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Tiffin residents file petition against multifamily proposal

TIFFIN– Tiffin residents opposing a multifamily rezoning request last week cited concerns over increased traffic, decreased property values, problems with drainage and a single access street into the development.
They also repeated a maxim that has been uttered more than once when it comes to the presence of multifamily housing.
They don’t want Tiffin to be like North Liberty.
Sixty people who live near the Pinnacle Ridge subdivision in Tiffin signed a petition against Hochstedler Building and Development’s request to rezone 8.5 acres from RM-1 to RM-2, which would allow duplexes to be built instead of single-family homes. Proposed in the PAD (Planned Area Development) document were 20 buildings, 12 of which were duplexes and eight of which were single-family homes.
Following the lead of Tiffin’s Planning and Zoning (P&Z) Commission, which decided in April to deny the request, the city council heard neighbors’ protests during the council’s May 13 meeting, and voted unanimously to decline the rezoning.
In addition to presenting the petition to the council, which stated “We the undersigned, are concerned citizens who urge our elected City Council members to vote against this zone change and keep this area single family homes,” several residents offered comments, including tales of flooded basements and expensive runoff mitigation. Pinnacle Ridge sits at a higher elevation than much of its surrounding neighborhoods, noted Billy McKeag, of West Gold Finch Drive. She and many of her neighbors along Gold Finch Drive have experienced flooded basements and yards.
“Right now when we get rain, that corner is a deluge. The storm sewers can’t handle it. They run over,” said McKeag. “We’re growing, and I fear the infrastructure isn’t there.”
McKeag noted that the existing detention pond near Ponds Court, which is supposed to contain excess water in rain events, has historically had problems as well.
“That holding pond, which I’m sure would get more water from this (new) development, was truly a sick little pond. Frogs could walk across it. They couldn’t swim it. They had to walk across it, and that’s not good either,” said McKeag.
Darren Lewis, also of Gold Finch Drive, said he has had drainage problems around his home since he moved in, and he had come to the council twice already to try to mitigate them.
“It is not set up to run the kind of water that runs there now through my property,” said Lewis. A legal opinion from the City of Tiffin indicated it was his responsibility to fix drainage issues on his private property, he said.
“Now we are talking about putting all those condos above me on that area, and some of that runoff is going to come my way. We’re already over capacity running into that natural creek, and the Ireland Avenue extension is going to be another issue we’ll have to deal with in time. But the runoff has to be considered, because it is going to do nothing but increase the issues I’ve already got,” said Lewis.
Other residents shared problems they’ve had with storm water runoff in their own yards, a few mentioned increased traffic from the additional units, and at least one resident was concerned about declining property values.
“Just this year we had a reassessment of our property for a tax increase, and it went up about $35,000 to $40,000. If all the sudden you put a bunch of apartments behind us, I think it’s going to drop about $60,000,” said Tim Burke, of Gold Finch Drive. “In a community like this, I think it’s always in the best interest to go with single family dwellings. Nothing against apartments, but they bring down the value. People there are usually in transit, they are going somewhere else. I hope the council considers that.”
Kenneth Thimmesch of Blue Jay Court said he and his wife are empty-nesters who compared nearby communities and chose to relocate to Tiffin five years ago.
“We ruled North Liberty out for the fact of multifamily (housing),” said Thimmesch. “We are not against progress at all; our only concern is (Pinnacle Ridge) being rezoned. We hope it stays as single family.”
After the public hearing closed, council member Mike Ryan asked Hart Frederick engineer Ben Carhoff if there was a chance drainage systems could be improved if the new development was built.
Carhoff said the city’s ordinances required a storm water management plan that would slow runoff rates to below the 5-year peak flood level.
“It should improve somewhat,” Carhoff replied, causing an audible response of disbelief from the audience.
Ryan rebuked those who spoke out of turn.
“I understand people are emotional about this, but I am asking an engineer what he thinks will happen with water if they put in appropriate drainage. I’m trying to bring some science into the situation,” said Ryan. “Everybody is concerned about the density, I get that. But do we have evidence that (the runoff is) going to get worse, whether there is single-family, multifamily, a parking lot, whatever? Maybe this is an opportunity to mitigate the runoff and improve your situation over what it is now.”
By ordinance, runoff must be addressed no matter what kind of housing units go into a development, and the amount of runoff is related to the number of buildings and the amount of pavement it contains, Carhoff said.
Ryan said he understood the problems with drainage, but he also hopes people didn’t make multifamily housing into a socioeconomic class issue.
“Are we really at the point where we are going to say ‘no’ to duplexes? Am I going to say my neighbor can’t live in a zero lot line? We have zero lots all over town and I don’t think it’s that controversial,” Ryan said. He suggested the developer could place the multifamily units in the middle of the development so single-family homes would abut existing properties. “I know there has been a great deal of concern about multifamily in Tiffin, but I don’t want it to turn into a ‘those people’ type of argument.”
McKeag argued it had nothing to do with people who purchase duplexes.
“No. We’re saying… that hill cannot handle it. Period. It’s too small an area to put that many (homes) in it,” McKeag countered.
Council member Peggy Upton said she agreed with every person who spoke in opposition of the rezoning.
“All these people bought homes in a single-family neighborhood, and now we are talking about making it something different,” Upton said. “They have legitimate concerns about protecting their property, and about protecting their property values.”
While Upton has championed the need for more affordable housing in Tiffin, she said she would rather see smaller single-family homes that start at a lower price point.
“It shouldn’t just be automatic that if you want to make more money, you can get it rezoned to something different,” Upton said.
Councilor Jim Bartels concurred.
“What’s wrong with (a home priced at) $200,000, so people can start? Why do we go right to $300,000?” Bartels asked.
Ryan thought it was noteworthy that the developer did not attend the meeting, and said he would not discount the opinions of all those who spoke during the public hearing. Their comments, together with his concerns about the single street access, moved him to vote to deny the rezoning along with his four fellow council members.
The suggestion was to send the PAD back to the P&Z, and for the commission to work with the developer to create a design for Pinnacle Ridge that contained only single-family houses.