Mark Meyers, city administrator for Norton Shores, is hopeful that housing projects in the pipeline will meet the growing demand of people who want to live in the Muskegon County community.
One of those projects is Eastowne Centre, a 144-unit apartment complex going up on Seminole Road near Seaway Drive. The developers are in the process of buying seven of the 12 lots from the city for $180,000. The remaining five lots would be acquired from private owners.
In August, the City Council approved the plan that calls for six 24-unit apartment buildings, 11 garage structures with 126 spaces and a community building. Another development, a three-story storage facility with 500 storage units, also is being built on the property.
The land had been eyed for development for years, but nothing had happened for a range of reasons.
Building economic health
Meyers understands that increasing housing stock goes hand-in-hand with economic development, which comes under his purview as the city administrator. He works with housing developments and industrial and commercial projects, helping them find sites.
A new housing study funded by the Community Foundation for Muskegon County, in cooperation with other municipalities, will help quantify the need for housing.
“That housing study is going to give us objective data that tells us how many housing units we need and what type of housing,” he says.
The city’s goal is to provide a mix of housing options for renters and homeowners, including apartments, condominiums, manufactured homes, multi-family units, and senior living centers.
Along with Eastowne Centre, the city has approved preliminary site plans for several housing projects. But only a few are under construction, including the stalled Atwater Springs, a higher density neighborhood with “narrow” homes to reduce costs, and The Cottages at Mona Kai, a $10.5 million development of 36 single-family condo units.
The approved plans would add a total of 779 units of various housing types, the most since the early 2000s, when housing construction peaked.
Numbers slumped in recent years
“We had probably built the most housing units of any year – 160 new homes. Then the recession hit, and we were down to 9 homes in 2010,” says Meyers, explaining that the numbers went back up to averaging 50 to 60 homes per year for over a few years.
Now, Meyers says, “demand is not being met,” explaining that the 16 homes built last year is significantly less than what is needed. Ten to 20 homes a year were built over the past four fiscal years.
Renderings for the Eastowne Centre project in Norton Shores.
Site plan approvals are good for two years. After that, there is the possibility of changes, depending on decisions made by the developer and owner. Meyers stresses that there is never a guarantee that these plans will be completed, but he is optimistic.
Meyers, who worked for two previous administrators before being promoted to his current role in 2004, has seen the ups and downs in the former township, incorporated in 1968.
“We launched and went through a branding exercise, ‘It’s in Our Nature’ – we launched that about a year ago,” Meyers says, explaining that the tagline not only plays on the accessible natural resources and open spaces, but all the other benefits of living in the area, including great schooling, safety, and retail developments.
Attracting new industry
Meyers says a place plan study conducted in 2017 sparked some redevelopment
ventures that had been on hold, including tearing down the former K-Mart building that had been closed for years.
Other work along Seminole Road includes the addition of bike lanes, benches, and ornamental lighting, as well as the removal of overhead lines. With easy access to commercial developments, including the west side of Harvey Street (where Target
and Menards are located), the residential developments are just as promising.
Norton Shores also has great success in attracting new industry. Meyers says more companies and manufacturers are moving from the Ottawa County area, building plants where there is more room for growth.
Meyers adds that Norton Shores also offers the lowest city property tax rate in Muskegon County. In addition, its location near U.S. 31 is convenient for workers, many of whom commute from Muskegon, which helps with workforce issues that he
says are just as relevant as the housing shortage.