116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS - The Cedar Rapids City Council has taken a first step toward imposing a local topsoil rule on development sites that syncs better with its flood prevention plans. This is after the state of Iowa set aside its so-called 'four-inch” rule in June but allowed communities to adopt their own standard.
At its meeting Tuesday, the City Council's three-member Infrastructure Committee generally supported a proposed new city topsoil rule as spelled out by Kasey Hutchinson, the city's stormwater coordinator.
The city's Stormwater Commission has endorsed the proposal, Hutchinson told the council committee.
Council committee members Scott Olson, the chairman, Ralph Russell and Ann Poe said they like that the proposal gives developers options on how to meet the proposed city topsoil standard and that it calls for a credit that could save a complying developer money by requiring less of a detention basin system at a development site.
Olson said the proposed topsoil rule, which is designed to slow water runoff and improve the quality of water that does run off, represents 'a drop in the bucket” in costs for a city that endured a historic flood in 2008 and a damaging flash flood in June 2014. The city is building a $600 million flood control system to prevent another flood and faces as much as $50 million in sewer improvements to protect against more flash flooding.
The committee called for the proposal to be sent to the development community for comment.
Olson said the committee will review those comments in the coming weeks and months as it and then the full City Council consider any final topsoil rule.
Hutchinson said Coralville already has adopted a local topsoil ordinance, which she said the proposed Cedar Rapids one mirrors. She said North Liberty also is considering an ordinance as our other communities in the Cedar Rapids metro area.
Russell said he likes that all the communities in the area might approve similar ordinances so developers know what to expect.
The state adopted the so-called four-inch topsoil rule in 2012 after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency called on the state to enact a rule. In 2012, Hutchinson said stakeholders, including homebuilders, helped the state adopt the rule. However, by 2013, homebuilders said they found the rule too costly and proposed a change, she said.
Hutchinson said the former state rule required developers or builders to determine how much topsoil was on a site before work begins and to make sure the same amount is there when the job is complete. As an option, developers could bring in enough soil to make sure four inches of topsoil was in place at the end of the job.
Under the proposed city rule, developers and builders must retain the existing topsoil and select from eight soil management methods to use on the site.
Hutchinson said the goal is quality of soil, and she said lower-cost practices could be used to mix sand and compost or compost and topsoil on a site to get to a desired amount of coverage.
The goal of the proposed ordinance is not four inches of topsoil, but eight inches of material, she said.
Hutchinson said the changes in the state rule on topsoil this summer leave decisions with builders or developers.
In July, Drew Retz, past president of the Iowa Home Builders Association of Iowa and vice president of operations for Jerry's Homes in Cedar Rapids, said the former state rule had been unworkable and unenforceable and potentially added thousands of dollars to home prices.
'Homebuilders aren't against water quality,” Retz said then. 'What we are for is housing affordability. And all the rules just drive up home costs.”