City mulls floodplain development at airport

BY CHRIS CLARK | JULY 15, 2009 7:15 AM

There is limited green space left in Iowa City.

And the Iowa City City Council has to decide whether to develop that land, some of which is located in the Municipal Airport’s south airfield.

The economic downturn has forced city officials to consider potential sites for commercial and industrial establishment. There are only a handful of choices with appropriate zoning ordinances, but members of the Airport Commission are decidedly against developing the area.

The land — which the city owns and airport authorities manage — is part of the Willow Creek floodplain. That means any project would focus on flood mitigation.

And that could be costly.

Michael Tharp, the airport’s manager, said in order to efficiently market the land to perspective clients, the land would have to undergo a $1.8 million project, a price airport officials can’t afford even with help from the Federal Aviation Administration.

“It’s just a matter of not having the funds,” he said.

The proposed projects include construction of a new levee along Willow Creek and raising the land near the creek’s bank, said Rick Fosse, Iowa City’s director of Public Works.

At a June 29 meeting, Janelle Rettig, the head of the Airport Commission, discouraged city officials from sinking further into debt to raise the land out of the floodplain and to refrain from selling the land — at least for now.

Mayor Regenia Bailey and other city officials also considered leasing the land out to pay for project costs as well as seek any available federal funding. Developing, then selling, the land could relieve debt in the long term, officials said.

While budget concerns are at the heart of the discussion, Rettig brought up numerous problems with the plan — including matters of public policy, responsible land use, and effects on neighboring areas.
“Even if I can raise the land or redo the creek, the water has to go somewhere,” Rettig said. “It pushes the water onto the neighbors.”

The area is among the last pieces of green space in southwestern Iowa City.

Specific plans for the future of the property are unclear. Public Works is working together with Earth Tech, an engineering firm, to determine whether the land will be improved enough for development in the near future.

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