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

Planning commission tables latest housing plan for flood victims; neighbors’ protests make proposal anything but certain

In City Hall, Floods on January 6, 2009 at 7:23 pm

CEDAR RAPIDS –- A proposed 45-unit senior-living apartment complex at 1100 O Ave. NW, designed to provide affordable replacement housing for flood victims, is a ways from reality.

The City Planning Commission on Wednesday tabled its consideration of the proposal at the request of the developer, MetroPlains LLC, St. Paul, Minn., (http://www.metroplains.com/) the developer awaits news later this month about a piece of federal financial support for the project.

The project just last month secured federal low-income tax credits from the Iowa Finance Authority that will provide about $5 million to the $7.6-million project.

In tabling the matter Wednesday, though, two members of the city commission made it clear to Vern Hanson, co-president of MetroPlains LLC, and to city staff that they wanted more details about the project before they could begin to consider approving it.

Ten neighbors had weighed in at the meeting with strong objections to the MetroPlains LLC proposal for the site on O Avenue NW.

Commission member Scott Fiauf told the firm’s Hanson that he wanted to see a site plan, renderings of the proposed building — which is two stories tall in spots and three stories tall in other spots — and details of how the developer would handle storm runoff from the hilly site.

Commission member Lisa-Marie Garlich asked city staff to address blind spots and the danger of having senior citizens turning into the proposed complex off hilly, busy O Avenue NW.

The city’s future land-use map calls for the site to be developed as low-density residential. MetroPlains LLC and the owner of the site, Daniel and Rosemary Hoeger, must have the commission and then the City
Council change the map’s designation to medium-density residential before the apartment project can be built.

Hanson told the commission on Wednesday that his firm had held two meetings with members of the public in October, one with neighbors close to the project site and one with a neighborhood association drawing from a wider area of people. Objections were expressed at the first meeting, support at the second, Hanson told the commission.

He said the objections voiced at the meeting on Wednesday were the same as those voiced in October.

In general, the neighbors objecting Wednesday said the project didn’t fit the site for which it had been proposed.

“The project might be a great project, but it’s just a terrible, terrible location for it,” Robert Johnson, of 1674 Valley St. NW, told the commission. “… It’s going to be a disaster.”

Johnson emphasized that the 2.3-acre site was on top of a hill, and he said he didn’t know how the developer would be able to handle storm-water runoff from the site.

Sonya Williams, of 1648 11th St. NW, was among several neighbors who talked about speeding traffic on hilly, two-lane O Avenue NW. She said the street becomes a “blind hill” at the spot on the proposed apartment complex, and she worried that elderly motorists stopped on the hill to turn would get smacked from the rear.

Kurt Andreesen, of 1615 13th St. NW, said he bought his house in the neighborhood in recent months because he saw it as a quiet place to raise a family. Then along came the MetroPlains LLC proposal for an apartment building, he said.

“We’re so depressed by this,” he told the commission. “It’s ruined the neighborhood.”

Edward Klemer, of 1624 11th St. NW, said he has put his house up for sale because of the MetroPlains LLC proposal. He and others noted that The Meth-Wick Community, a retirement community, already is nearby.

“We’ve already done our part for senior housing with Meth-Wick,” Robert Johnson said.

MetroPlains LLC’s Hanson answered some of the concerns of the neighbors. He noted that many of the existing trees on the site will remain. He said parking for residents will be underground. He said the entrance into the site is sufficiently far from the apex of a hill on O Avenue NW to prevent traffic concerns.
After the meeting, Hanson said his firm would return to the commission once it secures the rest of its public funding for the project.

“Oh yeah, we’ll be back,” he said.

Neighbors can be tough no matter how eager City Hall is to see new housing built to replace that lost in the June flood.

The MetroPlains LLC replacement housing proposal appeared at City Hall a few months ago along with one from Sherman Associates Inc. of Minneapolis.

George Sherman, owner of Sherman Associates, had wanted to build 40 apartments and 25 townhouses with affordable rents on the former Ellis Golf Course chipping green. Last month, Sherman pulled the plug on the project in the face of neighborhood opposition even before he got to the City Planning Commission.

Sherman now is turning his attention to the renovation of the Roosevelt apartment building downtown. He secured federal low-income housing tax credits for that project last month at the same time that MetroPlains LLC did for its proposed project on O Avenue NW.

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