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Archive for July 1st, 2009|Daily archive page

Proposed, 81-home Sugar Creek development next to Ellis Golf Course has City Council asking: Will requested incentives really provide affordable housing?

In City Hall on July 1, 2009 at 9:16 pm

A proposed 81-home development called Sugar Creek across Zika Avenue NW from the Ellis Golf Course was set aside for now by a City Council concerned last night that it was being asked to give big incentives for what really is market-rate housing.

The council has been willing to provide city incentives on projects that address the city’s need for affordable housing, a need exacerbated by all the affordable housing lost in the June 2008 flood.

However, most on the council last night were unclear how the plans of developer Darryl High, president of High Corp. of Cedar Rapids, met the affordability criteria. Only 20 of the 81 homes, which will be “rent-to-own” ones, clearly met the standard, some council members said.

High is seeking $2.5 million in incentives or $31,000 a home. Part of the money will go to him to help install streets and other infrastructure and part of the money goes to the builder to buy down the buyer’s cost of the home.

The council also noted that the city hasn’t identified a funding mechanism to pay for the incentives that High is seeking.

The state of Iowa only recently agreed to fund down-payment assistance for 177 new homes in Cedar Rapids in an amount equal to 30 percent of the cost of the home or up to $60,000.

The city is applying for a second round of that state disaster funding, and High might be able to qualify if it comes through, Marty Hoeger, the city’s real estate development coordinator, reported to the council last night.

Council member Chuck Wieneke said most of the High Corp. proposal seemed to him as if the city was being asked to subsidize a typical, market-rate housing development. He said it would be a terrible precedent to set and might open the City Council up to paying for infrastructure and other help for every new housing development that comes along.

Wieneke informed his council colleagues that the City Planning Commission turned down the Sugar Creek’s site development plan last week on a 4-3 vote because of concerns about water runoff and the density of the proposed development.

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City Council moves 2 ways on downtown energy; it readies to hand out money to convert from downtown steam system as it spends half-a-millon on new downtown energy study

In City Hall on July 1, 2009 at 2:49 pm

City Hall seems to be moving in two directions at the same time on downtown energy.

On the one hand, city officials are helping oversee a program to help businesses convert from the downtown steam system. And on the other hand, the City Council has agreed to spend $487,113 to conduct a study called the “Downtown District Energy Feasibility Study.”

At its meeting Wednesday evening, the City Council is expected to hire Transitions Made Better Inc. of Cedar Rapids to administer the city’s financial-assistance program for those who had used the downtown steam system. The system had depended on Alliant Energy’s Sixth Street Generating Station, which was damaged by the June 2008 flood and won’t be rebuilt.

The city program will divvy up $21 million, $16 million from the Iowa Department of Economic Development and $5 million from the state’s I-JOBS economic stimulus program.

In late May, the City Council voted to use $8 million to help five large users of the steam system – including the Quaker Co. and Cargill plants near downtown – convert to another system; $8 million for a group of some 200 smaller users to help them convert; and $5 million to help offset higher steam costs for all the users.

Two other of the system’s large users, Coe College and St. Luke’s Hospital, have obtained a $6.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce to help them convert to their own steam system, and another large user, Mercy Medical Center, also has applied for such a grant.

Transitions Made Better Inc. has told the city it will begin to process steam claims on Thursday if the firm wins the city contract on Wednesday evening.

According to a City Hall memo to the City Council, Transitions Made Better Inc. was the only firm to bid on the city’s contract to administer the steam claims. Transitions Made Better Inc. also is administering a city contract to dispense state funds for flooded landlords.

A week ago, the council awarded a contract to Sebesta Blomberg & Associates Inc., Roseville, Minn., for a downtown energy feasibility study.

The study will look at creating a “new downtown district energy system” that may use renewable fuels or fossil fuels.

The council has talked about the prospects of burning sewage sludge and municipal garbage to produce energy.

Funding for the study is coming from the state of Iowa, according to city documents.

City Hall confident on buyout money; but when it arrives, the legal hurdles will take a few to many months to jump, city reminds people

In CDBG, FEMA, local-option sales tax on July 1, 2009 at 11:01 am

News elsewhere in Iowa of small-sized buyouts of flood-damaged homes does not mean that the first round of buyouts in Cedar Rapids using funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency is not on track, Jennifer Pratt, the city’s development coordinator says.

Pratt on Wednesday said the city still expects to hear in August from FEMA on funds to buy out 167 properties closest to the Cedar River to make way for a riverside “greenway.”

The city intends to buy out ten times as many properties as the 167 in the greenway — 554 in a construction area needed to build a flood-protection system; and about 600 considered “beyond reasonable repair” that sit outside the greenway and construction area. The city will use federal Community Development Block Grant funds and revenue from the city’s local-option sales tax for those purchases. And every expectation is that there will be sufficient money to do the job, the city has said and Pratt repeated on Wednesday.

“It’s been so nerve-wracking getting to this point,” she said. “We just hope everything works out smoothly.”

Having said that, Pratt made clear a central point that she said those awaiting buyouts have been told and need to remember: No buyout check is going to show up in the mail quickly in any event.

Pratt said every buyout amounts to a “legal land transaction,” which can be slowed down by title problems and other legal issues.

In the best circumstances, she said it will take 60 to 90 days to get any property’s legal documentation in place before the buyout actually takes place once money arrives.

In worst cases, the entire process could take nine months, she said.

Included in the paperwork transaction is the need for each purchase to appear in front of the City Council on two separate occasions, Pratt said.