116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — The Cedar Rapids City Council on Tuesday advanced a rezoning request to make way for Linn County’s overflow shelter to serve the homeless population this winter.
Despite some opposition from neighbors of the property at 1017 12th Ave. SW, the council voted unanimously to rezone the site from light industrial to public-use.
Council member Scott Olson, a real estate broker, worked with the county to identify this facility and said he was advised by the city attorney to recuse himself from the matter. Mayor Tiffany O’Donnell was absent.
After the council gives final consideration to the rezoning request next month, the county plans to close the shelter at the Fillmore building, 520 11th St. NW, and open the new one on 12th Avenue to serve individuals experiencing homelessness.
Cedar Rapids’ City Planning Commission in a 5-1 vote earlier this month approved rezoning the shelter, with three of the nine panel members absent.
Linn County Supervisor Ben Rogers said the target opening date for the shelter is Nov. 15, but could be earlier depending on the weather.
The new location is near bus routes along Eighth Avenue and Sixth Street. It also is near a Hy-Vee Drug at 15th Avenue and Sixth Street SW and other businesses, which made it a prime location for such services.
The county and city will split the $55,000 operational costs of the shelter during its typical season. The facility would serve approximately 90 people on a given night, Rogers said.
The county purchased the 16,200-square-foot building from Alliant Energy last year for $395,000, using COVID-19 funds from the federal American Rescue Plan Act.
The opening of the Linn County Public Health building in the Oakhill Jackson neighborhood cleared some space in the Fillmore Center. The center was intended to be temporary until a permanent solution was found, but because of COVID-19 and the 2020 derecho, Rogers said the county kept that location. The county plans to dispose of the property.
In 2021, the city and county worked on a proposal to include an emergency shelter in the renovation of the former Colonial Center building in Wellington Heights. The planning commission recommended denial of that rezoning, citing residents’ concerns about the concentration of similar services in the neighborhood.
Rogers said 107 on-the-street, homeless people were counted in July — more than double the 2019 figures.
The Cedar Rapids Police Department plans to adjust patrols as needed for the site, and the county is in talks with NTS to provide trips to Salvation Army and the Cedar Rapids Public Library to serve the population.
Resident Kathy Tauke, who was among six residents who spoke to oppose the project, said she feared that Tuesday’s meeting was just a formality because the city and county collaborated on the project.
She urged the council to weigh the actual needs of the homeless population against the impacts she and other residents fear, which include declining property values and increased trash, vandalism and crime.
Tauke also raised safety concerns with the proximity to nearby railroads. She noted that Rogers had told the City Planning Commission that downtown would be the ideal location for such a facility, as it’s where other services and shelters are. He told the panel the inventory was not available in that part of town.
“Why permanently change the zoning and disrupt our neighborhood?” Tauke said. “I think the real question is why isn’t the county continuing to search for the right property in the ideal location?”
After listening to several people comment in opposition to the project, Rogers said the county already experienced its first taste of winter weather last week. The shelter is primarily used during cold weather months.
The county has already fenced in the area around CRANDIC and Cargill rail line to limit access to the railroads, Rogers said.
Willis Dady Homeless Services will be the main staffing agency for the overflow shelter, managing night-to-night operations and supervising the building’s staff. Other service providers may provide on-site mental health or substance use services.
Speaking about the impact of the Fillmore shelter on the surrounding neighborhood, Rogers said he was not aware of any vandalism and that property values can increase or decrease for a myriad of reasons, so he was not aware of any study showing a temporary homeless shelter would have a negative economic impact.
“Not one single child was harassed, was assaulted,” Rogers said. “It just is not part of the experience of our homeless shelter right next to a middle school or right next to a bus stop... We do have professionals who are working in this space who do a really great job.”
Council member Ashley Vanorny said she understood what residents’ fear and “Not In My Backyard” attitudes were about, but that homeless individuals are just people. She said she couldn’t imagine trying to live through an Iowa winter in below-zero weather.
“When we talk about our city ... being a welcoming community, this is what it is,” Vanorny said. “Every single one of these folks are Cedar Rapidians, whether they pay taxes or not.”
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