116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Plans calling for the construction of 89 single-family houses east of the Rompot neighborhood — and Cargill’s contentious rail yard site — got the green light this week from the City Planning Commission.
The new Kestrel Heights subdivision will fill 65 acres of undeveloped land north of Otis Road SE and east of Cole Street SE, adding more homes to Cedar Rapids while the city and nation grapple with a housing shortage. This land is zoned Suburban Residential Large Lot District, so rezoning was not needed.
The Assessor’s Office shows the land as agricultural use for taxation purposes, but according to the city, it has been zoned for residential development since at least 1971. In other words, while residents may have grown accustomed to this property sitting empty, the land use was not in question.
The commission was asked to consider whether the preliminary plat meets the city's subdivision and zoning ordinances. Those outline standards for design and improvements within a subdivision, and rules for tree preservation or mitigation and mobility, respectively.
Houses will be built in four phases over several years — 29 lots directly north of Otis Road, 21 lots continuing along that road to a cul-de-sac, 20 lots extending southeast from there, then 19 lots going north with access to Irene Dumpke Park.
The small park is not accessed by any city roads, Development Services Manager Ken DeKeyser said, so this development could provide a pedestrian access easement to the park.
“It's a pretty good location for a residential development to be close to amenities” and to Prairie Park Fishery, DeKeyser said. The development also will include public streets and utilities.
Cargill rail yard status
The new Kestrel Heights subdivision would sit near the Rompot neighborhood and the Cargill’s rail yard, where work is underway to build a 12-track, 200-car facility on 28 acres at Stewart Road SE.
The rail yard still is the subject of legal battles after residents, including retiring state Sen. Rob Hogg, who opposed the project for fear it would create noise and air pollution, erode property values and pose safety hazards.
Cargill officials have said the yard will provide supply chain stability and protect jobs at its corn-milling plant, at 1710 16th St. SE.
The Democratic senator and his wife, Kate, sued the city and Cargill in 2019 soon after the City Council’s votes to rezone the 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 lawsuit, seeking to stop construction.
The Iowa Court of Appeals last November ruled the plaintiffs were wrongly denied a hearing in district court and remanded the matter to the lower court for a hearing. Court records show that hearing was held April 28. All parties have until July 22 to submit briefs.
Dan Pulis, Cedar Rapids corn milling facility manager at Cargill, said the rail yard is slated for September completion and will be operational by then. Preliminary work began in spring 2021.
New subdivision plans
Over one-third of the Kestrel Heights development — 23 acres — will be conservation easement that will remain untouched. Ty Gingerich, development services engineer, said the lot density is 2.5 units per acre, within the two to 12 units per acre allowed for Urban Low-Intensity areas on the future land use map.
This development marks the third new subdivision in recent years in the city after Prairie Landing in the northeast quadrant and American Prairie, which is being built and will add hundreds of residential units in the southwest quadrant.
Developer Brian Norris, president of Greyhurst Enterprises, told the commission $3.5 million would be invested to develop the property into a modern subdivision.
“It is beautiful and unique and the elevation changes at this development really make it feel like it’s twice as big as what it is,” Norris said.
Norris said he may have the opportunity to purchase a remaining 5 acres from a landowner who expects to move soon, in which case another 30 to 40 homes could be build at the end of phase one or midway through the second phase.
Some Rompot residents shared concerns about the land use, preserving nature and green space and stormwater management.
Gingerich told the commission that a 1.2-acre detention basin would be owned and maintained by the city once a certain amount of lots are developed at the property, which sits within 168 acres of a watershed. Gingerich said stormwater would not drain into the Rompot neighborhood.
Others spoke of concerns that adding 500 or more neighbors would generate more traffic nearby.
According to Iowa Department of Transportation traffic data from 2017-18, there was one crash around this segment of Otis Road. Staff estimate the new development would generate fewer than 100 peak-hour trips, so DeKeyser said it does not warrant new turn signals or turn lanes.
“We don't find that the volumes are particularly high for these types of streets,” DeKeyser said.
The developer was not asked to include the cost of the homes in the preliminary plat, but some asked about the selling price.
“If we know that there are lots that are empty in rich, suburban type of neighborhoods, why would we be building more when we have so many homeless people in our city?” asked resident Kathleen Bevins. “When we have need for lower-income housing, why are we building more high-income housing?”
Ghassan Halloush, the project engineer, said he understands many nearby residents would like to preserve the beauty of the natural space here, but others would like to live in this part of town, too.
“If we want the city to be the beautiful city we want it to be, that's where we should be developing,” Halloush said. “That's where we should be living. … We shouldn't be building prisons on the river. We should build homes so we can all enjoy it.”
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