Council Meeting Date: September 23, 2013
Council Meeting Location: City Hall, 220 Clay St, Cedar Falls, IA 50613
This evening, we go on an annexation road show, say hi to a mayoral appointee, approve parking lot landscaping requirement, review an independent contractor, and more. In my Briefs, I discuss transparency and the bloody council meeting.
- Committee of the Whole (5:30pm, Mayor's Conference Room)-
1, The Annexation Tour) I am very supportive of staff-directed road shows. It helps build council understanding of our capital expenditures and other pertinent activities like city planning like annexation (never to be taken lightly). For a perspective, our CapEx budget least year was $30.4MM. This year, it will be $36MM. We need to get close and personal with our capital projects and services. Not just to confirm how well we do it, but to explore how we can do it better. On this trip, we will review the voluntary annexation request in southwest Cedar Falls (west of the Prairie Lakes Complex and Meadows addition, and south of Viking Road). In the last council meeting I inquired if the identified developer intended to follow our recently adopted comprehensive plan. I wasn't encouraged by the response. If we spend $250,000 to do a Comprehensive Plan involving staff, council, citizens and planning experts, it seems reasonable to set a high threshold for plan deviation. As it is now, it seems we will compromise our Comprehensive Plan to meet any developer requests. I offer more comment on the council agenda item below.
2, The Interview) City Council requested that we have an opportunity to interview appointees for Planning & Zoning and a few other commissions and boards (why we don't do this for all is beyond me). While I appreciate getting to know board and commission members, it is more of a rubber-stamp, 'thanks for your service' session. Sure, it seems like a nice thing to do, but where is the cake and punch? It seems the process can be greatly improved, but since this is a mayoral task, council has little input in the matter other than approving the appointment at the next council meeting. While we don't need a congressional-like hearing, a little more discernment of the role and mission of the board and/or commission as it relates to council goals and the policy-setting process might be a good start.
-Regular Council Meeting (7:00pm, Council Chamber)-
E.1.2) Council continues the hearing on the Island Park Beach House. This time, the plans and specs eliminate the interior insulation to avoid mold and mildew growth in a future flood event. Staff identified the issue and wisely extended the hearing to address the concern.
E.5) This item relates to extending parking lot landscaping requirements currently defined in designated overlays (i.e. College Hill area) for parking lots to the city at large. In my last post I commented: "The parking lot landscape design requirements are quite reasonable. While what is good for one, is good for the whole could be considered statist, greenscaping has numerous advantages. So what right does the city have in requiring it? Parking lots should be integral parts of the stormwater management (proactive mitigation, and yes, many of the city experience inundation due to storm water), it demarks property, and provides hardscaping relief. Too much hardscaping has lousy consequences on adjacent properties and the overall environment." So while generally I do not like expanding regulations, there are instances when a property owner's action (i.e. paving from property line to property line) can negatively impact an adjacent owner's rights such as value preservation and the right to enjoyment. This is the essence of zoning, to reflect the values of the whole while observing the rights of the individual. Good zoning strikes a balance between the two.
G.2.g) This item deals with creating a form of contract approving personal trainers ("PT") in the recreation center. In the contract, a PT is recognized as an independent contractor. The PT and the client must be members of the Rec Center. I certainly want to encourage this type of service, but a couple questions arise. 1) Is it legal for two persons to enter into a consensual training agreement outside of city permission? 2) The agreement stipulates that the city will publicize and provide a client base to the PT. Obviously, this publicity and client access has value and I can not find any charge for this to the PT. The city should charge a nominal fee to cover paper work, publication, and other expenses associated with the offering. The Recreation Center walks a fine line between offering affordable access to fitness resources and directly competing with non-city enterprises. Anytime the city offers expanded services that may compete with existing private sector offerings, the threshold for justification must be high. At minimum, independent contractors should pay for the marketing. And why we would stop here? What about city tennis courts, golf courses and pools? Aww, it's a slippery slope.
G.2.m & n) These items establish policy criteria for Community Gardens and Farmer's Markets in support of the city's Blue Zone initiative. These innocuous resolutions create a policy on established practices that are celebrated by many in the city. To meet Blue Zone requirements, we need to formally adopt policies. Easy enough.
G.2.o) This item relates to a request from a local, private development company (Cedar Falls Development Group LLC) that is leading the way to preserve the old post office at 217 Washington Street. You may recall a majority of council members voted to demolish the building. Community outcry lead to productive review of the decision and more time was granted to find a suitable use for the historic structure. It appears to be coming to fruition. This item is a resolution of intent stating that the city is supportive of a grant application and intends to negotiate in good faith the basic provisions that are needed to qualify for the grant.
G.2.q) This item relates to the voluntary annexation of three properties (one of which is city-owned, but just a sliver) just North of Viking Road, west of Prairie Lakes Church and the Meadows addition. Specifically, it sets notification date for impacted property owners (as stipulated by law) and a hearing date for the annexation. While many have expressed concern of our eagerness to annex quality farm land into City boundaries (a prerequisite for significant development), this land is a sensible addition given current city boundaries and adjacent development. It represents orderly development as it relates to existing infrastructure, watershed, and transportation systems. It is not the frowned-upon leap-frog development that so often mars community continuity and connectedness. It also falls within our comprehensive plan for development, the details of which are my primary rub. It has already been noted that the developer intends to develop it as single family housing. This area is designated for different density levels. It always seems that we are willing to compromise our Comprehensive Plan at any developer proposal or whim. The Comprehensive Plan is to serve the city as a guide to meet modern planning principles relative to infrastructure, environment, and coherent land-use. I'm wondering why we won't just designate the entire city as single family housing. We seem all too willing to amend any planning or and zoning classification in the name of development.
Transparency Is Possible, Now - For over a year, the City Council has used iPads and electronic documents for its meeting packets. Monday's packet contains 263 pages of information (not including committee meeting documents). This is a mountain of information to get through in the weekend. Additional, caring eyes would be beneficial - even if it results in more questions, which inevitably means more understanding. And as a matter of principle, too many government actions today are done in a cloud of secrecy. Information, or access to it, is one of the most fundamental tenets of a democracy (which we should strive to be, even in our republic form). There seems to be no logical reason to withhold this foundational information from public view. I plan to refer to Committee that we explore the publication of official council documents so that we can be more informing and engaging to our constituency.
Blood in the Council Meeting - Many have asked about my health recently, or more specifically, why there was blood in my eye at the last council meeting. Sure wish I had a better story to share (I do, but won't embellish now). Just prior to the meeting, I was picking up my iPad in haste to make it to the council meeting. In the process, I whacked my head on a furniture edge. The furniture was OK, but I got a good gash on my forehead. I rode down to the meeting hoping Chief Schilling (a trained EMS pro) might say no problem, just apply super glue. Nope, he said I need medical attention. After the council meeting, Mr. McAlister took me to urgent care and we both made it back before the first committee meeting item was finished. 4 sutures is all. I took them out 6 days later with the help of my two kids. They watched while I snipped and pulled. A great lesson on the epidermis/dermis skin layer for the kids.