WATERLOO — The city is planning to rezone the former Chamberlain Manufacturing Corp. site for residential use.
But nobody currently wants to put homes on the contaminated 23-acre property being cleaned up under an order from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
“We’re not actually suggesting that there be houses built there,” said Chris Western, the brownfields coordinator in the city planning and zoning office.
“Right now the problem is … a business the same as Chamberlain can come and apply to build there,” he said. “To prevent another use like that from happening we’re going to downzone it to a more restrictive zoning.”
Members of the Waterloo Planning, Programming and Zoning Commission voted 5-0 Tuesday to recommend the city rezone the land at East Fourth and Esther streets from industrial to residential use.
The request now goes to the City Council for a public hearing and final approval.
Chamberlain Manufacturing, which built metal washer ringers and later was a defense contractor, operated on the site from 1919 until closing in 1994. The city acquired the property in 2005 and worked with EPA to demolish the buildings and test for environmental contamination.
The EPA is working with Chamberlain Manufacturing, now a division of Duchossois Industries Inc. of Elmhurst, Ill., to clean up chemicals in ground water on the site. The company has also installed systems to mitigate vapor intrusion in surrounding homes.
Patricia Gary, who lives across Fourth Street from the site, attended the zoning commission meeting to voice her opposition to any type of residential development there.
She believes contamination from Chamberlain led to her husband’s death in 2016 and caused others in the neighborhood to get cancer.
“My house is contaminated,” Gary said. “My husband died from three forms of lupus, lung cancer and multiple myeloma. Now what man gets that many diseases after living in a house for 35 years?”
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Gary suggested the land be used for solar panels or wind turbines.
Commission member Craig Holdiman thought knowledge of the past problems at Chamberlain would keep houses from being built there.
“I don’t personally think it would be cost effective or economically feasible for a developer to go in there and develop that,” he said. “I sincerely doubt that anybody would want to buy a house there. I certainly wouldn’t.”
But Western said the city also wants residential zoning to encourage a more thorough cleanup effort.
“When you rezone it to a more restrictive zoning, that forces a higher level of cleanup,” he said. “If you leave it in industrial, they only have to clean up to industrial standards.”
Bruce Morrison, project manager for the EPA’s Region 7 office, said Chamberlain Manufacturing has done a significant mitigation of two groundwater contamination source areas on the site over the past year.
The company and EPA continues to conduct tests and monitor to ensure the contamination stays below safe levels, and will require more mitigation if necessary.
“I think we’ve come a long way there,” Morrison said. “We’re just kind of waiting for the city to guide us on what we need to do with the site in the future.”
Morrison said the EPA is still working to get more homes west and south of the Chamberlain site tested for air quality and to install vapor intrusion mitigation systems if necessary. Chamberlain is required to offer the testing annually.