Government

After initial concerns, Cedar Rapids leaders back massive development

Developer adds park and trails to proposed 'American Prairie' project

The American Prairie project is slated to bring 583 new residential units to what currently are 140 agricultural acres off Wright Brothers Boulevard SW in Cedar Rapids. (Thomas Friestad/The Gazette)
The American Prairie project is slated to bring 583 new residential units to what currently are 140 agricultural acres off Wright Brothers Boulevard SW in Cedar Rapids. (Thomas Friestad/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — A residential housing proposal being called one of the largest ever in Cedar Rapids got a green light Tuesday two weeks after elected officials voiced reservations about the 140-acre, 583-unit concept slated for agricultural land near The Eastern Iowa Airport being too big and lacking public recreation space.

Iowa City developer Casey Boyd made alterations to address some top concerns, dedicating 4.5 acres for a public park in the center of the development and running recreational trails throughout to tie into surrounding trail systems.

“I’m pleased with the process,” Boyd said. “With adding the park and trails we came up with options that work for everyone. It affects the bottom line a little, but as they said, the changes will make for a nicer neighborhood.”

The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to approve a second consideration of rezoning from agriculture to a suburban residential low flex district and suburban mixed use community center district south of Wright Brothers Boulevard SW and east of Earhart Lane.

The estimated $20 million American Prairie could take seven to 10 years to complete.

Council member Ashley Vanorny proposed waiting to vote on the third and final consideration, but the majority of the council favored waiving the rules requiring three readings on three separate days, passing the measure 7-2 with members Vanorny and Ann Poe opposed.

“I do feel that, and hearing from the neighbors to the south, that you have made great progress in addressing the majority of my concerns and the concerns that were shared and presented on today,” Vanorny said. “I know that you have my support in moving forward on the second reading, but I do not support combining second and third possible readings today.”

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She praised Boyd for being an “early adopter” of a plan anticipated to be adopted in the fall that would regulate the dedication of park spaces for large developments, when he could have resisted this request.

Sandy Pumphrey, assistant development services manager, said the park layout is ideal for neighborhood access.

“This is in the middle of the development, which is desirable for all of the users of the development, all of the residents to be able to get to, not tucked a way in a corner,” he said.

Next up, the City Planning Commission is expected to review a preliminary plat, likely on June 27. The council would eventually have to vote on final plats, likely late this year.

The plan calls for 35 acres of 120 single-family homes, 70 acres of duplexes, 4.1 acres of fourplexes, 11.4 acres of multifamily structures and 4.8 acres of commercial space. Additional land would be devoted to stormwater management, including at least two detention basins.

Some had expressed concern with the density of the project, but Vern Zakostelecky, city zoning administrator, noted the overall density is “extremely low” by city standards — 4.4 units per acre, which is just above the minimum threshold. The greatest density would be on the northwest portion of the land closest to Wright Brothers Boulevard.

The city also would look to construct roundabouts along Wright Brothers at a new access road called Sundrop Lane SW in 2021 and at Kirkwood Boulevard possibly in 2023 to alleviate a projected doubling of traffic in the area due to the development.

The city would be responsible for those costs, but may create a tax increment financing district to have tax revenue from the development eventually pay for it, Pumphrey said.

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Market condition changes can prompt shifts in the housing mix of such large developments, officials said. Significant changes to density would require council approval, while minor changes would not, city staff said.

“I like the fact that we are memorializing some of these things like the park and trail system, stormwater management, some of those original concerns we had,” Poe said. “I think are really important with a project that has this kind of life span …. Those are items council is paying attention to.”

In other news, the council approved the first reading of adding inspection fees for developers constructing what would eventually become public infrastructure, such as roads and underground utilities, after seeing high rates of premature failures, leaving taxpayers to pay to fix it.

The city plans to hire two inspectors to review the construction sites. Fees capping at 5 percent of project costs would be instituted beginning in January 2020.

l Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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