116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
TIFFIN — A sliver of land, a source of years of disagreement between Tiffin and Coralville, holds the key to completing a street connecting some of the state’s fastest growing cites — Forevergreen Road.
The road — which feeds into Tiffin on the west and to North Liberty and Coralville to the east — has brought increased traffic and development to the communities. A North Liberty city leader in 2019 told The Gazette more traffic will create a “hot area” for housing and commercial development along the road.
The land will connect Forevergreen Road in North Liberty to Tiffin. But who will build the final connection and how it will be done has been delayed by lawsuits dating to 2019 and continuing today.
The 7.46 acres is now owned by Coralville. The Ruth E. Rarick Trust deeded the land, which was part of its 80-acre tract of farm ground, in August 2019 for Coralville to build an extension of Forevergreen Road within five years.
There is also an ongoing legal battle between Tiffin and the Rarick Trust, with a trial scheduled for later this month.
Coralville, in court filings, says the land is its public property and Tiffin does not have the authority to acquire a portion of it through eminent domain. Eminent domain — also referred to as condemnation — is when the government, for a price, takes private property for public use.
In court filings, Tiffin called the quit claim deed for the land a “sham” and “an effort to thwart” that city’s Forevergreen Road project. Tiffin does not believe Coralville has ownership authority since the land is not within Coralville city limits.
While a district court judge last month ruled in favor of Coralville — granting a permanent injunction against condemnation and saying Tiffin does not have the authority to use eminent domain on it — the legal fight does not appear to be over just yet.
Growth near Forevergreen Road
The Iowa Department of Transportation expedited construction on the Forevergreen Road interchange with Interstate 380 as part of its project to re-imagine the larger interstates 80 and 380 intersection to the south. The work on the Forevergreen Road interchange wrapped up in 2019.
With Tiffin and North Liberty being two of the fastest-growing communities in the state, Forevergreen Road is “another gateway into their growing communities,” said Cathy Cutler, Iowa DOT transportation planner in the District 6 office.
The Metropolitan Planning Organization of Johnson County has Forevergreen Road listed as a proposed arterial street in its plan. Forevergreen Road is the next logical arterial street for the community and “hugely important for development,” said Kent Ralston, the organization’s executive director.
Coralville City Administrator Kelly Hayworth said the road “provides very important access to all four of those governmental entities” — Coralville, North Liberty, Tiffin and Johnson County. The road, Ralston said, “closes the gap between those communities.”
Hayworth said it’s important for the Forevergreen Road connection to be done correctly “so that we have a good road that will service the communities and residents for many, many years.”
IDOT: ‘That’s up to you to work out’
Cutler would not comment on the dispute between the cities or issues concerning the roadway outside of the department’s Forevergreen Road interchange project limits.
“There was dispute between some of the local cities about where that actual connection would be,” Cutler said. “We said that's up to you to work out. We're going to build our road on land that DOT purchased. We just let the cities work out how to connect that road.”
For the MPO, Ralston said, it doesn’t matter how the final design of the connection gets done or by who. Ralston said this type of dispute isn’t uncommon. But once the connection gets finished, it will benefit the communities, he said.
Forevergreen Road in Tiffin is currently connected to the road in North Liberty only by a temporary road Tiffin constructed in 2019.
Forevergreen Road has been listed as an arterial street in Tiffin’s Long Range Plan since 2009. The city has had plans to extend the road in November 2018 when it held a public hearing and approved construction of the extension, “which could include the use of condemnation.”
Tiffin began to acquire the necessary property — including land owned by Scott Andersen, the developer of Park Place — but was not able to acquire the land from the Rarick Trust.
In Tiffin, right by the Forevergreen Road interchange with I-380, is a 265-acre mixed-use project known as Park Place. The project has been underway and will feature entertainment, restaurants and shopping, as well as apartment units and single-family lots.
This is an area where the city anticipates “a significant amount of growth,” Tiffin City Administrator Doug Boldt told The Gazette last year.
Boldt declined to comment for this article due to the ongoing legal dispute. Lawyers for Tiffin either declined to comment or did not respond to requests for comment.
In July 2019, Tiffin began construction of Forevergreen Road up to the trust property, and the temporary Forevergreen Road connected to Jasper Avenue to go around the disputed land. Work was completed a few months later in November 2019.
Tiffin passed a resolution Aug. 20, 2019, to start the process of acquiring 1.81 acres from the Rarick Trust. Two days later, on Aug. 22, 2019, the trust executed the quit claim deed with Coralville.
The deed grants the property to Coralville for the construction of the extension of Forevergreen Road. The location of the road must be agreed upon by the trust and the city. If Coralville doesn’t build the road within five years of the deed — by August 2024 — the ownership of the property will revert to the trust.
In his ruling last month, 6th Judicial District Judge Jason Besler noted the current dispute over Forevergreen Road is not the first the two cities have had.
“Coralville is frustrated that Tiffin deviated from the Arterial Streets Plan Map developed by the Metropolitan Planning Organization of Johnson County,” Besler wrote.
Because the Park Road that Tiffin built is located farther west than what was shown on the MPO’s map, Coralville claims Tiffin did not study the map or discuss the location with the Metropolitan Planning Organization. Tiffin disputes this, saying it did discuss it and the change did not warrant further study or concern.
There is 23 acres of land within Coralville city limits, west of the interchange, that Park Road was supposed to serve, Hayworth said. With Park Road now moved to the west, there is the question of how that area will get served, Hayworth said. This 23-acre parcel of land is owned by the Rarick Trust.
“It does appear to the court this matter created some tension between the parties, and that tension is boiling over into the current dispute as well,” Besler wrote.
Besler noted in his ruling Coralville has constructed roads outside its city limits in the past. Hayworth said the city has worked with North Liberty and Johnson County, for example, on roads that serve both communities. Asked about collaborating with Tiffin, Hayworth said that’s “where things broke down because a lot of things were done without having those discussions.”
“I think that's really where the issue came is that there weren't discussions about how to handle these roads that were impacting both communities, for example the old Park Road,” Hayworth said.
Plan map is tool
The arterial streets plan map shows arterial streets in the urbanized area, as well proposed arterial streets.
The Metropolitan Planning Organization listens to the communities — North Liberty, Coralville, Tiffin, Iowa City, University Heights and parts of unincorporated Johnson County — on where they would like arterial streets to go, said Ralston.
“Our group doesn't so much establish the proposed corridors as much as we do listen to our constituents and figure out exactly where they would like arterial streets to go,” Ralston said.
Ralston said the plan map is a tool for communities and shows “rough proposed areas” where arterial streets are anticipated.
“Communities do not have to follow this map,” Ralston said. “As a metropolitan planning organization, it's a tool for planning, but it is not a mandate that folks build these roads in these areas. It's really more of us reacting to the community than it is vice versa.”
Who has authority to build the road?
The legal fight between the two cities has been ongoing since 2019, as has a legal fight between Tiffin and the Rarick Trust.
Both cities want to build the connecting road but have different proposals, each saying theirs is better. But both roads can’t be built.
Tiffin wants to condemn the property for its proposal, saying Coralville does not have authority over the land because it is outside its city limits. Coralville says the land is its public property and can’t be acquired by eminent domain.
Besler disputed Tiffin’s argument the quit claim deed is a “sham.” Coralville accepted the property for the purpose of building the road, and there is “no factual basis to find this transaction was entered in bad faith,” he said in the April 22 ruling.
Coralville “should be allowed an opportunity” to build the proposed section of Forevergreen Road, Besler said.
Since the April 22 ruling, Tiffin filed a motion requesting the court amend its ruling, invalidating the deed and giving Tiffin the authority to condemn 1.81 acres needed to finish its Forevergreen Road project.
Coralville filed its own motion asking to extend the time in the quit claim deed to account for the time lost in litigation. If Tiffin appeals, that would further delay the Coralville’s road construction.
Coralville has not started its design on the proposed road extension, according to court documents, because it would be a “potential waste of taxpayer dollars to spend money on the design/construction” until a final ruling has been issued.
Hayworth said the city is ready to move forward and get the road designed and completed.
2016/2017: City of Tiffin adopts an urban renewal plan and enters into development agreements with Scott Andersen and his business entities. The plan contemplated development of the Park Place mixed-use project and was anticipated to include extending Forevergreen Road and include tax increment financing.
2018: Iowa DOT begins construction of the I-380 interchange and Forevergreen Road in North Liberty.
September 2018: Development agreement between Tiffin and Andersen is amended to relieve Andersen and his businesses of the obligation to construct the Forevergreen Road extension, leaving the obligation to the city.
November 2018: The city of Tiffin holds a public hearing and approves the city’s construction of the Forevergreen Road extension, “which could include the use of condemnation.”
Jan. 15, 2019: The city of Tiffin files a petition for determination and declaration of public use to acquire the land from Andersen’s business entities and the Ruth E. Rarick Trust by eminent domain.
July 1, 2019: Tiffin has a contractor begin construction of Forevergreen Road and the temporary Forevergreen Road. The work was completed on Nov. 6, 2019.
July 5, 2019: Forevergreen Road in North Liberty opens to traffic.
Aug. 20, 2019: Tiffin passes a resolution to condemn the property and begin acquiring it through eminent domain.
Aug. 22, 2019: Through a quit claim deed, the trust transfers part of its land to the city of Coralville. The deed was recorded the next day, Aug. 23, 2019.
Nov. 1, 2019: North ramps of the I-380 interchange open to traffic.
Dec. 17, 2019: City of Tiffin files a petition for declaratory judgment against the city of Coralville in Johnson County District Court, asking the court to declare Tiffin has authority to more forward with its Forevergreen Road project, including condemning the strip in the quit claim deed.
Jan. 10, 2021: City of Tiffin files application for condemnation with the Johnson County Recorder.
March 22, 2021: The Rarick Trust files a petition against Tiffin, stating the city lacks the legal authority to condemn the land it deeded to Coralville.
March 24, 2021: City of Coralville files a petition against city of Tiffin in District Court, asking for the court to issue an order prohibiting Tiffin from condemning the property.
Jan. 18, 2022: Trial begins for both cases — Tiffin's December 2019 petition and Coralville’s March 2021 petition. The court granted the motion to consolidate the two cases on June 4, 2021. Closing arguments and rebuttals were presented in February 2022.
April 22, 2022: A District Court judge rules the quit claim deed “remains in full force” and Tiffin does not have the authority to use eminent domain to acquire the property. The court ordered a permanent injunction against Tiffin exercising eminent domain with caveats on the property.
May 31, 2022: A trial in the case between Tiffin and the Rarick Trust is scheduled to begin.
Dates listed were taken from court documents. This is not an exhaustive list of events.
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