Swing vote could decide future of Crestwood Ridge Apartments

Cedar Rapids residents continue fight against affordable housing project as City Council prepares to make decision

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Neighbors to a proposed affordable housing complex in the northwest quadrant say they are frustrated with unresponsive elected officials as the project that months ago appeared dead now appears primed to pass.

CommonBond Communities, a St. Paul, Minnesota-based nonprofit affordable housing developer, wants to build the $9 million, 45-unit Crestwood Ridge Apartments at 1200 Edgewood Road NW. Neighbors have fought back but been painted as biased, city leaders won’t give them a fair chance and an east-west divide is fueling opinions, said Boyd Severson, 65, who has been part of a core group of opposition.

“People are aligning as east side versus west side, at least that is the appearance,” said Severson, who is among 769 people who have signed a petition against rezoning to allow the development. “People say our neighborhood is taking a ‘NIMBY’ — not in my backyard — attitude, but isn’t that what they are doing? I wonder if east side council members would support this if it was in Seminole Valley or Cottage Grove?”

Severson said a handful of negative comments questioning the character of those who may be attracted to low-income housing have been used to paint the entire neighborhood as biased, even though that topic has never come up among the core group opposing the project. That group, Severson said, has focused on a set of issues, including the scale of the project being oversized, traffic and stormwater runoff.

“If a local developer came to the council with a proposal to put a 45-unit household on this 2-acre lot — without the homeless or affordable housing components, there’s no chance it would receive council approval,” Severson said. “Common sense would prevail.”

The City Council is scheduled to hold a public hearing and first vote on Tuesday to rezone the city owned land for the development. The meeting begins at 4 p.m. at City Hall, 101 First St. SE.

The City Council narrowly voted down the rezoning last October under neighborhood opposition — nearly all if not all those in the immediate vicinity are against the project — but CommonBond successfully petitioned for a “successive application,” which meant the project had changed enough to waive a one-year moratorium for reconsideration.

The project has been unique on a few fronts.

Strong opposition has triggered a three-quarters supermajority vote to pass, which would be seven of nine city council members. Also, the project addresses a shortfall in affordable housing in Cedar Rapids, and the inclusion of five units for the chronically homeless, along with support services, earned developers the promise of $8 million in federal tax credits.

Severson points out that only two of the nine members of the City Council live on the west side. He and other neighbors said they’ve tried repeatedly, but unsuccessfully, to get in contact with City Council members, and they think geography is playing a part in the lack of response.

“I sent three emails and never received a response, other than from the mayor,” said Laurie Schubert, in an email. “I’m both troubled and fed up with the lack of representation of and unwillingness to listen to its citizens. Personally, I feel that for the majority of the council, this has never been an open dialogue, but rather one-sided and close-minded on the part of this majority.”

At this point, Severson said he is pessimistic, calling it “highly unlikely” Crestwood Ridge won’t be approved.

Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett told listeners during an interview on The Simon Conway Radio Experience on AM 600 WMT the rezoning has the votes for passage, calling it a “done deal.”

The passage or failure will likely hinge on one swing vote.

Justin Shields, who represents district five in the southwest quadrant, was a key vote in the defeat last October, and he is expected to be again. Shields voted “no” on the project last October, and said he couldn’t support it until concerns of neighbors had been addressed.

As the vote approaches on Tuesday, he said it appears CommonBond has made changes, such as more green space, a larger playground, paying for additional sidewalks and a new turning lane on Edgewood Road.

“I’ve been going back and forth on it, but CommonBond is putting up some really good arguments on why it should be voted their way. They are trying to cooperate so I am looking at that,” Shields said.

Shields said he received 20 to 25 calls and emails — from those both for and against the project — and has tried to return messages but acknowledged he likely hadn’t returned them all.

Severson said the high volume of calls on the issue makes it understandable not all messages would be returned, but he said it’s persistent among neighbors.

The City Planning Commission, which recommended against the rezoning in spring 2016, unanimously recommended rezoning in April.

Other City Council members have taken a position, and Kris Gulick, who recused himself from the October vote, was informed on Thursday by the Ethics Board he still has a conflict of interest. Gulick had sought the advisory opinion on March 22 because he sold his business, which lists Willis Dady Emergency Shelter — which would provide case management services for Crestwood Ridge — as a client. Gulick, however, remains the lender and his wife continues to work there. That constitutes a conflict, according to the advisory opinion.

If Gulick doesn’t participate, rezoning requires six ‘yes’ votes out of eight participating members to pass the supermajority.

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

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