WATERLOO — Neighborhood support and a rare mayoral decision rescued plans for Hawkeye Community College students to build a new house on the city’s north end.
A majority of Waterloo City Council members had asked to reconsider their July 16 vote on a contract to provide up to $137,000 for materials to have HCC building trades students construct a new home on a vacant lot in the 200 block of Newell Street.
But Mayor Quentin Hart ruled such a reconsideration was “out of order” and pulled the item from Monday’s agenda without a vote.
“It’s amazing we can have the easiest of votes and it turns into a spectacle,” Hart said.
Councilman Pat Morrissey had asked Hart to pull the item because he believed it was against the council’s rules of procedure to reconsider a previously approved contract.
Several other council members had expressed concern about whether the house on Newell could appraise and sell for the money the city was investing in materials.
But Morrissey noted council members in August 2017 had already approved the location, while the vote three weeks ago authorized the budget and plans for the house.
Jane Bradley, provost and vice president of academic affairs, said HCC had already incurred $81,000 in costs and spent 290 hours on the program based on the earlier contract approval.
“We also have students coming to campus two weeks from today, and they’re planning on building houses,” she said. “We have been very careful to meet our obligations, and we have moved forward. We have made plans.”
Councilman Steve Schmitt said there have been many times during his decade on the council that items were brought back for reconsideration.
“It just appears like when things don’t necessarily go somebody’s way then we want to start changing the rules or follow rules we haven’t followed before,” Schmitt said. “There should be something said for precedence.”
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A large group of HCC officials and others had packed the council chambers to support the Newell Street location and applauded Hart’s decision.
“It’s going to to make the whole community improve,” said resident Leon Mosley.
Resident Beverly Cosby was among several speakers who didn’t like her neighborhood being characterized as a bad place to build a home.
“Fifty years ago we were told that when urban renewal came through, we’re going to build this community up to be three times better than it was before,” Cosby said. “That hasn’t happened.
“We are still waiting,” she added. “This is just one step, but maybe a step in the right direction.”
This is the first house the city is building in partnership with HCC. The city is providing the materials and the lot, while HCC students build the house as part of their education. The city would then sell the house in reinvest the money in another house.
The plan is to provide infill housing on lots the city is currently paying to maintain; provide a boost in neighborhoods which have seen little construction recently; and train a workforce for area construction companies.
In a related matter, Councilwoman Margaret Klein questioned whether Councilman Jerome Amos Jr., who works at HCC in a different program, should have voted on the previous contract.
“I believe it may have been an inappropriate vote,” she said. “I believe that when we are employed by people approaching the council for money, we should abstain.”
Amos said he discussed the situation with City Attorney Dave Zellhoefer when the program first came up and was told he could vote on the issue if it didn’t benefit him directly.