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New bridge awaits city expansion

BY NICOLE KARLIS | JULY 24, 2009 7:15 AM

Mike Lehman’s family has owned and farmed land in Iowa City since 1960.

But he knows another piece of it could soon be gone.

Iowa City is waiting to annex half a square mile south of the city limits — including Lehman’s land — from property owners to expand the municipality.

The most recent phase of this goal is a new bridge over the Iowa River connecting the city’s developing southwestern sector and the established East Side. The project is set to be completed and open for traffic by September, said Jeff Davidson, the Iowa City planning director.

The bridge is the most recent piece of McCollister Boulevard between Old Highway 218 and Gilbert Street. Officials said they consider it a priority in building commerce in the area, a project that began approximately seven years ago.

“It’s the first step,” said Wendy Ford, the city economic-development coordinator. “In order to facilitate growth in a community, you have to be able to move the people through it.”

With two years of work completed, McCollister is the first bridge built by the city over the river since the 1960s, Davidson said.

But facilitating transportation and diverting traffic is only one of the project’s goals.

Iowa City officials also hope to expand the community and build up their property-tax base.

Whenever the city annexes land, residents must begin paying property taxes to the city. In return, the city provides such services as water, sewage, and safety, Ford said.

“Building the property tax base by development is a good thing,” she said, and it helps pay for the increasing prices of the community services.

Ford is confident there will be a mix of residential, commercial, and business development in the area. Commercial and business development bring in more money to contribute to the property-tax base. Those entities pay $40 in property tax for every $1,000 of the assessed value, Ford said. Residential property pays half that.

As the city seeks to annex the land, delivering community services wouldn’t be a problem, city engineer Ron Knoche said. When water-treatment systems were originally set up on the land, they were designed to be hooked up to the city, he said.

In contrast, law-enforcement officials noted the strain the expansion could put on their already limited resources.

“As the city expands, it’s going to increase a burden on the police department … unless there’s a corresponding increase in staff,” said Iowa City police Sgt. Troy Kelsay. “Sooner or later, it’s going to generate more work for us.”

Property owners such as Lehman are understanding but in no hurry about possible future developments, though Davidson predicted the project will be complete in the next five to 10 years.

“We know it’s in progress,” Lehman said, though he said he has not signed contracts or discussed prices. He hasn’t even discussed the issue with city officials in two years, he said.

But Lehman and his family already know something about city expansion; their original farmstead was located where Sycamore Mall now sits. Though Lehman accepts change is coming, he is somewhat bittersweet about the inevitable.

“If you have a good agriculture year, you want to keep farming,” Lehman said.


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