116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — A district court judge has dismissed lawsuits that aimed to halt Cargill’s construction of a rail yard in the Rompot neighborhood in southeast Cedar Rapids, in time for the contentious rail yard to become fully operational in December.
Sixth District Court Judge Fae Hoover Grinde moved this week to dismiss the lawsuits filed by Democratic state Sen. Rob Hogg and his wife, Kate, who live in the neighborhood, against the Cedar Rapids City Council and Cargill in 2019.
The Hoggs sued to challenge the council’s votes to rezone a 28-acre lot to allow industrial use and amend 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.
“It is disappointing that the district court once again failed to address the city's violation of its flood control system master plan and its failure to follow the procedures required for a city-initiated land use change,” Hogg said in a statement. “I remain hopeful that Iowa courts will eventually provide justice for the Prairie Pollinator Zone, the flood plain, and the residents of Rompot and our neighbors who are being harmed by the city's actions.”
"My wife and I will be asking the court to amend, enlarge and reconsider the decision,“ Hogg added. ”That is the first step to the appeal.“
Work on the 12-track, 200-car rail yard began in the summer of 2021, and continued even as the Iowa Court of Appeals ruled last November to send the case back to district court. An appellate court panel ruled that residents of the Rompot neighborhood were wrongly denied a hearing in district court when they challenged Cargill’s rail yard construction.
In July 2020, 6th District Court Judge Mary Chicchelly ruled against the 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 appellate court did not rule on the merits of the Rompot neighborhood lawsuits, but said the arguments should have been heard in district court under state civil procedure rules. Court records show that hearing was held April 28.
Dan Pulis, Cedar Rapids corn milling facility manager at Cargill, said the company is pleased the district court has again ruled in favor of the City of Cedar Rapids and its decision to amend the future land use map and rezone land for development of the rail yard.
“The rail yard is critical to Cargill Cedar Rapids Corn Milling’s future,” Pulis said in a statement. “We remain committed to working with the city and neighbors to operate a rail yard that is safe and has the least impact on our neighbors.”
He said Cargill is finishing a few construction projects on the rail yard site, but the rail itself is fully functioning. Cargill plans to start using it in mid- to late December. Preliminary work began in spring 2021.
The Hoggs and attorney James Larew, who represented the neighboring homeowners, previously looked for the city to order a halt to the rail yard’s construction until all legal issues were fully resolved, but to no avail.
The rail yard being built on Stewart Road SE, between the Rompot neighborhood and Prairie Park Fishery, has riled neighbors who fear it will generate noise and air pollution, harm the environment, erode property values and pose safety risks.
In the ruling issued this week, the court found again that the city’s actions “were not unreasonable, arbitrary, or capricious” and determined the plaintiffs did not overcome the presumption of legality in reviewing the city’s decision.
“The Court recognizes Plaintiffs’ disinterest in living near a rail yard, however, disinterest does not equate to unlawful,” Grinde wrote.
Considering the legality of the zoning, the court found there was a reasonable basis for spot zoning, as it’s located next to a railroad and is near Cargill’s Otis Road SE facility, making this site “suitable and peculiarly adaptable for the intended use allowed by the rezoning decision,” Grinde wrote. Plus, Cargill explored several other options that were not as feasible and adaptable as this property.
On behalf of his clients, the neighbors with Protect the Prairie Park Corridor, Larew said in a statement that the residents were disappointed with the rulings. He did say they agreed with the ruling’s findings that the rezoning decision constituted “spot zoning,” but disagreed with the court’s determination that this action should be allowed as a matter of law.
“Cargill's self-serving, spot-zoned placement of a new, huge, noisy and dirty industrial rail switching yard facility on top of a public park, immediately adjacent to a long-established low-density residential neighborhood is, and will be, the source of conflict and hardship, suffered by homeowners who reside in the Rompot neighborhood and by members of the general public who wish to make use of adjacent park areas that were created by millions of dollars of taxpayer investments over a period of years,” Larew wrote.
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