Planning commission changes course, backs Crestwood Ridge

Project promises 10 percent of units for homeless

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CEDAR RAPIDS — A Cedar Rapids planning board reversed course on Thursday and backed an affordable housing proposal that had previously been rejected after neighborhood opposition.

The City Planning Commission unanimously backed a request by CommonBond Communities of St. Paul, Minn., to rezone 2 acres of city land at 1200 Edgewood Rd. NW for the 45-unit Crestwood Ridge Apartments.

The commission, which is an advisory body to City Council, had voted against the rezoning last spring.

“I look at all the changes they did, and it’s contextual, it transitions properly, the density is within what’s allowed for that zone,” said Lisa Peloquin, a commission member. “I think you (neighbors) were heard, and there were very substantive changes made in the project. I am pleased with the changes I’ve seen. I think they were listening.”

The project features four market-rate units, 36 lower-priced units and five units set aside for the chronically homeless. The project earned $8 million in federal tax credits as a demonstration site for homeless housing.

The federal tax credit could expire if sufficient progress is not made by the end of June.

City staff have recommended the project, saying it aligns with future land use plans and Envision CR, the city’s long-range comprehensive plan.

The matter next goes for a public hearing and first vote before the Cedar Rapids City Council at its 4 p.m. May 23 meeting at City Hall. An affirmative vote would lead to a second and third vote at the noon June 6 City Council meeting.

Based on the level of opposition from neighbors, the measure is likely to require a supermajority of 75 percent from the City Council for passage, as it did last October.

Crestwood Ridge has faced considerable pushback from neighbors, who have cited traffic, stormwater and safety concerns over the past 18 months. A petition of opposition was submitted on April 28 with 665 signatures, and 11 additional letters of objection were filed in March and April.

A neighborhood meeting was held Wednesday evening to review the changes, but the sides remain far apart.

“The neighborhood’s concerns are very real, and they are still there,” Bill Divis, who lives on Crestwood Drive NW, told the commission. “In fact, they’ve only intensified. ... It’s simply not the right fit for this neighborhood.”

Supporters have contended more affordable housing is needed and opposition is rooted in a desire to keep lower-income housing out of the neighborhood.

“Not doing this project will continue to exacerbate this problem,” said Phoebe Trepp, executive director of Willis Dady Emergency Shelter, which would provide services for the homeless families at Crestwood Ridge.

Karl Cassell, a commission member, asked if neighbors brought up concerns about the character of tenants the project would draw.

“I would say yes, but it is not germane to a land use discussion,” responded Vern Zakostelecky, city zoning administrator. “As a staff, we tried to stay away from that.”

Among the changes in CommonBond’s new application are additional stormwater features, money for traffic changes, new sidewalks and an expanded play area.

“We’ve done a lot of work in response to concerns put out there by neighbors,” said Justin Eilers, a project manager for CommonBond. “We made changes to make this a successful project that fits into the neighborhood.”

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

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