116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Some Country Club Heights residents are fighting against the Cedar Rapids Country Club’s plans to expand over seven residential lots and potentially vacated right of way to develop a tennis complex and courts, expand the parking lot and modify the driving range to boost amenities for members.
In a 5-2 vote this week with two members absent, the City Planning Commission recommended granting the Country Club’s request for a rezoning — marking one step on the proposal’s way to Cedar Rapids City Council consideration.
The elected officials eventually will consider not only whether to OK the rezoning for the nearly 185-acre site, but also whether to grant the Country Club’s request for the city to vacate the right of way of Fairway Terrace SE, a road recently repaved using voter-approved local-option sales tax funds. According to the city, street work cost $20,394.81 — or about $13,600 for the portion to be vacated.
This was a point of contention for council member Ann Poe, who said she would recuse herself from voting on this project and strayed from usual procedures to implore the commission to weigh this concern, though it would fall on the council to ask for reimbursement as a condition of right of way vacation.
Several residents spoke against the proposal at Thursday’s commission meeting at City Hall, and 46 people signed onto a petition delivered to the city earlier in the day asking the commission and the council to vote against the plans. They fear the expansion won’t match with the neighborhood’s historic character and worry it will generate noise and light pollution and increased traffic in the area, among other concerns.
The commission was solely voting on the rezoning request. A public hearing is expected to take place at a later council meeting to advance the rezoning and right of way vacation requests. It was initially slated for April 26, but a motion setting this date will no longer be on the council’s Tuesday meeting agenda.
The change of zoning from Suburban Residential Large Lot and Suburban Residential Low Single Unit districts to Public-Institutional is intended to bring its entire campus under a single zoning district and “to better describe the institutional nature of the use of the land,” according to city documents.
Plans call for a proposed 35-foot-tall indoor tennis facility that would be built at the north of the expanded site along 27th Street Drive SE. The building will be partially submerged along 27th Street Drive SE, with the playing surface below street level.
No modifications are proposed to three outdoor tennis courts already along 27th Street Drive SE. Along the proposed vacated Fairway Terrace Drive SE, the Country Club is looking to construct a parking lot adjacent to the tennis pavilion, with additional parking spaces along the vacated right of way. Improvements to the current parking lot and landscaping are proposed as well.
Three more existing tennis courts along Fairway Terrace SE will be removed and the current golf driving range will be extended with hitting bays located closer to the vacated street, per the proposal.
“This is really the culmination of about a 10-year restoration project throughout our property, so we're very excited,” said Landis Wiley, the Country Club’s board treasurer.
Driving range reconfiguration would pave the way for larger-scale golf events, Landis said, and the Country Club “would look forward to working with the city to be host to a marquee event at some stage.” But he maintained the development wasn’t an effort to boost membership, as the Country Club is closing to new members effective May 1.
Landis also said the nearby properties that would be demolished for the expansion are mainly rental homes that were already vacated in part because of 2020 derecho damage and have not been repopulated since.
TL Thousand, a resident whose family has a 100-year history in the area, said the neighborhood has historic ties to Judge George Greene, a city founder, and artist Grant Wood.
“To think that the club wants to gouge out the side — the physical side that overlooks and dominates our neighborhood — is tragic beyond belief,” Thousand said.
Mary Tresnak, who has lived in the neighborhood for about 28 years, said many children trick-or-treat in the neighborhood on Halloween. Christmas carolers comes to their homes. And they have Fourth of July breakfasts where residents play the national anthem, raise a flag and gather in each other’s yards and driveways.
“It seriously is a neighborhood that resembles a Disney scene in Disney movies,” Tresnak said. “ … It truly is a neighborhood of people that we're there for each other.”
After listening to testimony, Poe did something council members seldom do — she rose from her seat among neighbors filling the benches and walked to the podium to address the commission, whose members are appointed by the council.
Poe said that while she holds an at-large seat on the nine-member council and serves as mayor pro tem, she was “not here in official capacity.”
“I'm a homeowner and I'm a neighbor,” Poe said. “Many of my neighbors have spoken today very articulately about their view about what they feel about this expansion with the club.”
The north and south segments of Fairway Terrace SE were paved last summer, Poe said, so she would “like (the commission) to consider taking a look at” the fact that should these portions of the road become an entrance and exit into the Country Club, the taxpayers would be on the hook for that repaving.
“Certainly if the club would be willing to reimburse the taxpayers and the city of Cedar Rapids for that paving, that might be appropriate as well,” Poe said.
Commissioner Kim King asked if the Country Club was willing to reimburse taxpayers for that work. “It’s my understanding that the city is requiring us to compensate the city for that,” Wiley answered.
According to the city, the Cedar Rapids Country Club paid $4,455 for the right of way to be vacated, encumbered with utilities. City Engineer Brenna Fall said in a statement that when a right of way vacation is requested, the Assessor’s Office determines the value of land. If easements for utilities are being retained, the value is depreciated by 50 percent.
Though Poe urged the commission to consider the street work reimbursement in its vote on whether to recommend rezoning, commission Chair Jim Halvorson said, “The issue of a reimbursement back to the city falls really more under the City Council’s purview as opposed to ours.” City Zoning Administrator Seth Gunnerson also had emphasized to the commission that the right of way vacation was for the council to consider.
Asked why Poe is recusing herself when one of her points of contention — the street work reimbursement as a term for right of way vacation — is under her purview as a council member, she told The Gazette, “You’ve got to trust your council.”
As a resident of the neighborhood, Poe said she felt it was best to recuse herself because of the project’s potential impact on her and her husband, such as potential changes to property values. She also had consulted with the city attorney before doing so.
Though most of the commission favored recommending the rezoning, they urged staff to look into recommending a condition as part of the council vote to mitigate light pollution.
“For me it’s the height of that building and the lighting that bring me the most concern,” said commissioner Linda Langston, who voted against rezoning along with Bradly Oja. “ … I objectively understand what you’re doing and commend you’re efforts but those for me are two big concerns in terms of the neighborhood.”
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