The Gazette covers City Hall, now a flood-damaged icon on May's Island in the Cedar River

A homeowner at wit’s end: With “in-fill” development all the rage at City Hall, who is going to care for those already there?

In City Hall on April 24, 2008 at 3:42 am

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.


  1. Excuse me! If the City approved the earlier development then the City should pay for the corrections. My neighborhood has no storm sewers because the City years ago decided they weren’t needed. Our neighborhood still must pay the storm sewer tax every two months tho. Our neighborhood has a large undeveloped parcel of land which someday will be developed. With the City’s in-fill development policy it’s going to cost almost a million dollars for needed improvements to build on the land. The City created these problems the ajoining land owners shouldn’t have to pay for those mistakes.

  2. The same goes for sanitary sewers within the inner city. Many haven’t seen improvement since they were first laid in the 1890’s. Built to the capacity of small town Cedar Rapids in that period, yet the infrastructure remains the same. Storm sewers often have little or no base beneath them, cracks develope and soon the subsurface errodes distroying the streets above. There have been incidents where whole tractors fell into the ground while planting trees in the parking areas between the curb and sidewalk due to this sort of errosion. Street repairs and even street replacement is done with little care for the curb and gutter these days. Look at the height of the new curb along 15th Street S.E. as an example, there are places where the curb is less than four inches above the street level, How many times will you be able to recap a street if there is no curb left? Streets with missing curb are left to languish for years, all the while the rain and snow is allowed to run off into the soil next to the street, undermining the very street itself. This is creating many more expensive street replacement problems for want of a curb.
    All of this, while the council sits and listens, we hope, but will not respond for fear someone will say something that lets people know they are truly our servants and intent on responding to our needs.

  3. I noticed that the developer stated that there were water problems before the medical office was built. Mr Bjornsen was required to install a storm sewer system with the building of the medical office. He signed an agreement with the city for such. My question for him would be why he wouldn’t install the sewers prior to building. He admitted that he knew there water problems but instead of allievating the situation, he continued to build without installation of the storm sewers. Who is going to be accountable for the damage caused by the continued construction.

  4. The city allowed them to build yet were well aware of the drainage problems before they start building but let them build anyway and caused more problems and destroyed private property. The city wouldn’t pay for the upgrades in the first place and Mr.Bjornson was to cheap to do it right all at the home owners expense. Now they have half a home, street damaged and in need of serious repair and a swamp for a yard and who knows what else lies ahead before them before it is all finished, and they call this development. Who builds the structure first then puts in the plumbing? Who pays for all the things lost, damaged and future issues due to this? It’s easy to say go hire a lawyer but a case like this costs 10’s of thousands and again who pays for their loses they just lost half their home?

  5. One of the questions then becomes, should the new development pay to fix what was substandard before the new development arrived? DeKeyser said.

    This sounds to me like Mr. DeKeyser believes the city is liable. If that is the case, then I believe the city owes these people compensation for damages. The city and the developer should pay for their mistakes just like the rest of us have to.

  6. […] stopTurbulent week for one advocate of neighborhood, community gardens, arts and cultural districtA homeowner at wit’s end: With “in-fill” development all the rage at City Hall, who is going to care…No “in-group” guy, District 3 McGrane’s hunch still key in Intermodal coming to warehouse site […]

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