encouraged those at the meeting to stay involved. “Support the process. We are not going to agree on everything, there is no perfect plan, but we have people doing good work and they are learning more about what you want every day. To get from point A to B is going to take time, effort, and energy. This is just the beginning. There’s lots and lots of work to do.’

He also likened the Master Plan to an artistic masterpiece to which the colors and designs still are being added. “We all are the artists creating this tapestry that will never be completed. Every single day we will be recreating Imagine Kalamazoo 2025.”

City Planner Christina Anderson told the gathering some of the highlights of the proposed master, first describing where the changes came from.

“What we heard,” Anderson said, “was that we have an abundance of zoning that is not in the right spot. We are getting more rezoning and variance requests. We want the right type of zoning that meets the needs of our urban development goals.”

Anderson said that based on the community’s requests there were seven criteria for development plans in neighborhoods: Ability to meet daily needs, access to parks and open space, access to transit and bicycle networks, multiple housing opportunities, neighborhood schools, walkability, access to food — including fresh food and vegetables.

During the Imagine Kalamazoo 2025 process, residents asked that neighborhoods be complete within themselves. They wanted walkable, mixed-use areas, places where they could walk to the store for a lightbulb or to get milk. In response, the city master plan has what planners are calling Neighborhood Nodes. They can include housing, retail, restaurant, and office uses, but at a smaller scale than those in a Commercial Node.

Two more new zoning designations proposed in the draft plan are the Neighborhood Edge and Urban Edge. They are intended to be flexible and allow for a mix of medium-scale uses in areas serving as transitions along more intense downtown, commercial, or industrial development.

An Urban Edge is often located on high-capacity transit corridors or at the intersection of transportation corridors. A flexible range of uses are permitted, including light industrial maker spaces, commercial, office, and medium to high-density residential. Development is intended to attract customers from multiple neighborhoods in the city, and may include specialty retail that attracts regional customers. 

The Neighborhood Edge is designed to serve the immediate neighborhood and could include small retail, offices, restaurants, and service-oriented development. Development would occur in a variety of buildings types — traditional commercial buildings, residential structures, and those converted to contain commercial uses. Low- and medium-density residential would be permitted throughout.

In addition to tailoring zoning so that it fits better in the context of the reality of the community, Anderson said, the new plans have been drafted with the intent of streamlining administrative procedures. 

She talked of the challenges of an incomplete motorized network, described the street plans, and indicated a Complete Streets Plan will be another proposal to be introduced soon. 

Anderson also described ideas that have been put forward for activating public places by closing off streets for festivals, creating pop-up parks for a day and using alleyways in ways that show the vibrancy of the city.

Director of Planning and Development Rebekah Kik discussed what’s next for the Imagine Kalamazoo 2025 process. She explained the master plan includes a look at all of the goals set forth in each part of the plan — Connected City, Great Neighborhoods, and Downtown Life —  and sets forth a work plan for accomplishing them.

Kik said the staff had worked very hard to come up with a plan that could be implemented. “There’s nothing worse than a plan that sits on the shelf. That breaks a planner’s heart.” With Imagine Kalamazoo the city will not have to wait 10 years for its next plan update, but instead will have an ongoing process. 

After review and consideration of feedback received during the public comment period, the draft Imagine Kalamazoo 2025 Master Plan will be presented for consideration. The plan will need approval first by the Planning Commission and if adopted, final approval by the City Commission. It is expected to come before the city commission for a public hearing Oct. 5.

The draft Imagine Kalamazoo 2025 Master Plan can be found here. It  also is available at the following locations:
Kalamazoo City Hall, 241 W. South Street
Kalamazoo Community Planning & Development, 415 E. Stockbridge Ave.
All branches of the Kalamazoo Public Library
Neighborhood Association offices
The Bernhard Center on the campus of Western Michigan University
The Kalamazoo College Library
Anna Whitten Hall on the Arcadia Commons Campus of Kalamazoo Valley Community College, 202 N Rose Street
Station 702, 702 Douglas Avenue
Walnut & Park, 322 W Walnut Street

Kathy Jennings is the managing editor of Southwest Michigan's Second Wave. She is a freelance writer and editor.

Meeting photos by Kathy Jennings
Master plan pages from Imagine Kalamazoo 2025

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