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East side development hits new school zone

Scanlon family prepares to develop near North Liberty

NORTH LIBERTY– Everybody knows by now: if you build a high school, they will come.
The North Liberty City Council made it official at its Feb. 23 meeting, with the approval of a preliminary plat for a 60-acre subdivision to be built next to the new Liberty High School.
The Scanlon Farms North Ridge plan proposes the construction of 70 residential lots on the east side of North Liberty Road between the new high school and the Fjords development. With an RS4 zoning classification, lot sizes range in size from one-quarter of an acre to nearly two acres, and two lots measure over four acres. Eighteen of the homes will be built on a cul-de-sac street, proposed to be named Salm Drive in honor of the late North Liberty Mayor Tom Salm.
As per the city’s policy, a good neighbor meeting was held in May 2015 with residents of the Fjords. According to a council memo from City Planner Dean Wheatley, neighbors’ concerns centered around storm water runoff, destruction of trees and lot sizes.
In response to those concerns, staff and the North Liberty Planning & Zoning Commission (P&Z) recommended a preliminary plat agreement be drafted to hold the developer accountable for addressing them. However, City Attorney Scott Peterson told the council last week, he and City Engineer Kevin Trom met with developer Gary Watts to work through details of the plan.
“I think there’s not necessarily the need for a preliminary plat agreement at this point, in anticipation of his construction plans being worked on and presented in the next few weeks,” Peterson said.
Instead, four conditions were included in the council resolution: the developer will be required to pay his share of actual costs for the water, sewer and road projects necessary to support the development; the timing of future city approvals will depend on the progress and completion of the water, sewer and road projects in the area; the developer is solely responsible for any risks associated with proceeding with the development; and parts of certain lots in the subdivision are subject to conservation easements, which will define no-build areas for woodland preservation.
“We think all four of those conditions are appropriate because of the timing of the project,” Peterson added.
Approving a preliminary plat is the council’s official nod for construction to begin, and the governing body doesn’t typically see plans again until approving the final plat.
Only one council member raised concerns about the plan. Jim Sayre noted the 7-acre basin designated for water retention was going to be given over to a homeowners’ association– a common practice in most cities.
“I continue to be concerned that developers hand off detention ponds to a homeowners’ association, who is not educated enough to know how to deal with that,” Sayre said. “The average homeowner is handed a pond they have to maintain, and without getting some outside resource, they have no idea if its serving its need, and all the things required for it to actually hold the amount of water it should.”
In addition, Sayre said, the city charges residents a monthly storm water fee, even where the homeowners maintain and own their detention ponds.
“In my personal experience, the sand erodes, contributing to the pond filling up, and the city backs away from doing anything about that,” said Sayre. “I feel like we need to do something different.”
City Administrator Ryan Heiar said detention pond maintenance had been discussed in the past, and there was no easy solution.
“One other option we’ve done with several ponds is that the city maintains them, which is very time consuming and costly,” said Heiar. “So adding more (ponds) would increase that cost.”
Other council members agreed it was a worthwhile topic but suggested holding discussion about storm water detention in a future meeting.
The Scanlon Farm North Ridge preliminary plat was approved 4-0 with councilor Annie Pollock absent.
The Scanlon Family Farm property, near the intersection of Dubuque Street and North Liberty Road, has been targeted for major development since 2006. A lawsuit against the City of Coralville kept the property in limbo for a few years, and a subsequent annexation dispute between Coralville and North Liberty prompted the creation of an annexation agreement between the two municipalities in 2010. No action occurred on the property until recently. The location of the new Liberty High School caused North Liberty to construct utilities infrastructure to serve the area. Since then, individuals have shown renewed interest in bringing development to the area.
This is the second preliminary plat approved on the east side of North Liberty. Last September, the council approved the construction of Dahnovan Estates, a 73-lot subdivision on the west side of North Liberty Road initiated by Roller Development, LLC, represented by Ryan Abraham of Cedar Falls, and Kaiser Holdings, LLC, represented by Matt Adam of Coralville. That plan calls for 12 single-family lots, 58 duplex lots, two multi-family lots, and one commercial lot at the northwest corner of the intersection with Dubuque Street, plus one non-buildable out-lot containing a storm water retention basin.
Last week, Watts told the council he was proud of the proposed Scanlon Family Farm development.
“We are really excited about this subdivision,” said Watts. “We think it’s going to be one of the finest in the area. We’ve already had extreme interest; it’s just incredible.”