116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — An Iowa Court of Appeals panel ruled this week that residents of the Rompot neighborhood were wrongly denied a hearing in district court when they challenged Cargill’s construction of a rail yard in southeast Cedar Rapids.
Work on the $6.5 million rail yard began this summer, so the Tuesday ruling may have little impact on construction. The appeals court did not rule on the merits of the Rompot neighborhood lawsuits, simply saying the arguments should have been heard in district court under state civil procedure rules.
“We are sensitive to the nature of these proceedings and their importance to the citizens of Iowa,” Judge Sharon Soorholtz-Greer wrote in the opinion, which sends the case back to district court.
Democratic state Sen. Rob Hogg and his wife, Kate, who live in the neighborhood, sued the city and Cargill in 2019 soon after the Cedar Rapids City Council rezoned a 28-acre lot to allow industrial use and amended the city’s future land use map in the 500-year flood plain. Numerous neighbors and others in opposition to the rail yard joined the Hoggs’ lawsuit.
The Hoggs and attorney James Larew, who represents the neighboring homeowners, said in a joint statement they are pleased with the appeals court’s ruling.
“We continue to advocate for the city and state law to honor the long-standing land use plans on which residents relied in buying and investing in homes, and for the public interest in protecting the flood plain as called for under the city's land use plans including the flood control system master plan,” they wrote.
“We believe the city should order a halt to any further activities related to the planned rail yard until all legal issues are fully addressed and resolved.”
The rail yard being built on Stewart Road SE, between the Rompot neighborhood and Prairie Park Fishery, has riled neighbors who fear it will create noise and air pollution, harm the environment, erode property values and pose safety risks.
Cargill officials have said the rail yard is necessary to provide supply chain stability and protect jobs at the company’s corn-milling plant, 1710 16th St. SE, which is near the construction site.
Dan Pulis, the Cedar Rapids corn milling facility manager, said in a statement the appeals court ruling “addressed a procedural issue and does not restrict or otherwise limit Cargill’s rights to proceed forward with the rail yard project in the manner approved by the Cedar Rapids City Council.”
“We look forward to continuing to work with the neighbors and community partners in implementing the project,” he said. The company aims to finish Building the rail yard and having it operating by late spring 2022.
In July 2020, 6th District Court Judge Mary Chicchelly ruled against the Rompot lawsuits proceeding — without holding a hearing — because the plaintiffs had not “overcome the strong presumption of legality” in challenging the city’s zoning and land use decisions.
The city’s actions “were not unreasonable, arbitrary, or capricious,” Chicchelly wrote. Cedar Rapids had investigated the implications for its comprehensive plan, including flood protection, and “considered the competing interests” before making a decision.
Also, the ruling continued, the project “clearly is a large one in which Cargill likely would incur significant damages if a delay is imposed.”
The city and Cargill argued against holding a hearing, saying the court had been extensively briefed about the issue through written records and the result would be the same with an oral hearing.
The Rompot neighbors appealed that ruling, which the Iowa Court of Appeals heard Sept. 9. In its ruling this week, Soorholtz-Greer took issue with the district court not holding a hearing.
“While that prophecy may be true” — that the result of a hearing would be the same as one based on written records — “we find the process must guide the result, not fall to the result guiding the process.”
Soorholtz-Greer wrote the court was not convinced by Cargill suggesting the Rompot neighbors had had a “hearing” during the September oral arguments before appellate judges.
“With the limited time afforded in appellate oral argument, we do not consider a hearing on the merits to be on equal footing with the targeted discussions had in front of our court,” Soorholtz-Greer wrote.
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