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A robin forages for dried fruit on a snow covered tree on the UNI campus Monday, March 5, 2018, in Cedar Falls, Iowa.

Friendship Village plans $70M Park Lane rebuild

WATERLOO — Friendship Village is planning to tear down and completely rebuild its original retirement community campus.

Friends of Faith Retirement Homes Inc., which opened Friendship Village at Park Lane and West Ninth Street in 1968, will be investing $70 million in reconstructing its independent living apartments and skilled nursing center.

The project, expected to start in 2019, will be developed in several phases to avoid displacing existing residents during the process.

“Some of the original Friendship Village facilities are nearing the end of their useful lives,” said Mike Young, an attorney for the nonprofit senior housing agency.

“There were a number of options that the leadership of Friendship Village looked at, and some involved moving away. But they made the commitment to redevelop and reinvest in this neighborhood in these facilities where they’ve spent 50 years and are looking spend 50 more years.

“When it’s done it will be a first-class facility that the neighborhood and the city and the Cedar Valley can be very proud of,” he added.

The Waterloo Planning, Programming and Zoning Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to endorse a zoning request and special permit for the project.

Friendship Village has been working with the surrounding home owners to address any concerns. There was no opposition during a public hearing before the zoning panel.

The project involves replacing the approximately 100-unit independent living building with a new four-story, 73-unit building. It also includes replacing the existing 72-unit skilled nursing center on the campus.

The site plan shows two future senior apartment buildings and a 36- to 48-unit assisted living center. Those buildings, which are on top of the $70 million initial investment, would be constructed based on future market conditions.

Friendship Village President and CEO Lisa Gates said the new independent living building will have 850- and 1,150-square-foot suites, larger than existing units that can be as small as 400 square feet.

The campus will have multiple dining centers, a recreation center and an indoor swimming pool.

Friendship Village stopped new admissions some time ago to prepare for the rebuilding project. That clears the way to phase the new construction around existing residents.

“We take care of our family,” Gates said.

Plans show the first phase of the work will demolish the east wing of the independent living building along with garages. Then a new four-story, 154,300-square-foot independent living building will be constructed along the far eastern edge of the campus.

The next phase includes demolition of the rest of the original independent living building, followed by construction of a new two-story, 57,700-square-foot skilled nursing facility. The original skilled nursing facility will then be torn down.

Gates said Friendship Village is preparing to pre-sell units in the new facility.

The project does not affect other Friends of Faith living facilities, including Village Place, Landmark Commons, Lakeview Lodge, Lakeview Landing or Rosewood Estate.

Paradise Estates housing plan gains support


WATERLOO — A planned housing subdivision around Orange Elementary School went back to the drawing board to address neighborhood concerns.

Developer Hope Martin “Buzz” Anderson won an endorsement from the Waterloo Planning, Programming and Zoning Commission last month for his proposed Paradise Estates Addition at Kimball Avenue and Orange Road.

But extreme opposition from neighbors to elements of his plan, including several lots where offices could be constructed, prompted Anderson to meet with neighbors and return to the commission Tuesday with a new plan.

“We felt it was best to come back through, zone everything R1 and get a nice, clean slate and just move forward,” said Alex Bower, an engineer working on Anderson’s development.

Zoning commissioners voted unanimously again to endorse the new zoning for the current agricultural land, which would limit the entire 129-acre site to one- and two-family houses.

The measure now goes to the City Council for final approval.

Numerous residents from the surrounding Orange neighborhood last month had voiced concerns about the development, including the proposed inclusion of commercial lots, drainage, water pressure, loss of prime ag land, traffic and more.

Most of those speaking during Tuesday’s meeting were complimentary of Anderson’s willingness to meet with them and listen to their concerns. But several speakers were still concerned about the proposed lot sizes being smaller than existing lots in the area.

A preliminary site plan for Paradise Estates shows the 210 lots would range in size from one-fourth to three-quarters of an acre in size.

“One of the things Mr. Anderson wanted to do was have something for everybody in this development,” Bower said.

But Trudie Friedly was among several neighbors who urged Anderson to have a minimum half-acre lot size, which is comparable to the surrounding neighborhood. She said smaller lots encourage fences.

“That’s not our current neighborhood in Orange,” Friedly said. “You don’t see privacy fences. We enjoy the opportunity to visit with our neighbors in our large yards.”

Bob Manning, executive officer for the Cedar Valley Homebuilders Association, which is supporting the development, said having some smaller lots makes the development more viable economically.

While the older Orange neighborhood was developed with narrow streets and no curb and gutter, new developments like Paradise Estates must invest more into infrastructure. More costs drive the need for more lots to generate enough revenue.

“It’s not comparing oranges to oranges,” Manning said of the older and proposed development.

Community Planning and Development Director Noel Anderson said the lot sizes and layout will be addressed during a future platting process. A traffic study must also be conducted before the final plat, he said.

Zoning commissioner Sue Flynn commended Anderson and the neighbors for working out some of their differences from last month.

“This was a collaborative effort where I think people worked together to address concerns and to also listen to each other,” she said.

Waterloo budget still unsettled as hearing looms

WATERLOO — A city budget up for approval this week appears to have several unsettled issues.

Waterloo City Council members are scheduled to hold a public hearing at 5:30 p.m. Thursday in City Hall on a property tax rate and budget for the fiscal year starting July 1.

But several council members during a work session Monday either voiced opposition to elements of the proposed $154 million spending plan or called for more discussion on possible options.

Mayor Quentin Hart has proposed a budget boosting the city’s property tax rate from $17.60 to $17.76 per $1,000 of taxable value.

“For some of the departments it’s skin on the bones, but we’re continuing to look at ways to share services and do different things,” Hart said. “For the most part I believe we can continue to provide services.”

The city’s tax base fell this year due to a state order reducing the portion of home values available for taxation and falling commercial property values. So the higher tax rate would generate just $33,639 above the $41.1 million in tax revenue collected this year.

Few departments were spared from budget cuts as the city looked to cover the increased cost of employee wages and benefits and contractual obligations and to make up for lost revenue from its expiring cable franchise and other sources.

The police department would avoid staff reductions under Hart’s budget, but two vacant firefighter positions would not be filled next year.

Another key element of Hart’s plan would raise the current gas and electric utility franchise fee from 3 percent to 3.5 percent. That fee, collected on MidAmerican Energy customer’s bills, would raise an estimated $450,000 annually.

The budget also anticipates the city will get more than $1.7 million in property tax replacement funding from the state. Iowa legislators have proposed reducing or cutting that “backfill.”

Councilwoman Margaret Klein said she did not believe the city should expect the backfill funding, a move that would require much deeper budget cuts.

“Other cities have been very wise and have not figured that number into the budget,” Klein said. “I think we should be smarter.”

Hart said the city could boost the utility franchise fee even higher — it has a maximum of 5 percent by law — should the Legislature yank the backfill revenue after the city certifies its budget.

The average homeowner would actually see a cut in their property tax bill next year despite the increased tax rate. That’s because a state rollback order reduced the portion of a home’s assessed value available for taxation from 56.9 percent to 55.6 percent.

Under Hart’s proposed $17.76 tax rate, residential property owners would see a 1.41 percent cut in the city’s share of their tax bills. The owner of a home with an assessed value of $100,000 would see the city portion of their tax bill next fall from $1,002 to $987, or $15.

Commercial and industrial property owners, which didn’t see a change in the rollback but have enjoyed tax cuts in eight of the past 10 years, would see just under a 1 percent increase in city taxes.

Legislative roundup

DES MOINES — The Iowa Senate on Tuesday voted 26-24 to approve a bill requiring a super-majority of five of seven Iowa Supreme Court justices to rule a state law unconstitutional.

Supporters say the bill will guard against judicial activism. Opponents decried it as legislative over-reach that will upset the balance of power among the branches of government.

“I, and many people, believe that when judges are deciding cases and ruling on the constitutionality of laws they should follow the Constitution as it was written and not reinterpret according to their personal opinions on what they think the law should be,” said Sen. Julian Garrett, R-Indianola.

Garrett was joined by 25 other Republicans in passing the bill. He said requiring five justices to rule a law unconstitutional would better protect the will of the people as expressed through their elected legislators and the governor.

But opponents painted the bill as a “dangerous” attack on the judiciary.

“This will erode the judicial independence of the Iowa Supreme Court. That is wrong,” said Sen. Jeff Danielson, D-Waterloo, who joined 19 Democrats, three Republicans and one independent in opposing the bill.

Danielson and others noted there are other remedies, including asking voters to amend the Constitution.

“You’re really taking a dangerous move here,” said Ocheyedan independent Sen. David Johnson. “This is sheer madness to be changing our court system.”

Sen. Nate Boulton, D-Des Moines, decried the proposal as a “major, major change” Republicans were trying to “sneak” in through the back door that could “set off a constitutional struggle.”

However, Sen. Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig, called Garrett’s proposal a “well-thought-out bill” and said the Legislature is well within its authority to place restrictions on the judicial system.

He said judges appear to be “putting their thumb on the scales when they’re supposed to be reading the Constitution.” Others called the change on parallel with a legislative requirement to have a supermajority to override a gubernatorial veto.

Sen. Matt McCoy, D-Des Moines, said the move followed GOP efforts to punish the courts with budget cuts and conservative campaigns to unseat justices after a controversial 2009 ruling legalizing same-sex marriage. He warned the bill “on its face” is unconstitutional and unnecessary.

The bill now goes to the Iowa House for consideration.

House action

In the House Tuesday, Republicans used their clerks to keep opponents out of a hearing on a “sanctuary cities” bill.

House Public Safety Committee Chairman Clel Baudler, R-Greenfield, reserved nearly all the seats in the Capitol’s Ronald Reagan meeting room for clerks who work for GOP representatives. Clerks usually do not attend the meetings.

Baudler said he was trying to maintain order while the committee discussed legislation threatening to withhold state funds from cities deemed to not have cooperated enough with federal immigration authorities.

“I threw 11 people out of here one at a time,” Baudler said about the committee discussion of similar legislation last year. “We don’t want a repeat.”

Three Iowa State Patrol troopers were on hand Tuesday to maintain order, but there were no attempts to disrupt the proceedings.

“I’ve never seen that before,” Mitch Henry of the League of United Latin American Citizens of Iowa said about the clerks’ reserved seats.

He estimated that only five or six members of the public — in addition to media — were allowed in the room where about 100 people attended a subcommittee hearing on the bill in January.

“We know there is a lot of opposition against the bill,” Henry said. “When you just get five or six dissenters, you know, it looks like everyone is supporting it, and that’s not true.”

Of the 130 lobbyists registered on the bill, 76 — including church-related and civil rights groups, law enforcement and local governments — are opposed. Only the Iowa Minuteman Civil Defense Corps supports it. The others are neutral.

When the committee reconvened later to pass the bill 11-10 with Rep. Gary Worthan, R-Storm Lake, joining Democrats in opposition, it was in a larger meeting room with more than 30 members of the public present. There were no reserved seats.

“I guess there were enough complaints from the media, if you will, so we reversed that and let the representatives’ secretaries or clerks go,” Baudler said after getting guidance from House Republican leadership.