Corridor communities getting greater say in development

Officials planning to guide growth, diversify construction projects

George Ford
Published: March 10 2013 | 8:45 am - Updated: 28 March 2014 | 12:29 pm in
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When developers approach Corridor communities with plans for everything from a new subdivision of condominiums and single-family homes to an office park, appropriately-zoned land is not the only consideration.

Several upcoming projects in Cedar Rapids, Iowa City and Marion are examples of how cities are taking a greater role in shaping what is constructed, what it will look like when it is finished and how it fits the community's long range plans.

Christine Butterfield, Cedar Rapids community development director, for example, said her city will be working with the county and other municipalities in the region through the Corridor Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) on a study for the area where the Highway 100 extension will connect with Highway 30.

"While we're just getting into that process, we're hearing that there's interest in an office park campus, but we also know there will be interest in residential land uses," Butterfield said. "Our city council has repeatedly told us that they want to take advantage of developing property for the highest and best use.

"They want to see more diversity in neighborhoods in terms of the types of housing, maybe not isolating single family from multifamily. They also want to see neighborhood commercial development."

Butterfield noted the traditional office park environment has changed recently, citing The Fountains, a $34 million upscale office and retail project planned for 19 acres at Edgewood and Blairs Ferry roads NE.

"A lot of employees want somewhere to eat or maybe do a little shopping on their lunch hour without getting back into their car," Butterfield  said. "We want to make sure it's architecturally compatible.

"The Corridor MPO's call for proposals (for the Highway 30/100 area) included assistance defining land use, design guidelines and the extension of public utilities. Instead of just saying 'Here's a new piece of property. Do what you want with it,' it's really about creating a place where people will want to go."

The Highway 30/100 area will have some residential buffer between it and the city's industrial development south of Highway 30, she added. The city continues to invest millions of dollars in sewer infrastructure and street and bridge improvements on the far south side to position the city to expand industrial and warehouse development.

The largest of the projects, with an estimated $22 million cost, is the city plan for three miles of new, 66-inch-diameter sanitary sewer line designed to handle future industrial growth from Highway 30 south to The Eastern Iowa Airport for the next 50 to 80 years.

At the same time, Cedar Rapids also is ready to spend $4 million to upgrade a 1.25-mile stretch of 76th Avenue SW west to Edgewood Road SW. In addition, the airport has commissioned a study of its potential land uses, both independently as well as working in concert with adjacent landowners.

IOWA CITY: RETURN TO MOTHER NATURE

The Riverfront Crossings in Iowa City is a project in which the city has a specific vision for what will be constructed.

“We’re returning a flood-prone area to Mother Nature and creating a park-like area,” said Jeff Davidson, Iowa City director of planning and community development. “When you get to the flood-limit line, we will have high density development.

“We have had a lot of interest from developers who see that surrounding land values will start to climb once the park starts to develop.”

Davidson said the Moss Office Park on 243 acres north of Interstate 80 and west of Highway 1 is an example of the kind of high level office park project that the community wants to see developed.

R&R Realty/R&R Equity Partners of West Des Moines is developing the first nine lots this year, and Iowa City will use a $1.9 million state grant to provide part of the funding to build about 2,100 feet of Moss Ridge Road and reconstruct about 2,300 feet of Highway 1 north of Interstate 80 for access to Moss Office Park.

“R&R Realty/R&R Equity Partners has done a number of office parks in West Des Moines,” Davidson said. “We’re really anxious to work with R&R. We think they really have good experience and we’re looking forward to them bringing that here.”

Davidson said industrial development will continue south and west of existing plants along Highway 6. He said the city has purchased 175 acres of land that is “shovel ready” for potential businesses.

Looking to the future, Iowa City on Tuesday released “Iowa City 2030,” a proposed update to the community’s 1997 comprehensive plan that will guide growth and development for the next 10 to 20 years. The Iowa City Planning and Zoning Commission will discuss and review the plan before forwarding it to the city council for final consideration and approval.

MARION: WIDER SIDEWALKS, SLOWER TRAFFIC

Tom Treharne, Marion planning and development director, said the city has articulated a vision for its Central Corridor Project that includes a series of significant capital improvements and commercial development along Sixth Avenue.

"We're really working hard to get new business opportunities and development along the new Central Corridor," Treharne said. "Between roundabouts at Seventh Street and 15th Street, we're trying to create a town district where there will be more walkable and wider sidewalks, traffic will be slower, and you will see more brick improvements.

"Seventh Avenue will remain open as a two-lane street, ultimately going to a three-lane cross-section from the current four lanes. We're working with Marion Iron on a potential relocation, and we would expect to see some new commercial development in that area when the Central Corridor construction work is completed."

Residential development will continue to the north and east of Marion as the build-out of single-family homes, duplexes and condominiums begun in recent years will continue this year, Treharne said. He noted that developers are actively platting projects with plans to start construction this spring.

"We also have several large parcels of land that are owned by a few landowners who are not ready to develop their property," Treharne said. "We're just trying to make sure that any property annexed by Marion will be served by our water and sewer infrastructure."

The new Marion police headquarters is under construction east of Highway 13 off Highway 151. Treharne said shovel-ready industrial park lots are located to the east across Highway 13 where Marion anticipates future growth.

NORTH LIBERTY: EXPECTING A STRONG SEASON

New commercial development will continue along Penn Street and Highway 965 in North Liberty, according to Planning Director Dean Wheatley. Hunter Companies of Cedar Rapids is building a retail center at the corner of Penn Street and Community Drive, which will include a new Zio Johno's restaurant, among other tenants.

"We have found that once we get a lot removed from either 965 or Penn Street, the commercial potential seems to drop off fairly substantially," Wheatley said.

"In the past there was a lot of land out near the interstate that was zoned for commercial. But because of the economies that have developed in recent years, some of that land has been converted  for residential development."

With low mortgage interest rates and improving demand, Wheatley said the city expects a strong housing construction season in 2013.

"We have a few large single-family home developments that are still under way," Wheatley said. "Fox Valley, which is south of Forevergreen Road, has a lot of potential development yet ahead.

"Harvest Estates II at Jones Boulevard and St. Andrews Drive has a lot of single-family and duplex lots. Aspen Ridge, which is north of town, has many lots ready for development."

North Liberty has a sizable number of multifamily housing units, owing to the fact that a significant portion of its residents are young professionals starting a career, according to Wheatley. He said the North Liberty City Council and planning commission requested a map showing the existing location and number of multifamily units as well as the number of units that could be constructed on specific parcels of land.

"We have very little land that is zoned for multifamily housing or duplexes," Wheatley said. "There continues to be a great demand for those units, which presents a challenge trying to balance single-family and multiple unit housing."

CORALVILLE: HOSPITALITY

While much has been written about Coralville's Iowa River Landing office and commercial redevelopment project, the Johnson County community also has experienced private development in recent years. A number of projects along the Highway 6 strip have involved development of hospitality properties, including a hotel and restaurant in Coral Galleria.

Conversion of the former 137,500-square-foot Amana refrigerator distribution center at 2900 Heartland Dr. to a Costco Wholesale Membership Club in 2012 required the city to extend a sanitary sewer under Interstate 80.

Coralville building official Jim Kessler said Costco has generated a lot of interest that could bring other projects to the area.

Future development in Coralville is limited to currently active agricultural production land, vacant land within residential areas and brownfields areas. The only source of infill development land is the existing brownfield sites.
 

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