CEDAR RAPIDS — One of the city’s top industries is seeking to buy 27.74 acres of public land for a rail yard near the Rompot neighborhood in southeast Cedar Rapids, potentially reducing train traffic in the downtown area and the New Bohemia District.
Cargill, an agricultural and shipping giant with facilities in Cedar Rapids, hopes to store and switch cars on a vacant tract of city land just south of homes off Otis Road SE and just north of the Prairie Park Fishery. Neighbors received a mailing showing a field with 10 tracks and a tree-lined mound protecting their neighborhood and blocking off the rail yard.
Cargill trains now are stored on Union Pacific tracks near Cedar Lake, necessitating trips through downtown to the plant on Otis Road. In addition to the rail yard, the proposal calls for a landscaped berm along the north part of the property providing protection and beautification, said Kelly Sheehan, a Cargill spokeswoman.
The City Council development committee will consider advancing the request to sell the land when it meets at 8 a.m. Tuesday in the training room in the lower level of City Hall, 101 First St. SE.
City staff are recommending the city begin the process by allowing private parties to competitively bid for the property. Staff recommends the sale meet the following objectives: have a community benefit; be compatible with significant flood events; be financially viable; and mitigate to the extent possible compatibility with surrounding uses.
Bill Micheel, assistant director of Cedar Rapids’ community development department, said he is not aware of other interest in the land, which the city acquired in 1997. Micheel said if the plans advance, the matter could come before the council for a development agreement in October.
The land appears to be a vacant overgrown field of weeds. However, city signs at the edge of the property at Stewart Road and Otis Avenue SE refer to the land as a “Wildlife Refuge” and a second sign advises “No Motorized Vehicles; No Fires; No Hunting; No Trapping.” A third sign warns against flying aircraft.
City staff were not aware Monday of the land being any official wildlife refuge, Micheel said, but staff plans to investigate further if any restrictions exist.
At least three neighbors said they favored Cargill’s plans.
They said the city had invested in native grasses on the land, which prompts a police presence when people use the property. They noted people use it for riding four-wheelers and dirt bikes, flying model airplanes and dumping junk.
“We think it is a great idea to do something with the land,” said Patty Shannon, 63, whose home backs up to the property. “They said they would put in flood protection for the neighborhood, and it will clear up a lot of the train traffic downtown.”
Rompot has not been part of the city’s flood control plans. She and her husband, Pat Shannon, 65, said they were glad to hear more firm plans for the land after years of discussion about a campground, soccer fields or being used for industrial space.
Cargill representatives told attendees at a neighborhood meeting in January the yard would be operational only from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., would have a small structure for workers and would be fenced to prevent vandalism, the Shannons said. If it gains all the necessary approvals, the rail yard could be done in December, they said.
Another neighbor, Steven Carnicle, 59, said he views the development as “progress,” and he said he isn’t one to stand in the way of progress. Plus the berm would block out views of the train activity.
He did have some concerns — such as if chemicals would be stored in rail cars, or if property values would decline.
He also said he was frustrated on principle because the city had rejected his request to buy nearby vacant city-owned land — one of several residential properties in the area demolished and bought out after the 2008 flood — because it was green space.
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