CEDAR RAPIDS — Residents agree improvements to E Avenue NW are needed, but say they shouldn’t have to pay to accommodate increased traffic through their area because of the Highway 100 extension.
They face an unexpected charge of, in some cases, thousands of dollars to defray the cost of modernizing E Avenue from Stoney Point Road NW to Highway 100.
“I find it concerning that the city of Cedar Rapids would expect residents living near a scheduled roadway improvement to pay a lump sum to fund such improvements,” Carry Slagle, who lives on Blue Stone Street NW, wrote in a letter to the city.
The City Council agreed to an assessment plan during a Dec. 19 meeting. At least 21 residents objected in person, emails or letters.
In anticipation of the Highway 100 extension expected to open in 2020 — and as a result, more traffic on E Avenue NW — the city is planning to reconstruct E Avenue from a chip seal rural road to an urban street with sidewalks, curbs, storm gutters and a roundabout at E and Stoney Point. Stoney Point from E to the Cherry Hill Park entrance also will see upgrades.
The city will pay 88 percent of the $7.5 million project cost, while owners of 263 properties will pay a combined 12 percent, likely in a one-time payment when the project is complete or billed over 10 years with interest charges.
The project is supposed to begin this summer and end in 2019.
Some residents are being assessed only the cost of converting E to an urban stretch, while properties with a previously existing “petition and assessment agreement” also will be assessed for sidewalks.
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The existing agreements exempt this project from a 2017 change to the city’s sidewalk master plan that would shield property owners from assessments for new sidewalks.
City spokeswoman Emily Breen said seven assessment agreements signed with developers between 2002 and 2009 exist for the area. The agreements stay with the property, she said.
Pavement assessment agreements are standard practice for areas where pavement doesn’t exist, she said.
“One of the challenges is that most residents do not understand why the city uses assessments,” Breen said. “Most people assume that the city pays for everything on every project. However, for new infrastructure such as pavement or drainage, assessments help pay for a portion of project costs.”
Neighbors in the Stoney Point and Stoney Point Meadows development off E Avenue — in some cases blocks away from the improvements — can expect bills of up to $4,650. At the lower end of the scale, some could pay up to $490.
Marlana Miller, who purchased her home at the corner of E Avenue and Rockvalley Lane NW 15 years ago, could owe up to $4,503.
An official during a meeting with neighbors, project designers and planners told Miller her estimate included $1,151 for the street, $525 for grading the ditch and $2,820 for the sidewalk, she said. She recalls being aware of the potential for having to pay for sidewalks when she bought her home, but not streets or gutters, she said. “I am not ok with paying for any of it,” she said.
Charles Seamans, who lives on Brookhaven Drive NW, said he supported the local-option sales tax for street repairs, now called Paving for Progress, so he doesn’t understand why he is being taxed again.
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“That was supposed to cover these things,” he said. “Then they slip this in as well. There’s always something else we have to pay for.”
Seamans, Dave Byerly, who lives on Limerock Drive NW, and others in the neighborhood said they likely signed paperwork years ago during the purchase acknowledging the assessment, but they don’t remember doing so. They also agree the road improvement is needed, but they shouldn’t be made to pay for it.
Kyle Skogman, who developed the neighborhood, said the city requires developers to sign such agreements as part of the platting process, and was critical of how little information people get ahead of time.
“There’s no information of when the city might do it or what the cost might be,” Skogman said. “It could be 20 years. That’s what’s always difficult — when the city does an assessment and doesn’t tell anyone anything about it until, well, right now.”
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