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Developer plans 26-home addition at Railroad Avenue and College Road; council approves project instead of Midlands Humane Society offer on land
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Developer plans 26-home addition at Railroad Avenue and College Road; council approves project instead of Midlands Humane Society offer on land

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A local developer plans to construct a 26-unit housing addition at the corner of Railroad Avenue and College Road in Council Bluffs, with the sale and preliminary plans approved by the City Council in lieu of a bid on the land by the Midlands Humane Society.

Developer Neal Drickey of Omaha answered a request for proposals from the city, with Drickey looking to purchase the land for $200,000. The neighborhood would feature a mix of 12 townhomes and 14 single-family homes, with a price range around $160,000 to $260,000 on the high end, real estate agent and partner on the project Clint Brunow told the council at its Nov. 23 meeting.

Council Bluffs Community Development had recommended approval of the plan, saying the development would generate more than $60,000 in property taxes annually.

The project includes tax increment financing for the developers, which Mayor Matt Walsh said lines up with the cost of infrastructure installation.

According to City Council packet materials, lot development work would be done this winter and in the spring of 2021, with three building phases completed from spring of 2021 through winter of 2024.

“Why I’m supporting this is simple,” Councilman Chad Hannan said, saying there’s a paucity of affordable housing on the east side of the city.

Hannan pointed to a recently-released housing market analysis spearheaded by the Omaha-based Sherwood Foundation with partners including The 712 Initiative and Iowa West Foundation that estimated the gap in affordable housing in the Council Bluffs-Omaha metro area is 78,800 units. The report says at the area housing market’s current growth rate, that gap will grow to 104,000 by 2040.

Midlands Humane Society had initially offered around $188,000 for the property, with its offer upped to $275,000 thanks to additional donors after the issue was tabled at the council’s Nov. 9 meeting, according to council packet materials and Midlands officials.

The humane society’s expansion plans included an expanded dog park and new buildings construction to expand and add to the services offered by the organization. Executive Director Nikki Cruikshank told the Nonpareil Midlands wanted to create a “campus-like feel over the next 10 years.”

During the Nov. 23 meeting, Cruikshank, Midlands Board President Alex Gum and other supporters noted that while the nonprofit doesn’t generate property tax revenue, it provides the city with “soft” benefits.

Midlands officials said they’d been working on expansion plans in earnest for two years, and understood from previous communication with the city if they brought back specific plans they’d be in line to purchase the property.

During the meeting, Councilwoman Melissa Head moved to approve the Midlands bid. The motion died for lack of a second. The council later voted 3-2, with Head and Councilman Mike Wolf voting against, on a motion to accept Drickey’s RFP and land purchase request.

“We’re really disappointed with the city council’s decision to sell the land to the developer. The need for expansion is prominent more than ever. We are going back to the drawing board,” Cruikshank told the Nonpareil. “We don’t have a Plan B yet. We’re going to have to figure that out.”

During the meeting, Cruikshank said Midlands and the city have a good working relationship. The city’s animal control operation is run out of the humane society.

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It’s still possible Midlands and the developers can work out a deal for just under two of the six acres, which won’t be developed for the housing addition.

During the meeting, Mayor Matt Walsh said he’d been transparent in telling the humane society the city would leave the possibility of developing the land open.

Speaking in favor of the Midlands purchase, College Road resident Ron Wolfe touched on four problems with the development plan: stormwater runoff, which he said is already an issue for area residents; the city’s Loess Hills Preservation Plan, which still targets the area as a city park; the increased traffic on College Road, which Wolfe said is in dire need of improvements that are continually kicked to “year five” of the city’s five year plans; and that adding homes in the $150,000-$260,000 price range would hurt the property values of surrounding homes.

“The last three houses sold on College Road, were $435,000, $350,000 and $315,000,” Wolfe told the council.

While discussing his favor for the project, Hannan asked Wolfe, “tell me where you can buy a brand new $215,000 house in Council Bluffs on the east side of town?”

“I joke maybe we need more unaffordable housing, because that’s who pays the taxes. That’s the elephant in the room,” Wolfe said.

After some back and forth, Wolfe noted, “you can’t find 165K house anywhere in Council Bluffs.”

“That’s the problem,” Hannan replied.

Wolfe noted potential expansion near Eastern Hills Drive, with Hannan saying the city doesn’t own land over there.

“I know you want the tax revenue. But you’re shoving it in a neighborhood it doesn’t fit into,” Wolfe said. “It’s not like this can’t be built somewhere else in Council Bluffs. Not sticking it next to a $435,000 home. That stands to devalue (a local resident’s) home. That’s not right.”

“I’m going to go back to (housing) shortfall,” Hannan said. “I feel it is on the five of us, and staff and mayor, to figure out how we’ll start building these homes for people in our community.”

Councilman Roger Sandau said he drives College Road often and is dead set on working with the city to bring improvements to the road sooner than later.

Walsh told Wolfe at the meeting, and later the Nonpareil, that stormwater runoff won’t be a problem.

“There is no drainage issue,” Walsh said to the Nonpareil, noting that engineering work would include the creation of detention areas to eliminate runoff.

The city and developers have 120 days to close on the land purchase, and city engineers will have to review drainage and other portions of the plan. The city’s Planning Commission and City Council will review final plat plans before construction begins, with the council having final approval for the project.

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