CEDAR RAPIDS — Cargill’s latest application for a rail yard on vacant city-owned ground in the southeast neighborhood known as Rompot is scheduled to go Thursday before the City Planning Commission as part of a special meeting, restarting the public review process.
The global agriprocessor has been working on a plan for a $6.5 million rail yard for nearly two years, spurring contentious debate over whether a blue-collar neighborhood should be forced to absorb an industrial use for the benefit of one of the city’s largest employers. The panel, though, is faced with a more narrow question.
“The question is whether or not this plan meets the intent of our comprehensive plan and the rezoning ordinance,” said Ken DeKeyser, the city’s development services manager. “That is at the heart of this.”
Cargill has permission to purchase 27.7 acres of city land south of the Stewart Road and Otis Avenue SE intersection, but the sale is contingent on rezoning 16.7 acres of it from suburban residential to general industrial for a 12-track, 200-car rail storage and switching yard to support its nearby corn milling plant.
The city would also need to amend its future land use map for this area from urban low intensity to urban high intensity. The remaining 11 acres, which separate the neighborhood from the rail yard, would be used for a berm and possibly native plantings and put into a conservation easement so it could not be developed in the future.
The nine-member planning commission will consider the rezoning and future land use amendment when it meets at 3 p.m. Thursday at City Hall, 101 First St. SE. The commission supported a similar request by Cargill for a rail yard on a different site in July, but that didn’t get past the City Council.
The panel is an advisory body to the council, so its recommendations are non-binding. The council will vote regardless of Thursday’s outcome.
Tentatively, a public hearing and first vote on the rezoning and lone vote on the future land use amendment are set for the Nov. 19 City Council meeting.
Rezoning is considered an ordinance change, which requires three votes to pass. The other votes are slated for Dec. 3 and Dec. 17. Second and third votes often are combined and occur at the same meeting, but given the interest, officials have recommended keeping them separate.
Cargill said the rail yard is needed to remain competitive amid a tightening of rail car availability, which at times has slowed operations.
Cargill has faced several requirements including studies on air and noise pollution and impacts on property values, and has agreed to a number of conditions including operating from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. only.
It also has agreed not to use the site for transloading and the only truck traffic would be for maintenance needs, DeKeyser said. Cargill has pledged up to $400,000 for a future railroad crossing improvement, which would include crossing arms, on Otis Road SE near the entry of Prairie Park Fishery to support a quiet zone.
Nonetheless, neighborhood resistance has been formidable.
Cargill officials, with encouragement from elected officials, pumped the brakes on a nearly identical proposal in fall 2018. Earlier this year, Cargill proposed a different site on privately-owned farm ground in the same neighborhood, but the council did not support that in August. Neighbors urged Cargill to find another location.
City officials are still negotiating a sale price. The assessed value is $1.1 million, according to the Cedar Rapids Assessor.
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