Christine Wagner was a fresh face with a sad, angry story at this week’s City Council meeting.
Her and her husband Brian say their house at 818 Greenfield St. NE is being ruined by water this spring, and they say it is because of a new medical office under construction just to the west of their property.
Everything at the Wagner house, built in 1955 in an established neighborhood, was fine until developer Bjornsen Investment Corp. began readying for and construction then began on the medical office several months ago on Rockwell Drive NE north of Blairs Ferry Road NE, the Wagners say.
But then, out of the blue, the Wagners say they have had water spill into their home and drench their yard three times this year, causing significant distress and damage.
The city’s Public Works Department is well aware of the Wagners’ problem, but the problem hasn’t stopped.
“Nobody has done anything to help us,” Christine Wagner, turning emotional, pleaded with the City Council Wednesday evening during the public comment period of the council meeting.
”I’m extremely disappointed,” she said more than once in front of the council. She talked and held up photographs of the water problems in and around her house.
“It’s a sponge,” she said of her yard. “Your feet sink.
“… I need to have something done. I’m losing my house.”
In recent days, Brian Wagner, an information technology specialist at AEGON USA, has told his story to The Gazette while standing in his well-maintained, but now swampy yard.
Brian Wagner estimated damage to his home at about $20,000, but he said he doesn’t have the many thousands of dollars to pay an attorney to try to fight the developer or City Hall.
The Wagners point out that the city is requiring the new medical office development to make storm sewer improvements, and Christine Wagner told the council this week that she couldn’t understand why those improvements didn’t come before the construction.
“Who is going to make them do that?” she asked the council. “I’m going to make them do that?”
The City Planning Commission and the City Council approved the new medical office development late last year.
Brian Wagner appeared at the planning commission meeting in November and alerted it to water problems already coming from the medical office site as the developer was readying for construction. The commission approved the developer’s plans, encouragiing additional water management measures. Commissoner Scott Overland said it was important that the proposed site did not create more drainage problems in the future, according to the commission minutes.
Christine Wagner said she wasn’t opposed to development, but she pleaded with the council to not turn a blind eye when a development causes harm to others.
“You got to let these developers come in. But you better take care of the people who were there first,” she said.
Terry Bjornsen, of Bjornsen Investment Corp. in Cedar Rapids, on Thursday said drainage problems existed in the area before the medical office development. He now has sold the site, he said.
Ken DeKeyser, storm water utility engineer in the city’s Public Works Department, on Wednesday noted that the city is readying to improve storm sewers in the affected area this summer, with the developer and city joining in the cost of the work.
In the larger issue, DeKeyser noted that City Hall is now encouraging and promoting in-fill development like this new medical office near the Wagners’ home. And in that regard, he said the city has begun to employ a “smart-growth” scorecard, which credits developments that rank as “in-fill.” The idea is that it saves the city money if someone builds where the city already has services rather than letting the city sprawl by having someone build on the city’s edge where services aren’t in place.
However, DeKeyser noted that in-fill development brings its own challenges when a new development comes to an old neighborhood that itself may long have had substandard roads and sewers.
He noted that the Greenfield Street NE neighborhood meets that bill.
One of the questions then becomes, should the new development pay to fix what was substandard before the new development arrived? DeKeyser said.
With the prospect for more and more in-fill development in Cedar Rapids, the city “probably” needs to examine conditions and get storm sewer extensions built a lot earlier, DeKeyser said.