Life trickles back into Idyllwild after flood

BY MEGAN DIAL | MARCH 26, 2009 7:40 AM

An Iowa City resident says the new feeling of “neighborliness” brought her back to the once-flooded area of Idyllwild, despite a tremendous decrease in property value.

Mary Kathryn Wallace, 69, and husband Douglass Wallace, 70, moved back into their condominium a couple weeks ago; they had evacuated their residence because of the June flood.

As the flood forecast worsened, the city told the retired couple their home would probably take on 3 feet of water, and they had two hours to leave.

Now, slowly, they are regaining their home.

“Just yesterday, we put most of our artwork back up,” Mary Kathryn Wallace said. “Each day, it feels better to be here.”

She and her husband decided to move back because they have lost so much money already and it makes sense financially, she said.

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The Wallaces qualified for some Federal Emergency Management Agency money, and they also received some funds from the Iowa Jump-Start Program, an initiative targeted to help flood-affected residents.

But the money is not enough to completely cover the $100,000 the couple has spent to renovate their home. Before the flood, the Wallace’s house was valued around $280,000. Now, the home is worth only around $54,000.

They’re not alone.

Sally Cline, the president of the Idyllwild Condominium Owners Association, said approximately 25 percent of owners have moved back to the neighborhood. However, around the same number decided to sell their properties because of the homes’ depreciated values, she said.

The residences were valued from $200,000 to $300,000 before the flood. Afterwards, the condos sold for anywhere from $10,000 to $85,000.

Cline explained the neighborhood did not qualify for government buyouts because it had never flooded before last year and was not in a 100-year floodplain.

“Probably a quarter of the people decided to sell once they knew they weren’t going to get a buyout,” she said.

Now, after last year’s flood, sections of the neighborhood have been declared part of a 100-year floodplain.

Iowa City City Councilor Connie Champion said the council is trying to buy the few lots in the floodplain so they will not be developed and potentially damaged in a future disaster, costing the city money.

And the Condominium Owners Association recently voted to allow the condos to be turned into rentals, allowing residents to sell to developers.

Cline estimated developers could be able to price the condos around $1,000 per month.

Champion said she knows the federal government and the recovery process is very slow, so people can become increasingly discouraged.

“Most of the plans the city has, I don’t know how they’ll affect Idyllwild,” Wallace said. “We’re hoping for the best.”

Even with the “heroic efforts” of 20 friends, she said, they were not able to save most of their first floor.

But they accepted the events and are just happy to be home.

“It’s a power of nature, it’s a power of the support of friends,” Wallace said. “Things happen in life, and one needs to go on afterward.”

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