City councils move ahead with economic development projects

By Gigi Wood

Several economic development projects moved ahead after receiving the next step of approval at city councils around the county last week.

Iowa City
Several projects moved ahead at the Iowa City council meeting Oct. 11. Towncrest received its resolution of necessity required to go forward on creating an urban renewal plan and tax increment financing for the commercial district on the city’s southeast side.

The council approved the first of three readings to rezone land for the Moss Green Urban Village from an interim research park zone to planned unit development for office research park and mixed uses.

The planned industrial park on the southeast side of town geared toward wind energy supply companies was rezoned from interim development to industrial planned development overlay. This approval will allow the property to be development with the Iowa City Industrial Campus, a subdivision along 420th Street.

Plans for a new vehicle campus on Mormon Trek Boulevard called for vacating City View Drive so buildings can be constructed where the street is located. The new campus will be located adjacent to the Billion Honda dealership. The final platting for the project was also approved, which allows plans for construction on the project to begin.

The council also approved the $380,000 purchase agreement between the city and Van Meter Industrial in the North Airport Development Subdivision. Van Meter, a Cedar Rapids-based electrical parts wholesaler, operates a branch at 1207 Highland Court but plans to replace that with a new, larger building at the airport.

North Liberty
The North Liberty City Council expected to discuss five items related to a credit union project at its formal council last week, but those items were pulled from the agenda when the city received a letter from the developer saying the group was removing itself from the project.

City councilors were expected to discuss proposed incentives, bond payment and purchase of land for the incentives for the University of Iowa Community Credit Union project. The credit union plans to build a 100,000 square foot, $25 million headquarters east of Interstate 380 and south of Penn Street. Eventually, the building will house 400 employees. The city has offered tax increment financing (TIF) to the credit union, which has drawn opposition from some local residents and an anti-tax group.

Dennis Tallman, president of the North Liberty Area Development Corp. (NLDC), wrote in a letter to the city dated Oct. 11, that the group has decided not to act as a “pass-through” organization for the project.

The letter stated that the group supports the project. It would have been a participant if it involved 20 acres being used by the credit union. The group is against the 40 additional acres being acquired as part of the project.

The initial agreement involved NLDC paying $11.2 million to buy 64 acres of land, with about 20 acres for the credit union with an additional 40 acres that would be developed for other commercial interests, with NLDC being responsible for the transfer and development of the 40 acres. The group stated it does not feel qualified to market and develop the property.

“We certainly do not wish to have this project not come to fruition in North Liberty; however, we had been quite clear with the city that this may not be a project we could participate in, depending on answers to the questions that we had,” the letter stated. “We had always been told that the city did not need our participation for this project to move forward and that the city would move forward with this project, even if the NLADC chose not to participate in this project. We are very sad to now find out that the city considered us a critical component to this project. This should have been made clear to NLADC months or weeks ago, not days ago. We regret that we will not be able to participate in this project.”

Mayor Tom Salm said last week that the city plans to form another non-profit group to be the transfer entity and will continue with the project.

“We are adamant that this project will have significant benefit to the city,” he stated in an e-mail.

City Administrator Ryan Heiar said the city plans to approach several residents in the community and ask them to form the nonprofit to serve as the conduit for the project. He expects the group to be in place by the next council meeting, Oct. 26.

“We look to move fairly quickly on it,” he said. “Our extension with the sellers isn’t a real lengthy extension so if we intend to move forward on this purchase, we need to move fairly quickly.”

University Heights
A group of University Heights residents are expected to take up a new argument against a proposed development.

Last month, city councilors approved the first of three readings for a zoning amendment that would pave the way for a mixed-use residential development on the lot where St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church now stands, 1300 Melrose Ave. The council approved the second reading Oct. 12 on a 4-1 vote, with Councilor Brennan McGrath against.

The development is a controversial topic in University Heights and has divided residents. Some say the tax revenues generated from the project are sorely needed, while others say the project is too dense and will increase traffic and crime.

Residents against the project plans to present documentation and argue that the council should include an amendment to the project that prohibits filling in the ravine adjacent to the church.

The group will argue that filling in the ravine will violate the town’s sensitive areas ordinance, which says that slopes greater than 40 percent cannot be graded and must be preserved.

The council did not take up the ravine matter during the meeting because it is something they will discuss during the planned-unit development stage, said Councilor Mike Haverkamp.

“The zoning itself doesn’t do anything to the ravine,” he said. “If they look at constructing a second access, which they have to, then you start looking at implications for the ravine.”

The Coralville City Council approved an amendment to its Community Block Grant contract with the Iowa Department of Economic Development last week related to flood recovery. The amendment closed out the original contract, which dispersed $189,000. It opened a new contract for $437,000. The funding was and will continue to be used for home buy-outs along Edgewater Drive.   CBJ