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

Vernon takes to the wheel to see city’s streets, its battlegrounds, its future up close

In City Hall, Monica Vernon on May 31, 2008 at 4:02 am

Monica Vernon is thinking of trading in the SUV for a little hybrid.

Vernon, the District 2 council member elected last November, just can’t stop driving around Cedar Rapids, she says.

“I didn’t realize what a visual person I am,” she says. “I want to see what’s happening or not happening. It’s amazing once you get out here what you see.”

Day had followed Wednesday night and Vernon was still eager to talk about two high-drama council decisions, both involving plenty of objecting neighbors from nicer, new neighborhoods.

Neighbors lost to developers in both instances in what is the first, though probably the biggest, of a three-inning battle.

The council agreed, 7-2, to change the city’s future land-use map to allow a Walgreens drug store on C Avenue NE in what is a stand of timber next to a Road Ranger convenience store. And the council made a land-use change, 6-2, to allow for the proposed Tudor Rose condominium project on six west-side acres that now are home to the Baumhoefener Nursery.

Vernon opposed the first, which is in her council district, and voted with the council majority on Tudor Rose.

The two developments now need to get zoning changes, which is a much easier task once the land-use has changed, and then a site plan approval.

Vernon was behind the wheel Thursday morning to provide a first-hand look at both developments, a look she clearly has had before.

The president of her own market research company and a former member of the City Planning Commission, Vernon was pointing out her reservations about the Walgreens proposal as now conceived.

The land-use change, she noted, puts a commercial development right next to single-family homes when the preferred land-use policy is to have a softer property classification – office/service or multifamily residential – between single family homes and a commercial development like a Walgreens.

In this instance, the developer and property owner made creative peace with neighbors closest to the development by giving each of them a piece of the timber to add to their back yards to buffer them from the Walgreens. So those neighbors are happy.

But Vernon still wasn’t sure. How’s the design of the Walgreens going to look? she wondered. She was talking red brick, with maybe some ivy on it to help it blend in.

One of Vernon’s focuses as a council member is city streets, and she has begun to persistently advocate for building streets that are both pretty and functional and serve motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists.

Where are the trees, she asked, as she drove north on C Avenue NE? She liked the idea of trees between the street and sidewalk. Trees beautify and calm, she said. She talked about what a planted median can do for swaths of concrete when C Avenue NE turns from four to five lanes.

From the back seat, she grabbed a street-design plan from Charlotte, N.C., a city that considers certain, important streets “signature” streets that need special care.

Vernon turned her SUV around where Tower Terrace Road will be coming through west to east, from Hiawatha to Highway 13. She hoped for planted medians, sidewalks and trails to make it a signature street.

On she drove: Where are the sidewalks, she wondered, around the Rockwell Collins campus? Out on Collins Road NE, which is slated for widening in the years ahead, she was talking about the sidewalks and landscaping that would come with changes there.

She made note of the grassy median on Edgewood Road NW west of the Cedar River, but she then scratched her head that an occasional utility pole, not trees, were sticking up in the median.

At Wiley Boulevard and Johnson Avenue NW, she drove around the block to get a feel for how the proposed Tudor Rose condominium project and the existing neighborhood would fit together. Tudor Rose won’t be much taller than some of the houses, she said. Retirees in condominiums, she added, won’t generate much traffic. She had no regrets about her Wednesday evening vote in favor of the project.

And so it went. There were drive-bys or stops to look at where the city’s new Intermodal Transit Facility is slated to go; where the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library is expanding; where the city’s housing initiative is beginning in the Oak Hill Neighborhood.

The last of Vernon’s three daughters is headed off to college, and Vernon was talking about the life of a mother who spent time hauling daughters and friends around town.

With daughters gone, she now has the issues confronting the City Council to keep her behind the wheel.

“But I need to get a Prius,” she said.

 

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  1. Ms Vernon has been bought and paid for. She didn’t receive all that campaign money with no strings attached. It doesn’t surprise me she opposed the Drug Store in her District but approved the Tudor Condos. Had the Tudor Condos been proposed to the East Post Road area she would have opposed them. Money talks in this City and Ms Vernon is the Spokeperson!

  2. SJ, Can I mix it up a minute? You’re claiming two things at once: Was it because it was Ms. Vernon’s district or because of the campaign funds? And which campaign funds?

  3. She opposed the widening of the East Post Road because the neighbors didn’t want it. Most of those neighbors were contributors to her campaign. She opposed the Drug Store. She had some good zized campaign contributors that live close to this site. The Tudor Condo vote will benefit some contractors. There’s a lot of Contractors who gave to her campaign. To many this gives a certain Perception.

  4. SJ, I left out an item in the blog. IBEW Local 1362 owns the land which is being sold and developed for the proposed Walgreens in Vernon’s council district. Vernon, if you remember, had good campaign support from Chamber of Commerce types and labor. Does that make any difference in your view about her vote?

  5. Previously SJ wrote:

    “She opposed the widening of the East Post Road because the neighbors didn’t want it. Most of those neighbors were contributors to her campaign.”

    Assuming these statements are true and assuming the majority of citizens in her jurisdiction did not want East Post road widened then in my opinion Mrs. Vernon took the correct action and she should be applauded. Mrs. Vernon is elected by the citizens of District 2 and she represents them. If citizens of District 2 have views that conflict with other City districts then Mrs. Vernon should vigorously defend the views of District 2.

  6. I do have to agree with Monica on adding greenery, sidewalks and bike paths to our city. I was in Seattle this summer and all I saw was green. I stayed in a suburb (Bellevue) in which the streets are all lined with rose bushes, sidewalks, bike paths and planted medians. Businesses with greenery, benches, bike racks and such are stated on the Seattle Government web to generate an 11% increase in consumer spending. People like to be around more greenery. They like to have a relaxing experience in their drive or walk.

    Seattle is in a mountain area and yet I saw more people walking and riding their bikes than I have ever seen in this town. I am affraid to let my daughter walk to the Noelridge Pool from my house because there isn’t a single sidewalk.

    Don’t you remember when a 12 year old girl was hit by a truck crossing Collins Rd to get to the mall? She wasn’t crossing at the intersection because there was no crosswalk and there wasn’t (still isn’t) a time that you can cross the street without traffic also getting the go ahead to run you over.

    The peole here will be glad to tell you how much it costs to fill their tank but have a really hard time doing anything about it. If it were safe, more people would walk or ride bikes. If there were shrubs and trees, it would then be shaded on a hot sunny day.

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