Linn County wants to add Highway 100 development land to Morgan Creek Park

Supervisors say purchase for park is preferable to commercial development

Rick Smith
Published: December 31 2013 | 2:07 pm - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 1:29 am in
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Linn County is poised to buy 71.36 acres of land to add to the county’s 230-acre Morgan Creek Park on the western border of Cedar Rapids.

The two parcels of land aren’t just any pieces of farmland in Linn County.

The parcels, which the county is proposing to pay $1.735 million or $24,313 an acre to buy, is prime commercial and residential development land next to the coming Highway 100 extension, including land near the highway’s interchange at E Avenue NW.

Linn County Supervisor Brent Oleson, who is the supervisor liaison to the Linn County Conservation office, said on Tuesday that the park expansion has been in the county’s plans for some years. But he said the move to purchase land for park expansion is coming about at a crucial time now that construction on the long-delayed, $200 million Highway 100 extension is set to take off in 2014.

"They aren’t making any more land next to the park," Oleson said. "You have one shot. It’s either let it be Casey's and Kum and Gos and strip malls and ‘snout-house’ developments (those with double garages extending out from the front of homes) with beige-colored houses on quarter-acre lots …

"I just didn’t want to see it go that way. If you have a park right there, and you have a chance to expand it before it goes the other way, I’m going to pick parks."

The supervisors have discussed the purchase of land to add to the park in closed sessions, which elected officials are permitted to do as they contemplate property purchases.

The supervisors will hold a public hearing at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 15, at the county’s Public Service Center, 935 Second St. SW, to take comment and to discuss the purchase of land for the park expansion.

Oleson said three of the five supervisors have agreed to bring the matter to a public hearing, which is an indication that a majority of the board is behind the plan to purchase land for the park expansion, he said.

Supervisors Linda Langston and Ben Rogers on Tuesday called the purchase of land to expand the park "an opportunity" on several fronts.

Langston said the Cedar Rapids metro area has quality park areas on the eastern border of the city with the county’s Squaw Creek Park and the Indian Creek Nature Center, and she said adding to the county’s Morgan Creek Park on the west side of the metro area will enhance a park attraction there.

Langston said the Highway 100 extension is likely to bring plenty of residential development with it, and she said those new residents and their property values will benefit from the additional open space of an expanded Morgan Creek Park.

Rogers called the proposal to add to the park a "land opportunity" for Linn County that doesn’t come around very often.

"We’re trying to be strategic and visionary," he said. The supervisors, he said, are looking to have a nicer park rather than an existing park with residential and commercial development crowding in on it.

Oleson, Langston and Rogers all said that the proposed park expansion will add land north of the existing park that will allow the park to border on both the west and south a parcel of land purchased in 2011 by the Cedar Rapids school district as a possible site for a new school or schools.

The supervisors envisioned environmental and ecological programming at a future school or schools in which students used Morgan Creek Park and its arboretum for their studies and research. Langston said the potential would exist for the county and school district to join forces to pursue grants for the educational programming in the park.

Oleson said the county’s plan called for additional investment at an expanded Morgan Creek Park to include a lodge, tree planting and expansion of the park’s trails, campgrounds and arboretum.

How many times, Oleson asked, have cities and counties not taken steps to acquire land for parks in a spot destined for development?

"We’re going to save this for posterity, for our children," Oleson said.

Oleson and Langston said some of the revenue to pay off bonds to make the land purchase for the park likely will come from the county’s 1-percent local-option sales tax. In 2012, the unincorporated portion of Linn County extended the tax through June 30, 2024. Starting on July 1, 2014, 25 percent of the portion of the revenue coming to unincorporated Linn County will go for conservation projects, up from 10 percent now devoted to such projects from the existing local sales tax.

The owner of the property that is being proposed to be added to the park is H.A.M. Investments Inc., the president of which is Patricia Harstad of Toddville.

Oleson said he understood that part of the existing Morgan Creek County Park previously had been owned by the same owners. About 100 acres had been added to expand the park to 230 acres in the 1990s, he said.

If the county follows through with the purchase, it subsequently will sell about two acres to the Iowa Department of Transportation as part of the Highway 100 project.

Cathy Cutler, planner in the DOT’s Cedar Rapids district office, said Tuesday that she has discussed the county’s proposed plans for Morgan Creek Park with Oleson. The DOT would need to purchase a couple of acres of the proposed park addition to allow for the DOT’s plan to relocate 80th Street to the east at E Avenue to allow room to take E Avenue over Highway 100, Cutler said.

In a separate matter, Linn County also is negotiating to purchase about two acres of property from the Cedar Rapids school district at the north side of Morgan Creek Park to expand a park maintenance building, Darrin Gage, the county’s director of policy and administration, said Tuesday.

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