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Archive for the ‘Pat Shey’ Category

Shields fumes over what he says are sales-tax vote distortions; Shey quotes Mark Twain

In City Hall, Justin Shields, Pat Shey on February 18, 2009 at 9:57 pm

Council meetings begin with comments from the public, and last night a couple of citizens suggested that the council would use the $18 million in annual revenue from a local-option sales tax to balance its budget, not for flood relief.

Council member Justin Shields, of late, has had a short fuse for such misinformation because he says the city needs the sales-tax revenue to get back on its feet after the flood.

Shields tried to set the record straight, saying it would be a “crying shame” if the March 3 vote on a 1-percent local-option sales tax went down to defeat at the hands of statements from people who weren’t telling the truth.

Shields then went around the council table and asked each of his council colleagues to state what the council intended to do with 90 percent of the sales-tax revenue. Ten percent goes to property-tax relief.

To a person, each council member said the 90-percent of the money would go for flood-damaged housing, to buy it out or repair what can be fixed or to pay local matches for federal dollars used for buyouts or repair.

“All for housing, all the time,” council member Monica Vernon said.

When council member Pat Shey’s turn came to talk, Shey took particular offense to a citizen’s suggestion that the council spent only 25 minutes at a meeting deciding on the ballot language for the March 3 local-option tax vote. The meeting in question might have lasted 25 minutes, but Shey said he and his council colleagues have been thinking about flood recovery since June 17.

Shey, too, was concerned about misinformation and he paraphrased a piece of Mark Twain wisdom to make the point: “A rumor can be halfway around the world before the truth gets its shoes on.”

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Council not using L-word or F-word, but it seems to sense: big hike in property taxes might louse up sales tax

In City Hall, Kris Gulick, Monica Vernon, Pat Shey on February 8, 2009 at 9:11 pm

At last Thursday evening’s budget meeting, City Council member Pat Shey put it this way: “We’re going to ask a lot from citizens this year.”

Shey mentioned higher fees: The proposed new budget includes a 14-percent hike in the city utility bill — for water, waste water, storm sewer and garbage services; and the proposed budget includes a brand-new 2-percent fee on electric and natural gas bills.

And then Shey mentioned the 1-percent local-option sales tax, which the council is asking voters to approve on March 3.

With the fees and the sales tax, he didn’t think the public would take kindly to a 14-percent boost in property taxes at the same time.

That level of property-tax increase was what the city manager had proposed for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

But Shey said, maybe the question was this: “What can we do to trim services.”

He wasn’t alone among council members, who sent Casey Drew, the city’s finance director, City Manager Jim Prosser and the city government’s department heads back to the drawing board. In short, the message was this: go find some place to cut.

One inference from what Shey had said is the council has the ability to louse up passage of the local-option sales tax if it doesn’t take it easy on property taxes, which is the principal revenue source for local governments in Iowa.

And the council – and a host of local groups from the Cedar Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce to Hawkeye Labor Council – doesn’t want to louse up the prospects for the sales tax, the revenue from which they say the city needs as it works to recover from the 2008 flood.

The sales tax will raise between $18 million and $23 million a year for Cedar Rapids for five years and three months.

However, it’s still unclear what the City Council is going to cut out of its proposed budget.

No council member has mentioned the L word – layoffs – or the F word – furloughs.

Two-thirds of the city’s 1,400 employees are in bargaining units, and the council pretty much agreed that those bargaining units wouldn’t have any interest in opening up contract agreements that are set to pay those employees raises of 3.25 to 3.5 percent.

So council members Kris Gulick and Monica Vernon said the council may have to lower wages for the other third of employees outside of bargaining units. The part-time council’s annual salary is tied to the cost of living index, which went up 1.1 percent in the last year, and maybe that is where wage increases should be for others, Gulick and Vernon said.

The City Council has been at its budget-making business for a good month now. That’s where council members have been Thursday evenings, and a Tuesday evening or two.

In the process, the city government’s department heads have trooped in, stating needs, making their cases for how to better deliver services.

Until last Thursday, it had been an odd few weeks. Everyone was asking for more. No one, including council members, was talking about less.

But then, after all, it was a time of recovery from a natural disaster.

Last Thursday evening, all those department heads were back, sitting, shoulder to shoulder, and listening to what the council had to say.

Suddenly, the tone shifted.

Can City Council ‘steam team’ solve steam issue for industries near downtown, the hospitals, Coe College and the downtown? Is a city power plant in the offing?

In Alliant Energy, City Hall, Jerry McGrane, Justin Shields, Monica Vernon, Pat Shey on January 27, 2009 at 2:43 pm

At council member Monica Vernon’s urging, the City Council last week created a four-member “steam team” to try to see if City Hall might help salvage a low-cost steam utility for industries near the downtown, the downtown itself, the city’s two hospitals and Coe College.

The council has expressed worry about the future of steam system before, but has little action to show for it.

Vernon – fresh off a lobbying trip to Washington, D.C., with council colleagues Justin Shields and flood victim Jerry McGrane – said more action than talk would be in the offing.

But it was McGrane, known as a specialist in neighborhood and housing issues, not utility issues, who stepped out and provided a glimpse of what might be coming.

McGrane reported last week and repeated at the council meeting that federal officials told the Cedar Rapids contingent during their visit to D.C. that federal dollars might be available for a new city-owned municipal steam power operation, particularly one that might be on the cutting edge environmentally.

Let’s wait and see.

It was back in September that the council first commented publicly about steam when some members contemplated subsidizing steam rates. The council had learned then that Alliant Energy had told steam customers dependent on the utility’s flood-damaged Sixth Street Generating Station that it would provide steam from temporary boilers this winter for four to five times the previous cost.

Suffice to say the customers can’t endure such a price hike for long. Some building owners in the downtown already have abandoned Alliant’s steam system, installing their own boilers to provide heat.

In early January, Alliant announced that it had not reached an agreement with its eight large customers – which include Quaker, Cargill, the two hospitals and Coe College — to provide steam for next winter. Steam is used for heat, sterilization and industrial processing.

However, last week, Alliant announced to the City Council that it had met with the eight big customers again with a new offer that was now under consideration by the customers. The new offer would provide steam for the next three to five years at rates significantly lower than the current ones but still significantly higher than the rates that the customers had paid prior to the June flood.

At the same time last week, though, Coe College and St. Luke’s Hospital told the council that they both were considering Alliant’s new offer even as they were heading out to try to secure $4.65 million in federal money to build their own steam operation.

Coe and St. Luke’s both said they still were interested in a solution that would provide reasonably priced steam and that would keep the existing group of steam users together.

Alliant representatives said the value of the utility’s latest offer to the large customers is that it would keep them together and the steam infrastructure in place to buy some time for a longer-term solution to be found.

One idea that the City Council wants to investigate is the burning of municipal solid waste and sludge from its waste-water treatment plant to generate energy.

The council has given approval for a $1-million study to see if it makes sense to burn solid waste and sewage sludge to generate power.

As for the council’s steam team, its members are Vernon, McGrane, Shields and Pat Shey.

City Council is out there on energy issue with Obama — 30 minutes after his inaugural speech

In Chuck Wieneke, City Hall, Jim Prosser, Monica Vernon, Pat Shey, Tom Podzimek on January 20, 2009 at 7:19 pm

The City Council spent its lunch hour Tuesday – 30 minutes after President Barack Obama finished his inaugural address – talking about how city government and the city as a whole should use energy in a way that doesn’t compromise the lives of generations to come.

Obama had just said: “… and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet. These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable, but no less profound, is a sapping of confidence across our land; a nagging fear that America’s decline is inevitable, that the next generation must lower its sights. Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real, they are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this America: They will be met.”

Most of the nine-members on the council — whether they support Obama or not — can sound a little bit like him when it comes to thinking about the future.

“Sustainability” and a look out for the future has been a constant theme of this council and of City Manager Jim Prosser.

Developing an energy management plan is among the council’s top priorities.

In an hour-long discussion Tuesday, council member Pat Shey might have provided the best suggestion on how the council could begin to move on an energy policy and an energy management plan. He said the council should lead by example.

In the post-flood era, the council can do that, others said, by making sure that the city builds energy-efficient, LEED-certified buildings to reduce energy use in the future. The city, they noted, will be renovating or replacing many flood-damaged city buildings in the years ahead.

Shey also called on the council to create an energy-management scorecard, which local developers would be required to complete so the city had a sense of how energy-efficient and sustainable any proposed project might be.

The city already has such scorecards for smart growth and infill development, and Shey said the energy scorecard could be used like the others to make it clear — “It raises the consciousness,” he said — of what the council is trying to promote in the city.

“But we need to start with us,” he said.

Council member Monica Vernon and others said that any energy plan needs to start immediately and be applied to all the construction that is coming in the city as flood-damaged homes and apartments and businesses are rebuilt.

Building codes can be revised as a way to help bring desired energy practices about, she and council member Chuck Wieneke said.

Council member Tom Podzimek pointed to Portland, Ore., and said that city posts on its Web site the millions and millions of dollars it has saved over the years by having an energy management policy in place.

Such an effort can make a city “a beacon,” Podzimek said.

Podzimek and Wieneke agreed to work with the city staff on the formulation of an energy policy and plan.

In signing on with Podzimek, Wieneke said, “Tom wants to deal with the universe, and I can kind of hone it down to the planet.”

Podzimek had been talking about the council’s need to focus on energy production, distribution and consumption as it develops an energy policy.

But he also looked ahead and suggested a very specific step the city might consider taking to ready for the future.

Any time the city is replacing parking meters downtown, he said the city ought to install meters with plug-ins for the fast-approaching time when people can plug their electric cars into them.

“We know that’s coming,” he said.

After the meeting, he said the city would need to put a pencil to paper and work out whether it made financial sense now to buy some electric cars in the near term and install plug-ins to see how it worked.

Shey compares Mayor Halloran to Gen. U.S. Grant; small-business group OK with mayor’s ‘No’ vote

In City Hall, Mayor Kay Halloran, Pat Shey on September 10, 2008 at 12:25 pm

Council member Pat Shey drags out the history references with some regularity. And he did again Tuesday during a conversation about City Hall that turned briefly to Mayor Kay Halloran and her sometime penchant to drift off for few seconds during public meetings.

KGAN-TV Channel 2 has been beating hard on the mayor about nodding off, and Shey reported that he declined Channel 2’s offer to get excited about the mayor on camera.

On Tuesday, Shey called the mayor matter a “non-story.” He also bristled a bit about the news media and why it wasn’t doing a better job of covering the City Council and all it was discussing about sustainable development and the future.

Shey also was chiding his own council colleagues for using council meetings to speechify and blab and for not staying focused on the post-flood tasks at hand.

As for the mayor, Shey noted that the city’s still-new, council/manager government is designed to make the part-time mayor little different than the other eight part-time council mayors.

The setup is referred to as a “weak mayor” form of government. The mayor has one vote like the others. She has no veto power. The “strong mayor” form of government, which the city’s Charter Commission did not choose back in 2005, features a full-time mayor who has veto power.

It is not true now, Shey said, that “the city going to hell because the mayor nods off once in awhile” or “that Nero is fiddling while Rome burns.”

“She puts in a full day,” Shey said of the mayor. “There are eight others of us on the council. She’s said all along, ‘I’m one of nine.’ If she nods off once in awhile, is that really impacting how the body works as a whole? I don’t think it does.”

Shey said the whole matter reminded him of Abe Lincoln, who was called on to get rid of Gen. Ulysses Grant because of an issue particular to Grant. He drank some.

“Maybe I should get my other generals casks of whiskey,” Shey said Lincoln responded.

The conclusion: “It’s not impacting his performance. He gets the job done.”

The Channel 2 TV news reporting on the mayor began at last week’s council meeting.

At that meeting, Mayor Halloran cast the lone “no” vote against the council’s decision to release the final $2 million of $3 million in city funds to support a local Job & Small Business Recovery Fund.

Gary Ficken, who is president of the new Cedar Rapids Small Business Recovery group, wasn’t pleased with Halloran immediately after the vote. This is the same Ficken, owner of flood-hit Bimm Ridder Sportswear, who helped run Halloran’s mayoral campaign in 2005.

But on Tuesday, Ficken said he now understands the mayor’s vote.

She has called it symbolic. She knew the council majority was going to vote to release city funds for small business, and she wanted to issue a protest vote because the Cedar Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce did not follow through and raise funds to match city funds, Halloran has said.

Both Ficken and Don Karr, owner of Affordable Plumbing and Remodeling and one of the founders of the Cedar Rapids Small Business Recovery group, both noted Tuesday that Halloran had donated $10,000 of her own money to the small business fund prior to her “no” vote last week.

Neighbors, get organized; City Hall brings in an expert so flood-hit neighborhoods don’t have to turn to ghost towns

In City Hall, Floods, Jerry McGrane, Neighborhoods, Pat Shey on August 16, 2008 at 9:33 pm

City Council member Jerry McGrane parlayed his visibility as president of the Oak Hill/Jackson Neighborhood Association into a successful run for the District 3 council seat in November 2005.

McGrane on Friday reported that his years of work with his neighborhood organization were sometimes frustrating ones, and he said a lack of support and resources from City Hall over the years was part of the reason the organization often floundered.

“It got harder and harder to work with city government,” McGrane told his council colleagues. “Funding was always a problem. … Without resources, people start fading away.”

In truth, citizen participation in neighborhood associations in Cedar Rapids has never been all that active, except in the Wellington Heights Neighborhood, which began what there has been of a neighborhood association movement here in the early 1990s.

It is true, too, that barely existent or dormant neighborhood groups can catch fire when a hot-button issue arrives to get neighbors off the couch.

June’s historic flood destroyed the couch.

With that in mind, City Hall has brought a Chicago-based, non-profit group to Cedar Rapids to help the city’s flood-wrecked neighborhoods find a voice and create an action plan.

Tim Duszynski, director of national programs for the Institute of Cultural Affairs, says the issue for the neighborhoods is whether they will cease to be a neighborhood anymore, whether they will become ghost towns or whether they will stay and build.

The Time Check Neighborhood is one of the city’s hardest hit neighborhoods, and its Northwest Neighbors group has been a struggling one. Frank King, who headed the group a few years ago, had agreed to lead it again prior to the June flood. A flood victim himself, he’s been a visible presence in the days and weeks since the flood even as he has been working to renovate his own house.

In the two months since the flood, no one has been more visible or vocal than Oak Hill/Jackson’s president, Mike Richards, also a flood victim. Richards also is a member of the New Bohemia group, an active entity in the neighborhood which has been working to establish an arts and cultural district along the now-flood-hit Third Street SE. Richards lives on the second floor of a storefront on Third Street SE.

Across the Cedar River from New Bohemia is the heavily damaged Czech Village commercial district, which features one of the city’s biggest attractions, the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library. The business owners are quite mobilized.

Fourthly, the Rompot neighborhood in far southeast Cedar Rapids also was hit and hurt by the flood.

Council member Pat Shey, who is an attorney and has been a banker, has been promoting the creation of a non-profit Neighborhood Finance Corp. in Cedar Rapids similar to one in Des Moines. The idea is for the corporation to be a conduit of funds to homeowners who decide to stay in a neighborhood and make it better. What the city gets over time is a larger tax base while the neighborhood gets improved, more attractive housing and a nicer, safer place to live.

Sandi Fowler, the city’s neighborhood liaison and assistant to the city manager, noted that some neighborhoods in Des Moines have not received money because they did not have sufficient enough of a neighborhood organization to oversee the spending.

“To qualify, a neighborhood had to get organized,” she said.

Shey noted that the city of Cedar Rapids really doesn’t have that many neighborhood associations.

Des Moines, he said, had six. Now, he added, it has 54.

They needed to be organized to get access the neighborhood finance corporation there, Shey said.

City Council a long way away from replacing city parking employees with a private outfit

In Brian Fagan, Chuck Wieneke, City Hall, Jerry McGrane, Justin Shields, Monica Vernon, Pat Shey, Tom Podzimek on June 5, 2008 at 3:26 am

Have you seen the 1993 movie, “Dave?” In it, Dave Kovic, played by actor Kevin Kline, turns out to be an exact look-a-like of the president of the United States. The conservative president suffers a stroke; Kovic takes over the job; and, in one scene, he decides to he needs to find some money in the federal budget for a homeless shelter. With the national press corps in the room, Kovic turns to the secretary of commerce for some help, and the reluctant secretary looks at the cameras pointing at him and agrees he can give up some of his department’s funds for the cause.

It was a little like that at last night’s City Council meeting when council member Brian Fagan at one point said he was sick of talking about problems with downtown parking and wasn’t sure he needed to hear any more proof that they existed.

He said he was ready to take on the question of the moment, should the council turn to a private manager to run the city’s parking operation instead of using city employees?

Then Fagan’s head turned to the left, facing the crowd, which included a group of a dozen or so city employees who would lose their jobs in a privatization move. He saw them looking back at him. “Of course, I don’t want to hone in on that” is what it sounded like he said. He then made reference to the fact that many of employees had 20 years of service to the city.

What is it that the city can do, he asked, to improve its downtown parking services with the employees? But he said, too, that he wanted to see the more-detailed report about Republic Parking System, the Chattanooga, Tenn., company that the City Council has been asked by a city committee to take a look at.

Last night’s hour-long council debate on public versus private was as spirited and delightful to watch as any council debate you can find.

When quiet finally came, it was clear any plan to turn the city’s downtown parking operation over to a private manager and send about a dozen long-time city employees packing isn’t anywhere near happening.

No one on the City Council last night seemed eager to hire a private management company to run the city’s parking operation, although Doug Neumann, president/CEO of the Downtown District, said many cities swear by the move to privatization as a way to get improved service, more expertise, newer technology, customer amenities and better-maintained parking facilities.

Confronted by council member Monica Vernon at one point about just what the problem was, Neumann pointed to a recent downtown parking study and years of displeasure from downtown property owners over the ways in which the city’s downtown parking operation hurts the downtown.

Neumann, though, made it clear that the Downtown District was stopping short of pushing for privatization of the parking system. The downtown property owners would settle for a plan in which the city figured out a way to provide better service and more expertise on its own, he said.

Getting the current city operation to become something more than it has been is one thing several council members, including Fagan, Tom Podzimek, Justin Shields and Vernon, seemed to want to know about.

Todd Taylor, a state representative in House District 34 in Cedar Rapids and a staff representative for AFSCME, spoke to the council last night on behalf of the city parking employees who stood to lose their jobs if the council decided to privatize the operation.

Taylor called on the council to ask the employees – whose average years of service to the city was 17, he said – to help come up with ideas to make the current parking operation better.

Council members Shields, president of Hawkeye Labor Council, Jerry McGrane and Chuck Wieneke said they had no interest in eliminating the jobs of employees simply because many of them now were at the top of their pay grades and had good city benefits.

Shields said this City Council talks on and on about its vision for a better city, adding that replacing good-paying jobs with low-paying ones wasn’t part of the vision.

McGrane said cutting these jobs would send a bad signal to the rest of the city’s loyal employees.

Wieneke, who has been an executive with Iowa Workforce Development, questioned if Republic Parking System really could limit annual turnover to 25 percent of their employees when they were paying low wages.

Last night’s debate featured some testy if civil exchanges between Vernon and Fagan and Fagan and Shields.

After Vernon said she had not heard a clear statement of what the parking problem was, Fagan pointed to a 2005 study that all council members were given to read in recent months. Fagan said the problems were well-known, he was sick of talking about them and he said reading studies and listening over and over to downtown property owners was part of being a council member.

Shields, sitting next to Fagan with his face just a couple feet away, said how come nothing had come of the 2005 parking study if it was so important.

Casey Drew, the city’s finance director, said Republic Parking System could save the city an estimated $117,646 a year in personnel expenses.

Council member Pat Shey said that wasn’t much money unless someone could make a “compelling” case for how a private manager could significantly improve service.

Shey agreed that parking in the downtown is a crucial matter for the City Council to figure out, and the Downtown District’s Neumann said it was crucial if the downtown was to become all it could as a business park, entertainment center and residential center.

Neumann, for instance, talked about the need for “capacity management” so all the parking spots in a parkade are being used to their maximum. He pointed to instances in which downtown employers asked for parking spaces in a particular parkade,  were told none were available and yet 100 spaces typically sit empty in the same parkade in any given day.

Fagan talked about the phone calls he and other council members have gotten when motorists have had to sit for an hour or more in a parkade waiting a turn to pay a cashier and get out.

Shields wondered why the private parking company was being championed as having so many years of experience in parking. How many years has the city run its own parking operation? Shields asked. How is it, he asked, that the city, after all those years, doesn’t know anything about the business?

Vernon admitted that she’s intrigued about some of the premium amenities that private-sector parking companies offer to parkers. For instance, customers can have the company arrange to have their oil changed during the day while the customers are off at work.

Vernon, though, wondered how many customers really pay an extra fee and use the service.

City Manager Jim Prosser said it could be more complicated for the city to try to offer a similar service because the city might be criticized for picking one vendor over another. However, council member Tom Podzimek wondered why the city’s own fleet management operation couldn’t provide the service and make some extra money for the city.

When Prosser explained to Vernon that the parking company also would get a vendor to do the oil changes or minor vehicle repairs, Vernon responded, “So it’s something outsourced by the outsourcers.”

 

Do City Hall rules let a sufficient number of neighbors know about proposals for big land-use changes?

In Chuck Wieneke, City Hall, Pat Shey, Sarah Henderson on May 30, 2008 at 2:25 pm

City Council meetings can come with some drama when meetings turn to neighborhood disputes and away from thoughtful but less-than-scintillating discussions about vision and key financial strategies.

There was a double-barrel dose of theater this week as neighbors turned out to object to the proposed Tudor Rose condominium complex on the city’s west side and a proposed Walgreens drug store on land that is now trees on busy C Avenue NE next to Road Ranger convenience store at Blairs Ferry Road NE.

The drama comes as the nine members of the City Council explain which side they are coming down on.

A pack of 100 or more angry neighbors can translate into some votes at the next election, and it’s easy to remember that.

In both instances, though, the objecting neighbors lost out, 7-2, on the drug store site, and 6-2 on Tudor Rose proposed for what now is the Baumhoefener Nursery at Johnson Avenue and Wiley Boulevard NW.

Both matters pointed up how entangled the city’s – any city’s – development approval process is and how poorly it actually is followed.

This week’s votes were to approve a change in the city’s future land-use map.

On that map, the spot for the drug store was listed as low-density residential, though city staff said it should have been office/service except for a past error. In any event, this week’s vote changed it to commercial.

Also on the land-use map, the Baumhoefener Nursery site is listed as low-density residential. It now has changed to medium-density residential, which allows for a condominium project.

In the months ahead, both developers will now seek a change in zoning on the sites, and subsequent to that, they will submit site plans.

It’s been a rather recent development, pushed by the developers, to require the City Planning Commission and the City Council to approve land-use issues and zoning issues without seeing the details of what a developer wants to build. The idea has been that often developers didn’t have a specific project in mind, and so invented projects, just to secure approval for a change in land-use and zoning.

In truth, in most instances, the Planning Commission and Council want to know what is going on a piece of ground and use that to make their decisions. In fact, developers often want to tell them if it gains their position favor.

Such was the case in both the Walgreens and Tudor Rose matter this week.

In fact, council members Pat Shey and Chuck Wieneke both voted against the Tudor Rose project – not based on land use – but on the specifics of the Tudor Rose project. They liked the project, but were afraid it would never get built, and standard apartments would go on the site instead.

All that said, former council member Sarah Henderson, who lives in the Lost Quarry residential development near the proposed new Walgreens on C Avenue NE, may have made the best point of all this week.

Henderson spoke for the larger neighborhood at Wednesday evening’s council meeting, expressing dismay that it had not been consulted about the traffic that would come with the new store on an already congested street.

Henderson acknowledged that the developer had done a masterful job of working with the homeowners immediately adjacent to the drug store site. The developer is giving each of those homeowners a section of existing timber to serve as buffer between them and the store.

But Henderson, who was on the council last summer and met with the developer as the District 2 council member, wondered why the developer had not taken time with the wider neighborhood.

In fact, none of those in the wider neighborhood knew anything about a City Planning Commission meeting last month that first approved the land-use change for the proposed drug store. The commission fell in love with the developer and landowner, Midwest Property Group Ltd. And IBEW Local 1362 Building Corp., because of the deal worked out with adjacent property owners.

The reason that no objecting neighbors surfaced then – as Henderson has pointed out — is because of the quirky specifics of the city development approval process.

For land-use changes, the developer must notify via letter only adjacent property owners within 200 feet of the development.

At the next step, the zoning change, the developer is required to post little orange signs announcing the proposed zoning change and the upcoming Planning Commission meeting at which it will be discussed.

The signs, not that easy to see in themselves, announce to a wider area the news of possible coming changes.

But the announcement comes after an all-crucial step likely already has been taken – that the land-use map has changed.

Once the map changes a use for a site to commercial, for instance, zoning to a commercial classification almost naturally follows.

Without a wider notification about a CPC meeting or council meeting to decide a change in land use, only the most devoted of City Hall followers would be paying attention to every planning commission and council agenda to know that a land-use change is in the offing, Henderson says.

Both city staff and the developer note that notification has to stop somewhere. A developer can’t notify everybody everywhere.

Henderson says she came to know of the discussion about land-use at this week’s council meeting only because the zoning signs inadvertently went up too early before the land-use matter was decided by the council.

 

Cedar Rapids seeks bike-friendly status similar to cool places like Madison, Eugene, Fort Collins and Ann Arbor; Podzimek giddy

In Brian Fagan, City Hall, Kris Gulick, Pat Shey, Tom Podzimek on May 22, 2008 at 4:54 pm

It wouldn’t be unfair to say that most if not all of the nine members of the City Council are eager to do what they can to raise the profile of Cedar Rapids.

After a push from council member Tom Podzimek, the city now is moving ahead on the task of earning for Cedar Rapids the status of “Bicycle Friendly Community,” a distinction handed down by the League of American Bicyclists.

No Iowa city now has such distinction, though Iowa City once did have it, and a number of Iowa cities have applied, according to city officials.

Eighty-four cities nationwide are now designated bicycle friendly, including such places as Madison, Wis., Eugene, Ore., Ann Arbor, Mich., LaCrosse, Wis., Fort Collins, Colo., and big cities, Chicago, Milwaukee and Minneapolis.

According to a City Hall memo, such a designation is not easy to obtain.

Among the requirements are for a city to provide bike racks on most city facilities; equip buses with bike racks (which the city is doing this summer); identify low-volume roads as “touring routes;” and implement a “complete streets” policy that requires accommodations for bicycles and pedestrians as part of new road construction (a discussion that the City Council is now having).

Podzimek couldn’t have been happier on Wednesday evening to hear that the city is pushing ahead.

“Gee that was easy,” he said in an e-mail. “(I) should have asked that question 30 months ago.”

He and council colleagues Pat Shey, Brian Fagan and Kris Gulick all participated in the recent ride-a-bike-to-work-week ride.

Shey rode his bike to the council meeting last night. He said he was mad about gasoline prices, and intended to ride the bike all week.