McKenna, a community planning, design and construction services firm, is looking to expand its offices and staff in Grand Rapids as the company pursues more projects in West Michigan.
McKenna’s senior planner Chris Khorey also serves as West Michigan manager, focusing on building the company’s relationships with municipalities in the region and planning work.
Stay up to date on all things West Michigan business. Sign up for our free newsletters today.
The planning firm was founded in 1978 and is headquartered in Northville, metro Detroit, with additional offices in Kalamazoo. McKenna opened a Grand Rapids office in 2018 in the Loraine Building on Fulton Street. The firm will soon add another employee to its Grand Rapids team and double its office space to 1,800 square feet in the building it shares with the local landscape. architectural firm.
Khorey recently detailed the trends he has observed in both urban and rural community planning. some suburban rezoningand why strategic planning is even more important in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
With so many projects currently in various stages of planning in Grand Rapids, what is important to keep in mind in terms of planning during this period of growth?
As planners, we’ve long said we need to prevent sprawl, and we do — and it’s still an important goal, especially in the Grand Rapids area, where we have so much beautiful natural space and so much profitable farmland. It’s important to preserve that, but we also desperately need housing. People are moving into this area, and those people have to go somewhere in Michigan, and we’re not used to this kind of tangible growth.
We must manage this growth rather than turn this opportunity into angry public hearings, protests and petitions.
Why is strategic planning important for municipalities, especially in the few years after the pandemic?
In the last 20 years, there has been a renewed interest in creating vibrant cities and communities that attract people. This is even more important after the pandemic.
A lot of people here in West Michigan have the potential advantage of working for a company in Chicago or Detroit because of our proximity, and if you need to be in those places a few times a month, you can do it more easily. This is potentially positive for the region, but we really need to think about planning and zoning.
Are there common ideas that you see municipalities focusing on in their master planning process?
What we’re seeing more and more is that suburban areas are realizing the need to create hubs where people can walk and encourage more non-motorized travel, and that doesn’t mean society will become fully urbanized.
One of the concepts we talk about is the concept of family walkability, which allows for things like children who want to walk to school. It is possible to retrofit more suburban communities to get there.
We’ve done a lot of this in some suburban communities, and some have gone so far as to add mixed use in targeted locations. Case in point is Walker, which is on the verge of adopting a fairly significant updated ordinance with overlapping districts that allow for taller buildings, more mixed-use and less parking.
Some of the complaints I’ve heard about zoning are that it’s too prescriptive and, in most cases, needs to be broader. Do you think this is true?
I strongly believe that the region will have the densest and densest center and slowly work its way out. It is an organized society that can promote a higher quality of life.
What we’re doing is creating a one-size-fits-all system with pre-zoning that is sometimes denser and more walkable, but harder to drive and park. There is nothing wrong with suburbs and driveable areas, but you have created a mismatch that contributes to the “missing middle” in the housing market. This is because we have planned and zoned for this particular land use pattern which does not allow for more flexibility and average housing stock. This is part of what we are doing now in suburban renovations.
What about the more rural communities you work with? What is one of the biggest scheduling challenges they typically face?
In the last few years, we’ve started working with some communities that have either never had local zoning before, or no zoning at all, and they’ve come and asked us to help. The village of Muir in Ionia County is one of the places where their first zoning ordinance will be. They’ve had no prior zoning, but they want to be ready for redevelopment (through the Michigan Economic Development Corp.), which requires community zoning. This is an interesting line of work that we undertake.
More from Crain’s Grand Rapids Business:
A push for new economic development incentives faces an uncertain legislative future
The major investments enhance Meijer Gardens’ reputation as a local economic driver, according to the report
A Muskegon-area restaurant operator is bringing a diner concept to Grand Rapids