116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — With four of nine City Council members facing conflicts requiring they recuse themselves from voting on the Cedar Rapids Country Club’s expansion plans, the five voting members Tuesday tabled consideration to give the Country Club more time to meet conditions that would address neighbors’ concerns.
The council’s move delays the Country Club’s plans to expand over seven residential lots and potentially vacated Fairway Terrace SE right of way to develop a tennis complex and courts, expand the parking lot and modify the driving range to increase amenities for members.
Several dozen residents, mostly from Country Club Heights, petitioned against the requests, though most speaking at the meeting slightly favored the project, provided the club meet conditions to make the facility more compatible with the neighborhood.
The city’s five-member Board of Ethics, which enforces policies for certain city officials about financial disclosure and conflicts of interest, last week issued a non-binding advisory opinion recommending Mayor Tiffany O’Donnell and council member Tyler Olson do not vote on the Country Club’s request to rezone the nearly 185-acre site on 27th Street Drive SE.
Olson and O’Donnell’s husband are club members, and under city policy, city officials must consider immediate family in declaring conflicts.
Council members Ann Poe and Marty Hoeger also recused themselves. Hoeger recused himself because of a business interest in the project. Poe, a nearby resident of the Country Club, was advised by the city attorney to recuse herself because of the potential implications the vote could have on her property.
Olson wrote to the ethics board April 14 to request an advisory opinion because of his membership with the club, and O’Donnell joined the request.
Residents opposing the expansion had hoped to trigger a supermajority vote under Iowa Code, which would have required four of the five voting members to support the request instead of a simple majority of three.
Of 139 owners in 95 parcels, city Zoning Administrator Seth Gunnerson said nine parcels had objectors, representing 1.82 out of 38.66 acres, or 4.72 percent of the land. That was far below the required 20 percent of landowners within 200 feet of the club’s perimeter.
TL Thousand, one of the nearby residents who helped organized petitions against the requests, feared property values would go down. She and other neighbors raised concerns about stormwater management, increased traffic and compatibility of design with the neighborhood’s historic character.
“This is all about the money, as far as I can tell,” Thousand said.
Thousand also noted that the Country Club Heights neighborhood is one of 13 districts that the Historic Preservation Commission in 2015 determined it wanted to intensively survey to determine eligibility to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Mary Beth O’Neill, the president of Four Oaks, spoke in support of the Country Club, which holds a golf classic that has raised over $4.1 million in the event’s 29-year history, contributing about 15 percent of the agency’s total fundraising need.
Country Club General Manager Tom Feller said the project has been in the making for 24 years, and leadership didn’t take the project lightly.
“We want to make that it fits the neighborhood and it fits the club and that it’s a win for both of us,” Feller said.
Given the amount of time this project has been in the works, council member Ashley Vanorny said she was disappointed to see incomplete renderings. “To me it seems like the homework has not been done in advance of this meeting,” she said.
Council member Pat Loeffler said there are many colonial-style houses in the neighborhood and “this in no way in my rendition fits into that neighborhood whatsoever.” He also wanted to see the club work better together with the neighborhood.
Council member Scott Overland said it’s been a tough couple of decades for golf, but the two country clubs in the community are now seeing a resurgence. He supported conditions on the development and said there was a “leap of faith” needed to move forward, but he believed the Country Club would meet it.
“It’s important to the community that we have a vibrant club that can reinvest in its facility,” Overland said. “With that in mind, I believe all of this can come together in such a way, as long as we’re paying attention to the details.”
Council member Dale Todd, who presided over this portion of the meeting with O’Donnell and Poe, the mayor pro tem, out of the vote, said he wanted “to guard us against wading into issues that may be not necessarily germane to what we’re doing here,” such as membership in the club.
“Our job is to determine compatibility and if it’s consistent with neighborhood standards,” Todd said.
Council members voted to table both the requests for rezoning and to vacate the right of way while staff work with the Country Club to address conditions over stormwater runoff, landscape buffering and improved design renderings.
The City Planning Commission, which voted 5-2 last month to support rezoning, approved it with the condition that the Country Club add directional parking lot lighting to minimize light pollution and install dimmers to automatically lower lighting each evening.
Motions to table rezoning and the right of way vacation requests passed 3-2, with Overland and council member Scott Olson in opposition. Scott Olson, one of over 20 board members of Four Oaks, said he was not aware the organization’s president planned to speak at the meeting and that was not a factor in his vote.
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