CEDAR RAPIDS — Cedar Rapids City Council changed course on Tuesday and gave initial support for an affordable housing apartment complex with services for the homeless — a project they left for dead last October.
Due to heavy opposition from surrounding neighbors, the nine-member City Council had to overcome a supermajority requirement of 75 percent to rezone the land from single family residential to multifamily residential.
“I’m going to support, I think it is the right thing to do,” said Justin Shields, a council member who was the key vote, swinging from a ‘no’ last fall to ‘yes’ on Tuesday.
CommonBond Communities, a St. Paul, Minnesota-based nonprofit affordable housing developer, plans to build the $9 million, 45-unit Crestwood Ridge Apartments on city-owned land at 1200 Edgewood Road NW, which is about 3.5 miles due west of downtown.
Scott Olson, who voted against the measure, noted it had received “unprecedented opposition” and the developer “got off on the wrong foot.”
The final vote was 6-2 with Shields, Ralph Russell, Scott Overland, Susie Weinacht, Ann Poe and Pat Shey in support. Olson and Mayor Ron Corbett opposed. Kris Gulick abstained due to a business relationship.
The rezoning requires two additional votes, which are expected to come at the next City Council meeting on June 13.
A public hearing before Tuesday’s vote lasted more than three hours with 19 people speaking against and 26 speaking in support. Petitions with 1,019 signatures and 21 letters of opposition, along with two letters and petitions with 102 signatures of support were submitted.
The complex includes five units for the chronically homeless, along with support services from Willis Dady Emergency Shelter, which earned developers the promise of $8 million in federal tax credits as a demonstration site for the chronically homeless. The last Point in Time count found 397 homeless people in Cedar Rapids, including many children.
“Those fears (about Crestwood Ridge) come from a vivid imagination of everything that can go wrong rather than being equally concerned about the people that need the facility,” said Harvey Ross, who lives in a CommonBond complex in the southeast quadrant. “We need this property. It may not be the last affordable housing property we need, but this one is being proposed now, and if not now, when?”
The City Council narrowly voted down the rezoning last October, but CommonBond changed the project enough to get a second chance. Developers enlarged the play area, added green space, and agreed to pay for a turn lane on Edgewood Road NW and sidewalks along Crestwood Drive NW.
Neighbors urged City Council members not to vote out of fear of the city getting a black eye, but rather recognizing the complex doesn’t work on the site due to safety, traffic congestion and stormwater concerns. They also pushed back on criticism they simply don’t want lower income residents in their neighborhoods.
“Obviously not a lot of meaningful thought other than the purchase prices went into this,” said Lois Racynski, who lives nearby and noted social services are on the other side of town and there’s no grocery stores in walking distance. “Common sense didn’t go into choosing the location.”
Mike Myers, who also lives nearby, added, “We care very much about our neighborhood and should have a say in what goes up around us. None of us know how this will work. If it doesn’t work well, we are stuck with it.”
Supporters contend the site is ideal. The northwest quadrant has a dearth of affordable housing, it’s located on a bus line and job opportunities are nearby.
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City staff has supported the plan saying it aligns with the vision for the area, meets site density requirement and stormwater improvements exceed standards. City Council signed a purchase agreement with CommonBond to sell the 1.98-acre site — which is vacant city owned land — for $280,000.
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