Government

Some Cedar Rapids residents taking advantage of property buyouts for flood control

(FILE PHOTO) A resident focuses on plans for a levee in the Time Check neighborhood of northwest Cedar Rapids during an open house on the flood control system at the Cedar Rapids Public Library in downtown Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, March 31, 2015. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
(FILE PHOTO) A resident focuses on plans for a levee in the Time Check neighborhood of northwest Cedar Rapids during an open house on the flood control system at the Cedar Rapids Public Library in downtown Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, March 31, 2015. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Several properties remain in the path of the planned Cedar Rapids flood control system, but they are not under immediate pressure to sell or condemnation through eminent domain despite an infusion of federal funds that will ramp up pace of construction.

Twenty-seven properties on the west side of the Cedar River, primarily in the Time Check neighborhood, are in an early acquisition program.

Property owners can approach the city any time for a buyout between now and when construction is imminent and a buyout becomes mandatory.

“A lot of these we may not need for five or 10 years, but people would have a hard time selling to anyone other than the city,” said Rob Davis, the Cedar Rapids flood control manager. “It’s nice from a property owner perspective because you have a buyer when you are ready.”

Federal aid is restricted to the eastside flood system, with completion required within five years. The city needs only easements rather than buyouts on the east side, which includes the NewBo District, downtown and the northside industrial area, Davis said.

The city will be in contact with Cargill, Great America Financial Services, International Paper and Alliant Energy about the necessary easements, he said.

City officials say they remain committed to protecting the west side of the river as well. The full flood control system is expected to be complete in the early 2030s.

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The westside buyout properties are selected addresses on First through Sixth Street NW, Ellis Boulevard NW, Penn Avenue NW and Ellis Lane NW.

The city also has been in touch with three properties on 22nd Avenue SW in Czech Village to offer voluntary buyouts, given its proximity to the flood control system, Davis said.

Each property owner has been contacted by mail, beginning in 2015 and with annual reminders thereafter.

Approximately 1,400 properties participated in a voluntary buyout program in the aftermath of the 2008 flood. The 2015 flood control master plan put 50 properties that had not participated in the earlier voluntary buyout in or near the path of the system of flood walls and levees, prompting the new buyout program.

Since 2015, the city has acquired 22 of the properties either because the owners came forward or through tax sales, including one property — 1311 Third St. NW — for $44,000 in 2018.

“The reason I gave up or sold to them was because I was just plain tired of fighting with them,” said Dennis Ades, who had purchased the property in 2006.

He said he had a positive experience with the city employees involved in the buyout, but grew frustrated with the City Council’s moratorium, which restricted what he could do with the property.

Ades, who moved to Springville after the flood, had been paying $800 a year on lawn maintenance and liability insurance, but was unwilling to sell for the initial offer of $22,000 made years earlier.

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He said he sleeps much better now that the sale has gone through, but it put no money in his pocket, he said. Instead, it went directly to a loan for which he qualified due to the flood to purchase his new home, he said.

Two higher profile acquisitions were among the buyouts — Hubbard Ice complex, for $2.5 million in 2016, and Best Western Cooper’s Mill, for $5.23 million in 2016. Those have been demolished.

State aid from the growth reinvestment initiative is being used to pay for the buyouts, Davis said. The city uses a certified appraiser to determine a proposed purchase price, which can be contested by the property owner, Davis said.

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

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