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Newstrack: Time Check homeowner appealing Cedar Rapids’ property acquisition for flood control
City still has to negotiate with 24 property owners
CEDAR RAPIDS — As the city of Cedar Rapids looks to acquire over 20 homes in the Time Check area for flood control system construction, potential legal challenges from residents challenging the city’s use of eminent domain may add delays to the project’s advancement in the northwest quadrant.
The city is in the design phase on a segment of flood control levee from Ellis Boulevard NW to O Avenue NW, but some homes are located where the levee is planned.
Other projects in the area also are in the design phase as part of the $750 million system of flood levees and gates intended to shield residents from rising Cedar River waters. That includes the Time Check levee tie-off at Ellis Lane NW and the O Avenue NW elevation over the levee.
The Cedar Rapids City Council in 2021 awarded $5.1 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds to elevate a segment of O Avenue NW over the levee.
In preparation for the levee project, the city has been in communication with area homeowners for over a year, if not several, about the need to acquire their specific properties for flood control, city Real Estate Services Manager Rita Rasmussen said. The city provided The Gazette with copies of letters dating back to 2015 — with follow-up letters in 2017, 2018, 2021 and 2022.
The first of the homeowners to challenge the city’s offer was Matthew Robinette, who lives at 1523 Fifth St. NW.
The Linn County Compensation Commission on Condemnation on Jan. 25 awarded Robinette $150,000 for his property plus $5,000 for relocation assistance. The city’s initial offer was $131,000. Offers must be based on fair market value, not assessed value.
What’s happened since?
Since the first condemnation hearing related to flood control, Robinette’s attorney, Daniel Manning, on Feb. 20 filed an appeal against the city. Others, including Linn County, are named as defendants in the appeal because of liens placed on his property.
He is preliminarily seeking damages in excess of $350,000 subject to final determination by a valuation expert. According to court records, Robinette’s attorney argues the award “does not fairly and accurately determine the damages the plaintiff has actually sustained as a result of the condemnation.”
Asked if other property owners are slated to go through condemnation hearings, Rasmussen said the city is working with one other property, which will be forthcoming probably in the late spring. Overall, she said, 15 property owners are in negotiations and nine that have not started yet.
If they’re at an impasse in negotiations or if property owners are not communicating with the city, she said the city initiates the eminent domain proceedings to protect the project’s bid date within the coming year.
These property owners had the opportunity to do voluntary acquisitions through the program put in place after the 2008 flood. The city acquired over 1,300 properties through the program that closed in 2017.
“We tried to leave it voluntary up to a certain point, but now it is involuntary,” Rasmussen said. “It is a public improvement project, and their homes are within the footprint of the flood control project.”
Because these are residential properties, Rasmussen said the city has to work with the homeowners to relocate before taking possession if their compensation award is accepted. But the ability for either party to appeal the compensation commission’s decision — if negotiations head to that process — may cause a delay.
“On the project side, we are trying to get the money spent and accelerate the cash flow as fast as we can,” Public Works Director Bob Hammond said. “Construction costs are not going to go lower per unit of something, so we want to avoid as many delays as we can.”
Since the flood control system master plan was adopted in 2015, Hammond said, the actual alignment of the west-side system has become clearer — prompting updates to the plan and affecting additional parcels.
Additional acquisition offers have been approved by the City Council recently as more residents consider whether to fight to stay in their homes or push for higher compensation for having to leave. These won’t necessarily all head to the compensation commission, as some may accept the city’s offer.
Residents Ajai Dittmar, Kathy Potts and others have come to recent council meetings to voice their concerns with the city’s use of eminent domain for flood control and how the city has communicated with residents about the project.
Potts said the city was building condos nearby for wealthy people, but telling working-class people they must leave their homes for flood control and new amenities such as a dog park.
“It’s going to take force” to get residents to leave their homes, Potts said Tuesday.
Dittmar said the homes were not needed, but were “wanted for a beautification project.”
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