116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Dows Farm on pause while awaiting derecho grant funding
‘Agri-community’ east of C.R. will combine housing and working farm
CEDAR RAPIDS — Linn County’s Dows Farm “agri-community” project — featuring new housing along with a working farm — is on a “pause” until at least the end of the year as the developer awaits word on grant funding.
The county is slated to receive the lion’s share of nearly $57 million awarded to the state by the federal government to assist with long-term recovery from the August 2020 derecho. The Iowa Economic Authority is administering $56.94 million in Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery funds, 80 percent of which must be spent in Linn County — nearly $45.6 million.
Hiawatha’s Ahmann Companies, the master developer for the project, is trying to get some of that funding to go toward the housing development aspect of the project.
“One of the rules is that dirt can’t be moved until we receive the money and we find out around December,” said Linn County Board of Supervisor Chair Ben Rogers. “So nothing with this project will happen for the rest of the year.”
Ahmann Vice President Chad Pelley previously said the project will take five to 10 years.
The vision for the 179-acre Dows Farm development includes a working farm with 251 housing units, walking trails and land conservation elements. The estimated economic value of the project is over $80 million.
The county bought the 485-acre site, west of Highway 13, in 2016 for $7.2 million. Some 300-plus acres of the purchase were added to Wanatee Park. The remainder will go to the Dows Farm project, with half of that being managed by Linn County Conservation to protect the land along Wanatee Creek and the other half going to the housing units. Only 25 percent of the land bought in 2016 will be developed, county officials have said.
Currently, Feed Iowa First has a couple of farmers each farming an acre of land on the plot, County Planning and Development Director Charlie Nichols said. He said the county still needs to find a farmer to tend to the land full-time. He said he wants to form a committee with Feed Iowa First, the county as well as the Iowa Farm Bureau.
“We will need a committee to select a site farmer, because Feed Iowa First doesn’t have the capacity for the entire site,” Nichols said.
But as of right now, everything still is on the table, Nichols said.
“We really haven’t done anything yet. When I first stepped into this, it was frustrating that things were moving slowly, but now I realize some projects, especially ones that involve so many people, it’s good it’s moving slow,” he said.
Supervisor Louie Zumbach, a farmer himself who became a supervisor after the project was already in the works, said he was initially against the idea.
“That ship has already sailed so I could sit there and vote no on stuff or I could get involved and help it be successful, and I do think this will work once the housing is built,” he said. “It will just take some time for the houses to be built and people to be there.”
Like Nichols said, when it comes to the future of farming on the site, Zumbach said the table is open.
“We have a unique opportunity. The barn there was destroyed by the derecho and we can move the whole site to what works best for the future housing,” Zumbach said. “Maybe we have a base farmer and have Kirkwood (Community College) students help. That’s been an idea. But you really need one person spearheading the farm.”
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