Cedar Rapids neighbors form company, buy land, take development into their own hands

Monarch Ridge, LLC now controls property where Blairsferry Commons was proposed

Ryan Koester (center) talks with Jason Schares (left) and Trisha Fortune about the impact of a proposed eight building, 50 unit residential apartment complex to be built on former farmland behind houses along Casey Lane NE in northeast Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2016. Marge Morris and her late husband sold the farmland to a church which planned to build a worship hall at the site. The land passed through several church organizations before current development proposal by Genesis Equities, LLC which plans to build the complex. Morris and residents who live along Casey Lane NE oppose the development. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Ryan Koester (center) talks with Jason Schares (left) and Trisha Fortune about the impact of a proposed eight building, 50 unit residential apartment complex to be built on former farmland behind houses along Casey Lane NE in northeast Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2016. Marge Morris and her late husband sold the farmland to a church which planned to build a worship hall at the site. The land passed through several church organizations before current development proposal by Genesis Equities, LLC which plans to build the complex. Morris and residents who live along Casey Lane NE oppose the development. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — There are good neighbors, and then there are neighbors you go into business with.

Rather than deal with the uncertain future of 7.8 acres of desirable agricultural land situated between high-end residential developments, 10 neighbors took matters into their own hands, formed a company and bought the property.

Last fall, residents of Casey Lane NE had gotten to know each other well while banding together to thwart a developer’s $9 million 50-plex of upscale row house rentals. Neighbors convinced Cedar Rapids City Council members that Blairsferry Commons wasn’t a good fit among their single-family homes. Before that, there was a plan for storage units.

“When City Council voted and denied the multifamily development, we came together and said we are either going to keep doing this every six months, or we have to buy this and control our destiny,” said Jon Fortune, a neighbor who was tabbed to be president of Monarch Ridge, LLC.

They began formulating plans quickly after the City Council denied rezoning for Blairsferry Commons last November. Some neighbors got on board right away, while others took time to think about it, Fortune said.

All 10 property owners on the west side of Casey Lane came together to form Monarch Ridge in February, and through the company bought the 7.8 acres at 4480 Blairs Ferry Road NE in March for $236,000 from Calvary Chapel Iowa.

Last week, the group began the process of securing the future of the land and their upscale neighborhood on the north and west outskirts of Cedar Rapids.

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The City Council unanimously approved a first vote to rezone 3.57 acres from agricultural to single-family residential. The rezoning needs two more votes to pass, likely on Nov. 14.

Monarch Ridge plans to create two lots — one acre and .7 acres — at the north part of the land and sell it off to a homebuilder or homebuyer for two single-family homes.

The other 2 acres will be subdivided into 11 outlots to be combined with the 10 adjacent properties to the east, which are owned by the 10 stakeholders in the company. Each property will get about .2 acres more backyard, increasing those lots to half acres.

The eventual owner of an 11th property, which is currently unowned, would have the opportunity to buy the final outlot, Fortune said.

Rye has been planted on the final 4.2 acres of land, but the intent is eventually to sell it as a large single-family property. Fortune said he could envision horses or just someone who wanted a bigger property.

Whatever it becomes, the neighbors will have a say.

“They do have an agreement in place that whoever buys this big lot would not further develop this into multifamily, and it would just be one large estate-type lot,” zoning administrator Vern Zakostelecky explained to the City Council last week.

Marge Morris, 83, who lives to the west of the 7.8 acres, originally owned the land and sold it at a discount years ago to a church with the expectation a church would be built there. She had joined in the protest of Blairsferry Commons last year, saying she felt her family’s good intentions weren’t being honored.

“They were concerned about what was going to happen. I was, too,” Morris said. “When they came up with this and came and talked to me about it, I thought it was a better solution than always wondering what was coming next.”

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Morris had the opportunity to join the partnership, but “at my age and with my health issues, I decided not to get involved,” she said.

Fortune said the whole episode has been a learning experience. He’s had to do a quick study of forming a company, city bylaws, selling property, and forming pacts with neighbors.

“It was pretty impressive how we were able to get 10 households to make that level of investment to protect our view, our privacy, and our home values,” Fortune said.

l Comments: (319) 339-3177; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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