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

Once again, plans to replace flood-destroyed housing faces a hurdle; it’s not money; it’s the neighbors

In City Hall, Floods on January 6, 2009 at 3:14 am

CEDAR RAPIDS — The City Council has made it clear it wants to support the construction of new affordable housing units to replace some of the similar kind of housing that was lost in June’s flood.

The council sentiment has been applauded. But getting affordable housing built is another matter. And the problem isn’t the money, really. It’s the neighbors.

On Tuesday, the City Planning Commission will consider a St. Paul, Minn., developer’s proposal to build 45 senior-living apartments at 1100 O Ave. NW. The 2.3-acre site is described as a former horse farm, and it includes a home, which will be incorporated into the building plan, Rob McCready, co-president of MetroPlains LLC, said Monday.

Thirty-six of the 45 apartments will come with “affordable” rents as low as $440 a month for one-bedroom units. Nine of the 45 units will have market-rate rents open to anyone. Those leasing apartments must be 55 or older, though the disabled of any age also can qualify to live in the complex.

McCready points to a City Hall marketing survey that shows the city has a strong need for this kind of housing in the wake of the destructive June flood. He says all the apartments Hewill be leased by the time the place opens in 2010, if it opens.

In the fall, MetroPlains LLC conducted two open houses to talk to people about its proposal, and seven people signed up expressing an interest in possibly living in the new facility. The open houses also brought out people opposed to the project.

McCready says his firm’s job is to try to address the concerns of the neighbors, which he says include concerns about traffic, ingress and egress from the property and the height of the facility. At some spots, the structure will be two stories, and at others, three stories, reports Vern Hanson, who is co-president of MetroPlains LLC with McCready.

McCready says his job as a planner is to try to address the concerns raised by neighbors. MetroPlains LLC, he says, is known for quality construction and unique architecture designed to fit each site.

Hanson says the plan for the proposed O Avenue NW project, which the firm is calling Cedar View Apartments, is a white, traditional-style with a wrap-around front porch.

McCready and Hanson report that MetroPlains LLC (http://www.metroplains.com/) has built more than 100 projects in the Midwest, including projects in Fort Dodge, Dubuque, Davenport, Des Moines, Creston and Burlington. Nearly every project comes with opponents, say McCready and Hanson.

Among the opponents writing to City Hall are Andrew and Kelly Eirp, of 828 H Ave. NW. The Eirps say the proposed site is too small for such a large development, that the development isn’t compatible with the neighborhood and will drive down the values of the homes nearby and that the development will bring too much additional traffic to the neighborhood.

Carrie Bascom-Oakley tells City Hall that the MetroPlains LLC apartment proposal would crowd the quiet neighborhood and bring too much traffic to nearby Harrison Elementary School.

Meanwhile, Kurt Andreesen, of 1615 13th St. NW, says the

MetroPlains LLC proposal would alter the quiet neighborhood forever.

MetroPlains LLC and the owner of the property at 1100 O Ave. NW, Daniel and Rosemary Hoeger, will be asking the City Planning Commission on Tuesday to change the city’s land use map designation of the site from low-density to medium-density residential to allow for the apartment complex.

As a sidelight, the Hoegers’ son, Marty, is a city employee whose job it is to identify surplus city-owned property that the city might sell if someone is willing to buy it or develop on it.

As it looked for development sites in Cedar Rapids, including sites on surplus city land, MetroPlains LLC learned that the Hoegers were willing to sell their land.

The MetroPlains LLC proposal has been approved in concept by the city’s Replacement Housing Task Force and the City Council.

The Iowa Finance Authority last month endorsed the project concept, too, and awarded MetroPlains LLC $7.25 million in federal low-income housing tax credits to build the project. That amount is the credit an investor would receive against a federal tax liability if the investor contributes a portion of the amount -– in today’s market, about 70 percent of the amount –- in cash so the project can be built.

The MetroPlains LLC project can’t go forward on the O Avenue NW site, though, until it makes it wins a change in the city’s future land use map and gets its site plan approved.

And 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 in September 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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