Government

Rezone Cedar Rapids effort addresses 'missing middle,' urban beekeeping, 'snout houses'

Open house is Tuesday at NewBo City Market

George Hanna in the kitchen of his corner row house in the New Bohemia district in southeast Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Thursday, April 27, 2017. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
George Hanna in the kitchen of his corner row house in the New Bohemia district in southeast Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Thursday, April 27, 2017. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — George Hanna was looking to downsize from his country home in Swisher where much of his free time was spent mowing the lawn.

Early on, he caught wind of a new row house development in a much more urban setting on Second Street SE in the New Bohemia District of Cedar Rapids.

He snapped up a space.

It was a unique housing concept for a city code designed for single family homes and apartment complexes.

Others had the same idea, and the row house units filled.

“I’m a little bit older; I’ve been through having a house, my kids are gone,” said Hanna, 60. “I wanted to be able to close up the house, go travel and not worry about it. No maintenance. No mowing.”

Cedar Rapids officials want to encourage this type of housing — “the missing middle,” they call it — seen as desirable by young professionals and empty nesters. The problem is, the existing zoning code makes it difficult to achieve this goal. Developers face extra regulatory hoops.

REZONE CEDAR RAPIDS

A process called Rezone Cedar Rapids has been underway since July to overhaul the city’s zoning code to make the local law align with the vision for the future.

One of several aspects of the code city officials are seeking feedback on is the so called “missing middle.” Other items city officials have identified for discussion include urban beekeeping, garage-forward houses or “snout houses,” accessory dwelling units such as “granny flats” and transitional areas next to single-family neighborhoods.

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An open house to discuss these issues and others takes place from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at NewBo City Market, 1100 Third St. SE. A Zoning 101 video explaining the concept of zoning and how it affects residents and property owners is available online at cityofcr.com/rezone.

“The zoning code is the main tool for making sure we achieve the vision we laid out in Envision CR,” Jennifer Pratt, Cedar Rapids community development director, said of the city’s recently adopted long-range comprehensive plan. “We want to make the zoning code as predictable and easy to use as possible.”

The zoning code has not been updated since 2006.

REMAINING COMPETITIVE

The changes aim to help Cedar Rapids remain competitive with other cities that are adapting to the wishes of residents and prospective residents or businesses, Pratt said.

Clark McLeod, who heads up the Linn County-based Monarch Research Project, said he is pleased to hear Cedar Rapids is exploring urban beekeeping.

“Bees in general are certainly in jeopardy because of the lack of habitat, so to the extent that people in the city are able to plant and maintain quality habitat for pollinators — whether bees, birds or butterflies — all of that helps a situation that is in a fairly serious state.”

Chad Pelley, business development manager for Ahmann Companies, said as the code stands, developers and city officials must find workarounds, such as getting approved for a customized zoning process called a planned unit development or seeking variances through the Board of Adjustment to break from existing rules.

For example, Ahmann had to get a planned unit development approval for the Sanctuary near Ellis Park. That development has a mix of single-family homes, row houses and duplexes.

Such hurdles suck up time, which can put a developer at odds with a client’s timeline or, in the case of winter, put a project on hold until spring, he said. The retooling of the zoning code could save time and money, he added.

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“This could streamline the process,” Pelley said. “It makes it more appropriate for the types of projects we’ve been doing, what we’re doing currently and what we want to do in the future.”

TAKING FEEDBACK

City officials had hoped to complete the zoning code revisions by November, but pushed back the process to allow more time for discussion and education, Pratt said. The new target is to present a final draft to City Council for approval next spring, she said.

Pratt said the extra time is going to help ensure the public fully understands the various issues.

In recent months publicity around “snout houses,” which could become regulated as part of the Rezone CR process, has stirred pushback on the Rezone CR process. Some have said this style of home with prominent garages is unwelcoming and should be limited or banned, while other contend the city shouldn’t dictate style.

Pratt said at this point city officials are not proposing anything but simply are taking feedback.

“On none of these are we proposing anything,” Pratt said.

l Comments: (319) 339-3177; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

If You Go

What: Open house to discuss Rezone Cedar Rapids plans.

When: 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Tuesday

Where: NewBo City Market, 1100 Third St. SE

Details: Watch a video explaining the concept of zoning and how it impacts residents and property owners at cityofcr.com/rezone.

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