City of Kalamazoo has a pre-approved plan for new housing development

Pre-selected, pre-approved, and pre-permitted plans can be used to build housing on city property lots.
This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's series on solutions to affordable housing and housing the unhoused. It is made possible by a coalition of funders including the City of Kalamazoo, Kalamazoo County, the ENNA Foundation, and LISC.

The City of Kalamazoo is unveiling the first of several pre-permitted housing projects to show small developers an easier, more efficient, and potentially more cost-effective way to get housing done.
With several collaborative partners, city officials showcased a new housing project that serves as a model for pre-approved and pre-permitted plans that can be used to build housing on often-tight city property lots.
“That means that you can basically go down to the city and say, ‘I want to build that house,’” says Beth McCann, acting executive director of Kalamazoo Neighborhood Housing Services, a partner in the project. “And all of the specs and the permits you need to do, … these are already shovel-ready so to speak. It’s not you saying, ‘Hey, I have to submit these plans and I have to get them approved before I put a shovel in the ground.’”
“Pre-permitted” plans put small developers in a position to have most regulatory hurdles – as well as architectural designs and site plans – out of the way so their projects have less chance to flounder and fail.
Dara Smith, neighborhood services specialist with KNHS, greets visitors at the unveiling on Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2022, of a new duplex at 203-205 Wall Street in Kalamazoo's Vine Neighborhood.“Say you’re a small developer looking to build a duplex or a quadplex or something like that,” says Matt Milcarek, director of construction services for KNHS. “You can go to the city and get these plans and they are already pre-permitted and pre-vetted to fit on our city lots within certain zones. It’s sort of trying to make development easier for small developers.”
The development of multi-family housing involves a lot of pre-development costs, including building designs. The city’s plans are intended to drive down the pre-development cost, he says, “by doing a lot of the pre-development for these units with these pre-permitted plans.”
Kalamazoo Mayor David Anderson says when people think about building a house they wonder how much they will pay for 2-by-4s and lumber. But he says, “That’s one part of it. How much does it cost you to get the plans developed? How much time did it take you to run those plans through the city process of approval?  Or maybe to adjust those plans?”
Unfortunately, all of that is time-consuming, he says, “So pre-permitting not only helps you do it faster, it helps you do it cheaper.”
Kalamazoo Mayor David Anderson, left, talks about energy efficiency as he walks the redeveloped property on Wall Street at South Rose Street on Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2022 with Derek Nofz, community affairs manager for Consumers Energy.With partners, city officials hosted an open house for a new, two-story duplex that has a four-bedroom / two-bathroom living space on the ground floor (along with a finished basement level), and a two-bedroom / one-bathroom living space on the second floor. The lower-level apartment has  2,024 square feet of living space. The upper has 1,012 square feet.
The project, at 203-205 Wall St. in the Vine Neighborhood is considered super energy efficient with triple-paned glass windows, Superior Walls, Energy Star appliances, and a whole-house energy recovery ventilator system. Solar panels are to be installed on its roof to help cut the cost of electricity. And part of the lot on which they sit has been used to develop an apartment unit above a two-car garage. The garage space is to be used by the upstairs tenant of that place and the tenant of the four-bedroom unit inside the duplex.
The units are to provide affordable housing for low-income families and individuals. Rents are to be income-adjusted, typically for people earning no more than 80 percent of the Area Median Income. Parsons and others say building affordable housing is only possible by combining the efforts, resources, and investments of a network of partners.
Among those thanked by Parsons on Tuesday for being part of that network were the Kalamazoo Foundation for Excellence, the Home Builders Association of Southwestern Michigan, Kalamazoo Neighborhood Housing Services, Kalamazoo LISC, Consumers Energy and ICF, the Kalamazoo County Brownfield Redevelopment Authority, Electric Housing, JLS, and Griffin Design LLC.
This is part of the open living area inside the ground floor duplex unit at 203-205 Wall St. (photo by Al Jones)Parsons says the city hopes to have more than 10 housing plans available to use in the city’s core neighborhoods, including four single-family models. Those will include plans for a Carriage House design, a stacked duplex (a unit upstairs and a unit downstairs), a side-by-side duplex, and a fourplex.
Parsons says efforts to increase housing opportunities in the city includes the concept of increasing housing density. That is creating more housing units in existing space on vacant or underused lots rather than trying to build large multiplex housing units. 
“So really what we’re looking at is to build up our core neighborhoods, neighborhoods around the city,” Parsons says. “And the reason why is because those markets haven’t seen the same amount of development as the higher-priced markets. The typical construction model is you build for less than what you can sell. In the core neighborhoods, you build for more than you can sell. So it needs partnerships.”
This is the kitchen area of the one-bedroom apartment unit at 1106 S. Rose St.McCann says, “Kalamazoo needs a lot of in-fill housing and we need housing of all types. So whether it’s a duplex, a triplex, or a single-family home, they all fit. They all have some place to be in Kalamazoo. And we’re excited to be part of that.”
All new housing is good housing, says Steve Brown, manager of the Kalamazoo Foundation for Excellence, which has helped provide resources to projects in their pre-development stages and is also involved in a number of projects with gap financing – providing the difference between what it costs to build and what the house will attract on the market.
“It’s necessary housing,” he says, referring to data that indicate there is a critical need for more housing in Kalamazoo. “And the more affordable housing we can build for families, that’s even better. So we are aligned with the Imagine Kalamazoo Plan with the City of Kalamazoo. One of its main focuses is on affordable housing in blighted neighborhoods. And so we’re there, lined up with the resources we can make available to make that happen.”
Beth McCann, of KNHS, right, shares a laugh on Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2022 with Kevin Osborne, owner of Osborne Construction & Maintenance LLC. He is the builder of the 203-205 Wall Street duplex.Mayor Anderson says providing pre-approved plans is an example of taking something that was a good idea and making it a reality. “This is a beginning of what is going to be, I think, a great progression of in-fill work we’re doing in Kalamazoo,” he says.
Kalamazoo City Commissioner Jeanne Hess likes the collaboration between the city, KNHS, and Consumers Energy to build energy-efficient homes. She also likes the idea of “quiet housing density,” adding more living spaces on existing lots. “And these are pre-approved plans so anyone who owns a piece of land could put this up and the plans are already made,” she says.
Nonprofit organizations and less-experienced individuals who are interested in building housing often partner with a private developer to make things happen. But Micarek says, “From my perspective, unless you’re a big-time developer with professional architects and everything designed perfectly, you tend to learn some hard lessons the first time you build any model of a house.”
That could cause a private developer to get frustrated and walk away, he says. But for the city to be willing to go through that process in tandem with a nonprofit organization “helps you learn those lessons without burning a private developer,” he says.
Speaking for KNHS, which is dedicated to fostering home ownership and revitalizing neighborhoods, McCann says it supports the new duplex project on Wall Street -- which is rental housing -- because it provides people with affordable homes, supports neighborhoods, and helps home buying in adjacent areas.
“The developers that we want to see get involved (with pre-permitting plans) are ones that maybe don’t have the financial capital to do it,” she says. “So to have those architectural fees, all those design fees, and things like that (off the table)… That could be a big part of the building project.”
Parsons says, “This type of collaboration makes housing happen in a predictable way and ensures an in-fill strategy that could be accomplished through predictable builds and continued expansion of partnerships.”

Some of the partners in the development of 203-205 Wall St. participated in a ceremonial ribbon-cutting on Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2022. From left they are: Steve Brown, manager of the Kalamazoo Foundation for Excellence; Dara Smith, neighborhood services specialist with Kalamazoo Neighborhood Housing Services; Matt Milcarek, director of construction services for KNHS; Beth McCann, acting executive director of KNHS; Kevin Osborne, owner of Osborne Construction & Maintenance LLC; Sharilyn Parsons, housing development project coordinator for the City of Kalamazoo; and David Anderson, mayor of Kalamazoo.

Photos by Fran Dwight, unless otherwise indicated. See more of her work here.
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Read more articles by Al Jones.

Al Jones is a freelance writer who has worked for many years as a reporter, editor, and columnist. He is the Project Editor for On the Ground Kalamazoo.