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

Archive for March 6th, 2009|Daily archive page

Seventy apply for nine slots on Oversight Committee to help City Council spend $90-plus million in sales tax funds

In City Hall on March 6, 2009 at 7:01 pm

Seventy residents have applied to sit on City Hall’s nine-member Local-Option Sales Tax Oversight Committee.

Among the 70 is Gary Ficken, a local businessman who was co-chairman of Vote Yes! For Our Neighbors, the grass-roots group that the campaign to get the 1-percent sales tax passed on Tuesday.

The residents approved the ballot measure by a 59 percent to 41 percent margin.

Also on the list are some of leaders of the city’s flood-damaged neighborhoods, including Frank King and Jon Galvin, president and vice president of the Northwest Neighbors Association; Michael Richards, president of the Oak Hill Jackson Neighborhood Association; and Gregory Stokesberry, president of the South West Area Neighbors.

In a letter to City Hall on Friday, King, Richards, Stokesberry and Dianne Yanda, president of the Cedar Valley Neighborhood Association, said they were “demanding” that the mayor and City Council make sure that their neighborhoods are represented on the oversight committee.

“We believe that this is the best way to protect the interests and ensure the confidence of those Cedar Rapidians most egregiously affected by the flood,” the four neighborhood presidents said. They have joined in what they are calling the River Neighborhood Alliance.

The mayor will make the selections to the Oversight Committee with the advice and consent of her City Council colleagues. The decision will be made before April 1, when the sales tax begins to be collected. The collections extend through June 30, 2014.

According to the city, others among the 70 applicants are:

Andy Petersen, B. Larry Johnson, Bruce Vander Sanden, Charles Menge, Charles Watkins, David Clemens, David Hogan, David Mather, David West and Debra Dooley.

Don Boland, Donald Leonhart, Erick Skogman, Gregory Pollock, Heather Schoonover, James Nelson, James Powers, Jeff Beer, Jeff Palmer, Jeremy Cobert and John Gruca.

John Malone, Joseph Michalec, Kathi Lewis, Kathy Potts, Kevin Curl, Kevin Litten, Larry Berns, Lyle Broer, Marion Patterson, Markell Kuper, Marvin Dale Hedgecoth and Mauryne Simoens.

Michael Brunelli, Nancy Bruner, Nick Capussi, Richard McArtor, Richard Shoemaker, Robert Untiedt, Ruth Hart, Stephanie Feuss, Tamara Koolbeck, Thomas Haugen and W. Scott Jamieson.

James Sattler, James Young Sr., G. Richard Dirk Johnson, Leland Freie, Stephen Hammes, Terry Chostner, Linda Meanor, Susan Blome, Sandra Skelton, Jean Bell, Elizabeth Hladky, Patrick Courtney, William Overland, Charles Varnum, Jerry Gillon, Jody Lippmann and Thomas Zuber.

The last names of four others were not readable on the city’s list.

An ‘affordable’ housing project wins Planning Commission approval despite neighbor protests; city might get one of these projects built yet

In City Hall on March 6, 2009 at 4:24 pm

The city might actually see some affordable housing built.

Most of the housing lost in the June flood was old, working-class housing, and many of the residents who lost out were on fixed incomes or were earning moderate to lower incomes.

For that reason, City Hall has been intent on building so-called “affordable” rental housing in the city to replace what has been lost.

In fact, the City Council and the state of Iowa both lobbied Iowa’s congressional delegation hard and successfully to secure additional federal tax credits for the state to help provide funding for affordable housing.

At the ninth-month mark of the flood, the City Council has backed in concept and with local financial support five different affordable housing projects, all designed to use federal tax credits to pay for the bulk of construction.

None of the projects, though, has started.

However, one of the five projects took a big step toward realization this week when it won the City Planning Commission’s approval to move ahead despite strong opposition from neighbors. The City Council now will vote on the commission recommendation.

The latest project calls for the construction of 48 two-bedroom units and 42 three-bedroom ones with affordable rents on 11.2 acres of land east of Edgewood Road south of Williams Boulevard and north of Wilson Avenue SW on property that, in part, used to house Chapman Fun World.

The developer of the Cedar Pond Townhomes is Greg McClenahan, president of EverGreen Real Estate Development Corp., Prior Lake, Minn.

McClenahan addressed the City Planning Commission this week as did a dozen or so neighbors.

One particular strong note from McClenahan: He pointed out that a previous developer – who abandoned a project a few years ago after some grading and sewer work — had gotten all the city approvals to build 128 apartments on the same site. And those units would have been three-story; the Cedar Pond development will have two-story units, he said.

The neighbors centered their objections around water runoff issues and around increased traffic in and out of their developments and on busy Wilson Avenue SW.

One line of reasoning that didn’t resonate with the Planning Commission members was the worry that people living in the new development of “affordable” rental units would lower property values and increase crime.

One objecting neighbor asked the commission “to protect us from these social differences of these people from us.”

McClenahan noted that those who will be renting apartments at his other tax-credit properties are people who work for a living.

Scott Olson, the local commercial Realtor who is one of six partners who own the land, argued to the commission that 90 percent of those who rent apartments in Cedar Rapids have the same incomes as those who will rent one of McClenahan’s units.

Some objectors noted that McClenahan is from Minnesota. He pointed out to the commission that he grew up in Iowa, graduated from the University of Iowa School of Law and practiced law in Cedar Rapids for three years.

He has 11 other tax-credit projects, including ones in Waterloo, Ames and Fort Dodge.

McClenahan has yet to obtain tax credits for the project from the Iowa Finance Authority, the authority said this week.

The authority has noted that there are fewer investors for tax credits now that the economy has taken a tumble.

In the tax-credit program, a private investor provides money upfront for a housing project and then the investor gets its tax liability over 10 years lessened by the amount put up for the project and some additional amount. The project developer then uses the money for construction, which means the developer does not have to take on so much debt and so can keep rents lower than the developer otherwise could. The local jurisdiction usually contributes money to the project as well.

As for the status of other tax-credit project proposals in Cedar Rapids:

One developer has called off one project, which had been proposed for the former chipping green area at the Ellis Golf Course, in the face of organized neighborhood opposition. A second developer’s plans for senior-living apartments on O Avenue NW also has drawn neighborhood fire as well as a cool reaction from the City Planning Commission.

Des Moines developer Jack Hatch’s plans for two new apartment buildings in the Oak Hill Neighborhood are still in the works, though he has not yet secured tax credits from the Iowa Finance Authority, IFA said this week.

A fourth project, the renovation of The Roosevelt downtown, may start by April, the developer said this

The coming Highway 30 resurfacing project through Cedar Rapids isn’t city’s first Obama economic-stimulus victory

In IDOT on March 6, 2009 at 9:37 am

It’s not easy identifying the first road project in the Cedar Rapids area that will be funded by the Obama administration’s new, $789-million economic stimulus bill.

In recent weeks, Cathy Cutler, district transportation planner in Cedar Rapids for the Iowa Department of Transportation, told the metro area’s Corridor Metropolitan Planning Organization that Highway 30 through much of Cedar Rapids will be resurfaced in the months ahead, and that might be one project to grab stimulus-package funding.

On Friday, Cutler said the Highway 30 project is moving quickly ahead, but “regular” federal road funding will pay for it, not new federal funding from the stimulus package.

She thought two bridge projects in Benton County in the county west of Cedar Rapids might be the first IDOT projects in the Cedar Rapids area to use stimulus-package funds once they arrive.

The state agency and the commission that oversees it are still trying to sort out what is what as the federal rules evolve, Cutler said.

In any event, the IDOT will let bids on March 17 on a project to resurface 5.49 miles of four-lane Highway 30 between Stoney Point Road SW and Kirkwood Boulevard SW. The expected cost is $3.5 million, with the work slated to be done this construction season, Cutler reported.

She said most of the resurfacing will be an overlay of hot asphalt, those some spots will see cement patches.

Cutler said the IDOT also will improve the C Street SW off-ramp on Highway 30 this summer, an improvement that will include an additional lane of traffic leading up to the off-ramp.