CEDAR RAPIDS — Backers of an affordable housing project with five units reserved for the chronically homeless say plans have changed enough to warrant a second look by the Cedar Rapids City Council, which rejected the plan last fall.
They need to act quickly before $8 million in federal tax credits earmarked for the project expire this summer. “There’s no guarantees of success one way or the other,” said Justin Eilers, project manager for CommonBond Communities, the project developer. “We are just trying to explore any and all options to make this project successful.”
CommonBond Communities, a St. Paul, Minn. nonprofit that builds affordable housing in the Midwest, saw plans for its $9 million, 45-unit Crestwood Ridge Apartments, at 1200 Edgewood Road NW, dashed when the City Council narrowly voted down a rezoning request under the weight of neighborhood opposition on Oct. 25. Not giving up and contending plans for the housing project have substantially changed, CommonBond officials submitted what is called a “successive application” on Tuesday requesting the city waive a one-year wait before another vote can be held.
The process is in place for such cases, but is rarely used, according to Joe Mailander, a city development service manager.
Neighbors pushed back last year saying the roads in the northwest quadrant neighborhood already are stressed with traffic and stormwater backups and children would have no safe place to play. They submitted a petition with more than 500 signatures of opposition. Supporters argued the location — on a bus line and near an elementary school — is ideal, the affordable housing is needed and neighbors simply didn’t want the low income tenants nearby.
“Obviously, we are very disappointed they would spend the money and time and effort on something people so soundly didn’t want or believe was appropriate for this area, and still try to do the same thing,” said Gary Butte, 53, who has lived for nearly 20 years on Crestwood Drive NW. “None of us can see how they could make enough changes to address all of our concerns. I know everyone still is as opposed to it as ever.”
City staff has supported the plan and signed a purchase agreement with CommonBond to sell the 1.98-acre site — which is vacant city owned land — for $280,000. The City Planning Commission recommended against the rezoning last April, but the City Council has the final say.
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The Crestwood Ridge concept — setting aside 10 percent of units as permanent homeless housing and providing on-site case management — helped CommonBond win an $8 million tax credit last spring through the Iowa Finance Authority as a demonstration site for homeless housing. Among the other units, 36 would serve residents who earn 60 percent of the area’s median income and four units would be market-rate.
CommonBond has until the end of June to purchase the land and invest 10 percent of the project costs or lose the tax credit, Dave Vaske, of the Iowa Finance Authority, said earlier this year. The tax credit is site specific, preventing CommonBond from selecting a different location.
Thomas Stanberry, executive vice president of CommonBond, in a letter to the city on Tuesday explained key changes for Crestwood Ridge that he said addresses concerns. The structure itself is essentially the same as the original proposal, but several amenities for the site and area are new. Changes include:
— A right hand turn lane from Edgewood Road southbound to Crestwood Drive.
— An underground cistern, instead of a detention pond to capture stormwater runoff. It would also increase the amount of green space for recreation and stormwater absorption.
— A larger playground and more green space.
— Biocells to capture stormwater runoff.
— A reduction in parking stalls from 90 to 75 to allow more open space and reduce the impervious surface area.
— Additional landscaping along the edges of the site.
— A sidewalk along the north side of Crestwood Drive from the fire station to 38th Street NW so children don’t have to walk in the road and have direct off-street access to Jackson Elementary.
While the city would oversee the sidewalk and turn lane projects, CommonBond would pay for those costs, Eilers and Stanberry said by phone.
“If people are sincerely concerned about traffic, water and sidewalks, then absolutely these changes should help them feel more comfortable about the project,” said Phoebe Trepp, executive director of Willis Dady Emergency Shelter, which would provide the case management services. “We continue to see a need for affordable housing in the community, so we would still be excited to provide high quality houses and services.”
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Mailander, with the city, said a tentative timeline has the successive application going to the City Planning Commission for a recommendation on April 6, and the City Council for a vote on April 11. The City Council would decide by a simple majority — half the council plus one — if the plan has changed substantially enough to move forward.
If the answer is “yes,” the rezoning request would restart from the beginning, with a new presentation to the City Planning Commission, and a public hearing and revote by the City Council in the coming weeks.
Eilers said if the successive application is approved they would hold a neighborhood meeting in mid-April.
The level of neighborhood opposition in October triggered a supermajority requirement, which meant at least 75 percent support from the City Council was needed to pass. The plan was defeated with five in favor — Susie Weinacht, Pat Shey, Ann Poe, Ralph Russell and Scott Overland — and three opposed — Mayor Ron Corbett, Scott Olson, and Justin Shields. Kris Gulick abstained because his business provided services to Willis Dady.
If neighborhood opposition remains strong, six council members would need to support the rezoning for it to pass.
Olson and Shields said they have yet to see neighborhood concerns addressed, and Olson noted he would need to see that to have a “change of heart.” Corbett said he remains a “no” vote.
“I am a no vote and will continue to a be a no vote,” he said. “This is all about money. They want their tax credits. That’s what they want.”
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