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Human Services campus planned

WATERLOO - Plans for a new "human services campus" in the former Rath Packing Co. neighborhood have cleared their first zoning hurdle.

Members of the Waterloo Planning, Programming and Zoning Commission voted Tuesday to recommend approving special permits, a plat and street vacation for a new women's detention center and Operation Threshold headquarters to locate between Mulberry and Lafayette streets near the Elm Street intersection.

While the proposal rankled several neighbors, representatives of the Iowa Department of Corrections and Operation Threshold hailed the move as the first step in co-locating social services in a central location, which is expected later to include a new Northeast Iowa Food Bank facility and possible other service providers.

"There have been a number of attempts over a couple of decades to establish a human services campus," said Barb Grant, executive director of Operation Threshold. "We think this is the best chance we have to get this done."

The city is donating property for the campus, which would be just across Lafayette from the Rath Administration Building and across Elm from the former Alstadt & Langlas Baking Co. building. The City Council has signaled its intent to help acquire additional land for the food bank in the future.

Zoning board members voted unanimously to recommend the special permit for the planned 27,610-square-foot, two-story Operation Threshold building, which would replace the nonprofit agency's downtown building at West Third and Jefferson streets, which was heavily damaged in the June 2008 flood.

Operation Threshold provides services to low-income residents for basic needs, including the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program. The new facility will boost the agency's employment from 53 to 78 people and is expected to be done by April next year. The agency has funding from the state I-JOBS program, Black Hawk County Gaming Association and Federal Emergency Management Agency to help fund construction.

Board members voted 7-1 to recommend the special permit for the planned 26,000-square-foot women's facility for the Iowa Department of Corrections, which would include 45 beds for offenders needing low security. The $6 million project is being funded through the state I-JOBS program and must be complete by June 30, 2011.

Karen Herkelman, district director for the DCS, said women currently are housed with men at the facility at 314 E. Sixth St. The expansion would create 19 new jobs and bring six workers over from the current building.

"Many of the women at our facility will be users of the services at those other facilities," said Herkelman, noting the building is for low-risk offenders who will leave during the day to attend jobs or receive training.

Board members also recommended shutting down Elm Street from Lafayette north to near the Mulberry intersection for use as parking on the campus.

That was bad news to Curtis Ridgeway, who owns Fortune's Tap on the corner of Mulberry and Elm streets and currently leases land from the city for his parking and beer garden.

"I think this (campus) is good for the community, but you're going to cut my business down to nothing," said Ridgeway, who wondered why the city doesn't relocate him. "You're taking away my ability to have customers come to my bar."

Zoning board member Eric Johnson said he felt the city should act "in good faith" to resolve Ridgeway's problem.

"I guess it's a different human service he's providing, but I don't know if it fits with the other services being provided there," Johnson said.

The final decision on the special permits rest with the Board of Adjustment, which is expected to meet on Oct. 27 in City Hall. The Elm Street vacation and site plan will require City Council approval.

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