Government

140-acre housing development plan concerns some Cedar Rapids leaders

Developer plans project off Wright Brothers Boulevard SW

The American Prarie 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 Prarie 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 — An Iowa City developer pitching what would be Cedar Rapids’ largest residential development in years said he is listening but warned of the narrow profit margins that come from building single-family homes in Cedar Rapids after elected officials this week questioned his project and urged he dedicate some land to a new park.

Casey Boyd is seeking a rezoning so he can proceed with the $20 million, 140-acre American Prairie designed for 583 housing units — a mix of single-family homes, multifamily structures and duplexes — and a small amount of commercial space just south of Wright Brothers Boulevard SW and east of Earhart Lane. It could take seven to 10 years to complete.

“It’s been a long road and big development is very tough to do,” Boyd said. “I feel often big development gets discounted because it is intimidating. But it is more intimidating from where I am at. And I have not said ‘no’ to anything I’ve been asked to do and I have paid attention to all concerns brought to my attention at this point.”

The City Council voted 7-1, with member Ashley Vanorny opposing, an initial consideration of a rezoning from agriculture to a suburban residential low flex district and suburban mixed use community center district. The panel also voted unanimously to amend the future land use map to urban-medium intensity. Council member Marty Hoeger was not present.

Vanorny and others had concerns about various aspects of the project, including stormwater runoff, traffic impact and light pollution. Some called for the inclusion of a public park and connection to the recreational trail system.

“Having seen the preliminary plats, I think the developers have been overzealous in their design,” Vanorny said. “I understand it fits with our plan of this, but I think that it’s too full. I think anything beyond single families is going to overburden this site.”

Early plans call for 120 single-family homes on 35 acres, 70 acres of duplexes, 4.1 acres of fourplexes, 11.4 acres of multifamily structures and 4.8 acres of commercial space. Additional land will be devoted to stormwater management, and it still is to be decided if and how parkland fits.

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Plans portray the most intense use and could be scaled back, said Loren Hoffman, a project manager for Hall & Hall Engineers of Hiawatha. Market demand would dictate the quantities of each housing type as the project unfolds, he said.

Proposed housing development elicits concerns

Cedar Rapids is developing a policy addressing the dedication of park land as part of a subdivision ordinance expected to be ready this fall, said Vern Zakostelecky, a city zoning administrator.

City staff have recommended the project proceed.

An annual housing analysis, which was released this week, encouraged the city to be more aggressive in adding single-family housing to help protect market share. The report projected a need of 1,115 over the next five years.

This rezoning requires two more considerations to be formally approved, which is anticipated at the next meeting, June 11. Some council members requested a fuller presentation before the vote, and indicated they may vote “no” if they are not satisfied.

“I don’t think it is appropriate to bring a $20 million project in front of us without a site plan,” council member Dale Todd said. “That’s all we are saying.” He said he wants to see a “baseline for what this will look like in the future.”

He and others said they “want this project,” but want assurances it does not bake in problems that will be hard to undo, given its scale.

Council member Scott Olson said he believed many of the concerns are addressed but that the information had not yet made it to the council. He, too, wanted more information even if parts change over time due to market conditions.

“This is a major, significant housing development that is important for us to maintain our percentage of where people live,” Olson said. “I would love to see developments of this scope coming to our city and people feeling comfortable they can take the risk.”

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Boyd said he was receptive to most of the requests, but noted Cedar Rapids has a problem with the value of single-family homes that makes it financially challenging to develop. He expressed concerns that providing a park could strain the viability of his project, and questioned whether the city could help cover those costs.

“There is no value for a big developer or a small developer to develop lots,” he said, urging the city to understand this dynamic if it hopes to meet its goals. “I want to work with you guys and I want to be realistic about values.”

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

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