Park expansion plan looks to future

The Gazette Opinion Staff
Published: January 14 2014 | 12:01 am - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 2:03 am in

By The Gazette Editorial Board

At least three of the five Linn County supervisors support buying 71.36 acres of farmland to expand the county’s 230-acre Morgan Creek Park, which borders Cedar Rapids on the west. The negotiated price of $1.735 million is $24,313 an acre — a hefty price for farmland even in Iowa, where ag land prices for premium crop ground have soared past $10,000 per acre recently.

But there’s a reason: The land lies next to the Highway 100 extension project that will begin this year, and that makes the property prime for commercial and residential development.

A public hearing on the park proposal is set for 10 a.m. Wednesday at the county’s Public Service Center, 935 Second St. SW. Whether you support or oppose the plan, we urge residents to attend, ask questions and offer input.

The Highway 100 extension will spur development on the city’s west side, bringing some economic pluses. But we think the park plan could bring benefits just as important.

As Brent Oleson, supervisor liaison to the county’s conservation office said, it’s not often these days that an opportunity to protect land for public use comes along. The plan calls for transforming Morgan Creek into walking trails that connect with Cedar Rapids’ system, campsites, natural prairie, expansion of the arboretum feature, an arboretum center, a lodge and a pond or lake. The new parcel would border land the school district bought in 2011 as a future site for one or more new schools, which could enable joint educational efforts. New residential neighborhoods would gain a more valuable amenity.

The county, Oleson said, can pay cash for the land because it’s bonding for other already budgeted capital projects at all-time low interest rates that also reflect the county’s solid financial position. The Conservation Board can direct up to 25 percent of local-option sales tax to pay for park improvements. And Oleson said loss of ag property tax revenue would be offset by new economic activity the park generates.

Overall, the plan looks like a good investment in our region’s future.

Comments: editorial@thegazette.com or (319) 398-8262

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