It’s not hard to attract attention when cities in the metro area start talking about a new plan to carve up turf in unincorporated Linn County.
So about 60 residents turned out last Thursday evening at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, 8300 C Ave. NE, as the planning staffs of the cities of Cedar Rapids and Marion unveiled a proposed new annexation line designed to help plan the future between the growing cities in the C Avenue corridor.
The north-south line actually changes only a little from a line that the two cities agreed to in 1998 — though it has taken the cities five years to agree to the modified line after the existing agreement between the cities expired in 2008.
Cedar Rapids City Manager Jeff Pomeranz said the city of Cedar Rapids had put the annexation-line matter aside for a time as it dealt with the city’s historic 2008 flood and the recovery from it.
Once the city of Cedar Rapids’ shifted its attention to the line, it took six months to reach the proposed agreement with the city of Marion, Pomeranz said.
Marion City Manager Lon Pluckhahn surmised that the existing annexation line between Marion and Cedar Rapids likely was put in place in 1998 without too much consternation because neither city expected to see much development up the C Avenue NE corridor.
Times have changed, though.
“We expect things to happen,” Pluckhahn said.
Pluckhahn said Marion continues to move north, a fact that prompted the city of Marion to look more closely at the expired 1998 annexation line with Cedar Rapids to see if it could be modified.
He said Hy-Vee’s plan to build a new grocery store in Cedar Rapids at C Avenue NE at the spot where Tower Terrace Road is proposed to go through helped to focus Cedar Rapids on a new agreement.
The proposed new line moves about 70 acres of land south of Echo Hill Road on to Marion’s side of the line that had been on the Cedar Rapids side of the 1998 line.
At the same time, the proposed line continues to meet a key Cedar Rapids priority of providing a growth corridor up C Avenue north to County Home Road, where the city’s Tuma soccer complex is located.
Pluckhahn said Marion city officials were able to convince Cedar Rapids city officials that the shift in the line made sense because of topography and the way sanitary sewer lines will flow. In addition, Marion faced the prospect of having to pay to build a runoff detention basin while development around it that could help defray the basin’s cost would have been in Cedar Rapids.
“I will say it involved quite a few discussions, outlining what we were really looking at and the reasons we wanted to make those changes,” the Marion city manager said.
Cedar Rapids’ Pomeranz said Cedar Rapids did not give in to Marion on the line, but, instead, agreed to a modification of the 1998 line that made sense.
“I think it’s a story of collaboration,” added Joe O’Hern, Cedar Rapids’ executive administrator for development services.
Annexation lines between cities in a metro area in Iowa are not unusual. Cedar Rapids has annexation-line agreements with Robins, Fairfax, Palo and Atkins in addition to Marion.
O’Hern said the lines provide a framework for cities to plan for the future and allows them to provide transparency to residents so they know what future growth patterns will look like.
Pluckhahn said an annexation line allows growing communities to figure out infrastructure basics such as the size of sewers to put in as development occurs.
“It ultimately means you spend less tax dollars because you don’t have two communities competing for an area and both of them going out and overbuilding their capacity based on some territory they might get,” Pluckhahn said. “It makes it a known quantity, and you can plan accordingly.”
Both Pomeranz and Pluckhahn emphasized that the annexation line does not mean either city has plans now to annex land along the annexation line.
The proposed line also features a special area that borders the west side of the line and the north side of East Robins Road, where either city is allowed to annex if either moves ahead with an acceptable annexation plan. Pluckhahn said that area includes an existing rural development that has not been interested in annexation.
At last week’s public open house on the proposed annexation line, the general sentiment among those in attendance was that they liked living in unincorporated Linn County.
Jerry Williams, Kelly Yeisley and Don Bunney all live in a rural subdivision, and none expected any annexation pressure on their development any time soon.
Both Williams and Yeisley talked about flooding in their development, and neither was pleased with what the Linn County Board of Supervisors had done to help. But they still wanted to stay outside the cities.
Yeisley said he’d prefer to be in Marion if it came to that, while Bunney said he’d prefer to be in Cedar Rapids.
Bunney said he previously was among a group of neighbors who fought back an annexation attempt.
Both the Marion City Council and the Cedar Rapids City Council will discuss the proposed new annexation line in November.
One sticking point in the annexation-line negotiations had been the amount of sanitary sewer flow that the city of Marion was sending to the Cedar Rapids’ Water Pollution Control plant. That issue is being addressed separately with flows tied to actual volume and not to the size of Marion’s population, city officials said.
Cedar Rapids’ other annexation agreements and their expiration dates are: Robins, 2025; Fairfax, 2025; Atkins, November 2017; and Palo, April 2017.