Cedar Rapids council sets 90-day moratorium for Time Check properties

Council shows little taste for extra costs from those in the way of flood protection

A flood damaged hours an garage at 606 J Ave NW in the Time Check neighborhood of Cedar Rapids await demolition in 2012. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette-KCRG)
A flood damaged hours an garage at 606 J Ave NW in the Time Check neighborhood of Cedar Rapids await demolition in 2012. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette-KCRG)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Fewer than 10 homes and only two business addresses remain occupied in a wide area of the flood-hit Time Check neighborhood, all the rest gone, bought out in the city’s sprawling, federally funded, flood-recovery buyout program.

Tuesday night, City Council members made it clear that they are not going to hold the hands of the few property owners that remain now that the city is sure that it will build a levee and greenway system in this part of northwest Cedar Rapids sooner and not later or ever.

The council, on a 7-0 vote, imposed a temporary moratorium prohibiting any significant new investment in the last-standing properties because, as council member Kris Gulick put it, the city doesn’t want to pay for property improvements when it buys the property out to make way for the flood-protection levee system that will double as a riverside greenway.

It wasn’t if the city buys, but when.

Council member Ann Poe said the 90-day period of the temporary moratorium will give city officials a chance to meet affected property owners and negotiate, if possible, to purchase the remaining properties that for whatever reason did not choose to participate in the city’s voluntary buyout program.

Sandi Fowler, the city’s assistant city manager, on Monday said the city is eager to talk about buying what is left.

At last night’s council meeting, Jennifer Pratt, the city’s interim development director, and Steve Hershner, the city’s utilities director, said the city now is incurring about $60,000 a year in extra costs to flush and test water lines to maintain safe water to the few property owners that remain in an area roughly from J Avenue NW to Penn Avenue NW and from about Fifth Street NW to the Cedar River.

Gulick said he’s had constituents contact him, asking why water users across the city should have to endure this added expense for a dozen or so properties spread over a large area. Is there a chance to bill just those dozen or so property owners for the extra costs? Gulick asked.

“That’s one option,” Hershner said. People pay extra when they put out an extra bag of garbage, why not this? Gulick said.

Council member Pat Shey said the added expense for providing safe water was only a piece of the extra costs. The city continues to plow snow and shovel walks for a handful of people, not to mention the costs to local utility companies to provide service to so few people, he said.

“It’s not limited to just water. It’s the whole enchilada,” Shey said.

Council member Ann Poe said a few regular followers of the City Council aren’t shy about speaking at council meetings to chide the council about how it spends money. She said the spending watchdogs surely will have something to say about spending so much extra money on so few people, Poe said.

Council member Justin Shields said some who may criticize the city’s moratorium on investment in a part of Time Check and the city’s preparation for building flood protection there were the ones who also said the city would only build flood protection on the east side of the river and didn’t care enough about the west side of the river to build protection there.

They were wrong, he said, and the city now has secured state funds and is closing in on federal funds to make flood recovery a reality on both sides of the river, he said.

Gulick said no forced sale of the remaining privately held property in the moratorium area is likely to occur for three to four years. Shields said he thought flood protection would come sooner.

The city’s historic flood was six years ago, Shields said. No one should be surprised that flood protection is on the way and properties in the moratorium area in the way aren’t going to stop it, he said.

Jason Bailey, whose business, Actually Clean, is in the moratorium area in the 1200 block of First Street NW, wondered if the moratorium against substantial property improvements would hurt his ability to grow.

The city’s Pratt said he can spend to maintain his property, but not to expand it under the moratorium.

Gulick said the city ought to see if Bailey would forego including the property value of any expansion to his building when the time comes for the city to negotiate a sales price.

Failed negotiations likely will end up in court with a judge deciding a fair sale price.

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