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

Are worlds colliding? Can City Hall insist on nice design from developers focused on less regulatory red tape?

In City Hall, Paul Pate, Tom Podzimek, Viewpoint on May 7, 2008 at 4:39 pm

One of the roles of City Hall is to oversee what gets built in the city.

In that world of development, there are two interests that often seem to pull in different directions.

On the one hand, there is the development community — developers, landowners, builders, Realtors, engineering companies and others.

And then there are those on the City Council who have an interest in design and beautification, extras that can cost builders more than they might have planned on investing.

Earlier this week a Rhode Island tourism expert was in town talking to elected officials about their plans for riverfront improvement through the downtown, plans that include a RiverWalk, an outdoor amphitheater and other amenities.

Council member Tom Podzimek asked Robert Billington what communities in the Blackstone River Valley of Rhode Island and Massachusetts were doing to prevent themselves from looking just like every other community in the nation. Billington told Podzimek that the Blackstone Valley hadn’t figured out what to do with the expanding number of strip malls either.

“They (developers) can build what you want,” Billington said. “… But if you don’t know what you want, you’re going to get what they want.”

The factors brought to bear of what is built and how it is built in a community can include more than just more taxes,  jobs and money for the community, Billington said.

Be that as it may.

At this week’s Wednesday evening council meeting, city staff will report on yet another special endeavor – it is being called an “event” this time around – in which a selected group of developers, builders, Realtors and others in the development community have been huddling with city staff to try to streamline what the development community perceives as City Hall hurdles, rigmarole and red tape. All the regulation slows down building projects and drives some off, the development community says.

Twice in the mayoral administration of Paul Pate, from 2002 through 2005, similar efforts were made.

One of those, in part, did away with special design standards required of building projects along major routes at the gateways to the city. The thought of the design standards, adopted during Lee Clancey’s mayoral run, was that there was merit to beautify the spots people saw first when they came to Cedar Rapids. But the developers and builders ultimately prevailed: The bow to beautification at certain spots simply prevented people from building there, the development community insisted.

Apparently many of the recommendations of the second Pate-era development task force were put aside as the city changed its form of government and a new City Council and the city’s first city manager took over in 2006.

So, City Hall and the development community are back at it again.

Surely, the effort has merit. The very nature of government regulation is that it slows the pace, and who would object if regulation can be thoughtfully tweaked to accomplish without obstructing.

It might be nice to hear from a contingent of neighborhood representatives who have battled development projects in recent years to get their read on any proposed changes.

How the hopes for design standards and “sustainable” practices — another idea supported on the City Council – fits into streamlining regulation remains to be seen.

It’s easy, though, to remember the City Hall effort, which it set aside in December, to insert itself into planning for a better future for the long-struggling Westdale Mall.

In the Westdale instance, the city staff had proposed suggested special design standards for the mall’s periphery where two developers were planning to build a couple of restaurants and to renovate the former Big Lots store building. The developers wondered who was going to pay the additional costs to incorporate the design standards into the project. Ultimately, the development was set aside.

Remember, too, the construction of the new neighborhood Hy-Vee Food Store at 1556 First Ave. NE a few years ago on the busy, highly visible First Avenue East. Improving the exterior look of the store required local tax incentives or the company would not have replaced its old, ugly store with the new one.


  1. It’s no great secret this City Council sides with the MONEY! One example of this is the Osada Building. Low Income families are being driven out of the downtown ares (south of 8 Ave SE). Watch for Developers to rebuild the area.

  2. Citizen input from those who are opontents of the status quo and the Vision Committee made up of developers (4), real estate, lawyers who specialize in land issues and others who have their own axe to gtind? How could you think of such a thing? The city has gone to great effort to divide up the oposition into tiny little groups to get their feed back. I’m sure they wouldn’t want to deal with 100 or more folks who once they had contact with each other would ultimately come together as a group and bring some real heat on the town.

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