The approval of a subdivision failed at the Newton City Council meeting Monday night due to several concerns by current residents in the area.
The resolution proposed an 11-lot subdivision along West 12th Street South. City staff recommended the approval despite a failure to pass at the Planning and Zoning commission on a 3-3 vote.
Terry Rickers, who lives near the proposed R.J. Ranch subdivision, spoke against the subdivision regarding several safety concerns.
Prior to opening discussion, the city staff recommended the council table the resolution until the next meeting, but Rickers and Councilor Dennis Julius believed that moving forward with a public hearing would be productive.
“There is steadfast opposition for the proposition. I would propose that we go through a public hearing on this matter,” Rickers said. “There are a number of people here who are ready to go forward tonight.”
The gallery was full at the beginning of the meeting and after the resolution failed, the majority of the attendees in the gallery left the meeting. When the resolution was open to public hearing, several citizens spoke in opposition of the subdivision.
The owner and developer of the property, which is located at Cardinal Hills Golf Course, Mark Davis said that if the plat wasn’t passed he wouldn’t be able to open the golf course due to financial difficulties.
One of the main concerns of citizens was that the new development would cause further congestion on a roadway that some said is already congested. City staff interpreted an ordinance requiring at least 31 feet from curb to curb to only apply to new streets. Rickers pointed out the ordinance doesn’t include a grandfather clause.
“As a practical matter, there’s only 24 feet of travelable surface on that street,” Rickers said. “It’s also legal to park on that street. When there’s a car parked on the east side of that street it’s impossible for two cars to pass safely on this street.”
Davis said it wasn’t practical to expect every street to meet the 31 feet requirement since many streets in Newton do not have this ordinance.
“So, we’re gonna have to start tearing up all the streets for safety,” Davis said.
City staff reported nine accidents at West 12th Street South, two of those being in the parking lot of Cardinal Hills. Erin Chambers, director of planning and zoning, said the number of actual accidents is comparable to other areas of the city.
“Maybe seven accidents is acceptable to the staff, but any accident that endangers the well-being of a citizen is unacceptable,” Rickers said.
Rickers also brought up the tree grove that currently resides on the property that would most likely have to be torn down to accommodate 11 driveways. Rickers said the tree grove was originally planted in the 1880s. Council Member Evelyn George wondered how much life these trees had left in them and if the grove should even be taken into consideration.
Julius also mentioned that Davis’s financial plans also shouldn’t be taken into consideration when considering if the proposal should be passed.
“I think Mr. Davis mentioned tonight and at the Planning and Zoning Commission that he needs this to go through for his financial survival,” Julius said. “I have a hard time accepting that as a concrete business plan.”
The city staff recommended the proposal because Newton’s comprehensive plan identifies this area as a potential development site for future housing. The plan also prioritizes housing developments on the west side of town.
“I completely understand and sympathize that we need to develop housing on the west side of the community,” Rickers said.
All the members of the council voted the proposal down, except for Jeff Price. He said he voted for the proposal because it met all the standards required by the city’s building and zoning ordinances. Price also said the failure of the proposal possibly sends a negative message to future developers.
“I also feel that it addresses our housing issues that we have in front of us,” Price said. “We are trying to target affordable housing in the $150,000 to $200,000 range, and I feel that the houses that were being discussed tonight would have met that need. Our staff definitely researched the safety concerns that the neighborhood had and I felt conformed with the rest of the city.”
Council approves contract
with debt collection agency
The council approved a contract to work with Municipal Collections of America in the collection of $400,000 of debt owed to the city. Police Chief Jeff Hoebelheinrich said that $370,000 of that debt is from ambulance services rendered by the fire department.
“Maybe we can build a new street,” Hoebelheinrich said, suggesting what could be done with the money once it’s collected.
Hoebelheinrich said MCA wouldn’t deduct its fee from the total debt owed to the city, but instead add their 35 percent fee on to each individual’s debt owed.
Hoebelheinrich said he received initial information about MCA in the mail, but that he hadn’t checked their quality of business with the Better Business Bureau. Councilor Noreen Otto expressed concerns about hiring a debt collection agency.
MCA has a B-plus rating at the Better Business Bureau. In the last three years, MCA has had 12 complaints filed against it regarding billing and collection, 10 of which were resolved to the satisfaction of the customer.
Julius asked Newton Fire Chief Jarrod Wellik why the city couldn’t collect the money itself.
“We’re not in the collections business,” Wellik said. “Some of these debts are many years old already.”
Removal of parking on narrow
Newton street fails
The city council also turned down a proposal to restrict parking on both sides of the 1000 block of West Sixth Street South. City staff recommended this proposal to allow the safe passage of vehicles, particularly emergency vehicles.
“It’s gonna happen someday where we’re not going to be able to get through unless we go through a yard,” City Administrator Bob Knabel said.
Currently, the city puts up temporary no parking signs during football games because of the street’s proximity to the football stadium. Hansen said he met with a resident of the area who disagreed with eliminating parking on the street.
“Obviously, we all know that there’s no parking during football games. His recommendation was that we need to do the same for other events,” Hansen said. “He was pretty cooperative. He just wants a win-win.”
George advocated widening the street because of the ongoing problem during games, citing the loading and unloading of buses.
Staff writer Dave Hon may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 425, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.