Nick's Council Connection (24 June 2013)

Council Meeting Date: June 24, 2013ParkingExample.GIF

Council Meeting Location: City Hall, 220 Clay St, Cedar Falls, IA 50613

The Planning and Zoning Commission has had no less than six meetings on the College Hill Overlay update; I comment on the update below. Also, consider the Part-Time Mayor debate dead, or maybe worse. Compared to Staff's original proposal, the Mayor's proposal all but assures citizens will pay $70,000 in extra taxes while the reorganization component reduces responsibility and authority of the Mayoral office.  Sometimes it's hard to give a darn when rationality is usurped by the wacky (but I do and always will). Here's your update...

- Committee of the Whole (5:00pm-7:00pm, Mayor's Conference Room)-

 1) College Hill Neighborhood Overlay Update.  Amendments primarily deal with reducing ambiguity on "character" definition and other design enhancements for multi-unit and commercial development within the overlay district.  The primary goal of overlay is to establish a development framework that promotes safe, attractive, and pedestrian-friendly neighborhood that promotes compatibility among the mixed-uses while preserving (or enhancing) property values.

Is it perfect? No. It is the most voluminous section of code in zoning.  It would be great if we could arrive at a long-term flexible framework that strikes the optimal balance between development and neighborhood character.  This iteration establishes a better design framework for commercial and multi-unit development, but I feel we will eventually arrive at a form-based approach versus the literal definition we attempt to capture in code today.  Some of the core provisions:

  • Parking Lots: the code requires parking lots be incorporated behind structures.  It also adds new landscaping, including screening, requirements to soften the effects of parking lots on road frontages.
  • Refuse and recycling containers: collection areas are required to be screened and contained.
  • Building scale: adds articulation suggestions to break horizontal and vertical planes reducing 'barracks' effects while adding visual interest.  The code makes suggestions and offers a certain amount of design latitude to achieve the desired effects.
  • Bicycle Parking: bike accommodation should be considered a functional requirement because without it, bikes are tied to trees, handrails, and street signs which endanger the bike and reinforces bicyclists as a 2nd class transportation form.  Developers spend thousands on car parking, a bike provision seems minor by comparison.  The new language, "suggests" parking be accommodated at the rear of the property - this is far from a best practice suggestion (best practice takes into account security, convenience, and function), so I guess we'll just leave it at that.  Eventually, I hope best-practice bicycle accommodation will be voluntarily implemented because residents demand it (and they are, which is why this is being discussed).
  • Materials: the code has a 30% masonry requirement for the frontage (an alternative to masonry is suggested, but I need to ask questions about what qualifies as an alternative to the 30% rule).  30% seems arbitrary, likely a result of the prevailing 'decorative' treatment in America today. I am no fan of specifying decoration (especially because decoration preferences change with time).  Rather, I think we should focus on 'functional' design requirements.  We would be better off to specify a durable materials (masonry, stucco, fiber cement board, etc.) in conjunction with planar articulation than an arbitrary masonry definition.

So while the amendments aren't perfect, they are a step in the right direction.  Someday we will have a form-based zoning standard which will be many times better than our literal definitions (i.e. 30%) of today.  Form-based zoning is rooted in contextual design, versus restrictive definition.  For example, here's an example of the contextual location of a parking lot in a multi-unit development:


3) Continued Discussion on the Full-Time Mayor.  Council has affirmed its desire to continue with a full-time mayor by CouncilChambers.gifindefinitely tabling it from discussion. The Mayor's proposal adds a layer of management while reducing the Mayor's direct reports by 83%. It also  re-assigns key responsibilities to staff.  Sure, we also codify that the mayor is to perform ceremonial and many more 'soft' duties, tough stuff to put in a performance evaluation for voters.  But alas, citizens are assured to enjoy mayoral representation from bris milahs to funerals.  

 -Regular Council Meeting (7:00pm, Council Chamber)-

In Old Business

 2) Pass Ordinance #2795 - Garbage and Refuse rates.  This will codify certain changes in the pick-up schedule of yard-waste and add fees to offset the costs.  More importantly, it matches the cost of the service to those that use it. We've made some improvements based on your feedback.  For example, a resident may request an additional yard cart (yet new tipping fees will apply). Items outstanding: fee reviews on bulk-item pick-up (which remain ridiculously low at $5 - unlimited curbside weight/volume  pick-up) and vacuum service.

In Special Order of Business

 1 & 2) We hold a public hearing for the plans, specifications and contracts for the Viking Road 4-lane expansion between Westminster and Hudson.  I still contend that the road is over-designed by a factor of 5x. See my March 11, 2013 post for more commentary.

3) Real Deal Holdings, the owner of the 900 Technology Parkway structure (Williams Interactive & Banno), is planning a 900technologyparkway.png10,000 square foot expansion with a minimum valuation increase of $1MM.  The city will provide a property tax rebate totaling $43,200.  This type of rebate is true to the intent of TIF (at least partly, TIF was originally only to apply to blighted and urban renewal areas) - that is to build property valuation on existing infrastructure.  

In New Business

Item G.2.f) This item is a resolution adopting pay scales for the coming year.  Pay increases range from 2.25% to 3.9%.  Bear in mind that the city has little control over pay increases.  Collective Bargaining in the public sector is as convoluted as anyone could imagine. Essentially, it compares the City of Cedar Falls and its respective labor groups to a basket of other cities; the process includes binding arbitration by which an arbitrator picks between proposals. There is no private comparison.  Don't get me wrong, there are many employees that are worth every penny or more. But in a collective bargaining environment wages are set by the collective, not on merit or other incentivized approach (individual or team).

Item G.2.p) This item relates to the City's agreement for Animal Control Services.  These services are contracted to the Cedar Bend Humane Society.  As part of the budget task force, we are investigating all opportunities for savings.  Waterloo has conducted their own study of animal control services and determined it was more cost-effective to provide the service in-house.  CF is investigating the feasibility of working with Waterloo for the same services.  Regionalization can add economies of scale and efficiencies in service delivery.  This agreement with the Humane Society provides us with necessary coverage  (with no increases in cost for this year), but exit clauses give us the ability to pursue other providers with a proper notice period should other opportunities for savings develop.


Prior to adjournment, we will also move to executive session to discuss collective bargaining and property acquisition.

Nick's Briefs

Summer Fun: Cedar Valley Cyclists, CVAST, Mulligan's and New Belgium sponsor a weekly Wednesday ride over the summer. The event attracts a huge crowd and accommodates cyclists of every experience level and riding desire (soft trails, hard trails and road).  Each Wednesday, the palaton gathers at Mulligans, 6:15pm. If moving naturally is your thing, join the excitement!


Road Closures: From Michelle Sweeney (CF Civil Engineer):

  • Beginning Thursday, June 27th, 2013, the contractor will begin reconstruction of S. Main Street Stage 2 by closing S. Main Street from Iris Drive to north of Nordic Ridge Drive. In order for the contractor to begin pavement removal, a full road closure will be required. The road closure will be in effect for six to eight weeks, depending on the weather.
  • Beginning Wednesday, June 26th, 2013, the contractor will begin reconstruction of College Street by closing Stage 3 of College Street from north of the intersection of 1919 College Street to W. 18th Street. In order for the contractor to begin pavement removal, a full road closure will be required. The road closure will be in effect for four to six weeks, depending on the weather.


Some developments around town:

I love to get close to projects that are happening around the city. With each post, I will try to deliver city 'going-ons' in picture form, all captured from my bicycle.

The Mayor's Bridge (looking West)


Center Street Bridge (looking South)


Dollar General (Corner of Center St. and Lone Tree)


College Street (looking North on to Stage 3)


Showing 3 reactions

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  • Kate Dunning
    Nick, I like your emphasis on contextual design as the goal. I believe the PZ Commission and CHP embraced the slightly more prescriptive elements (though cautiously) because we were (until this revision to the College Hill ordinance) practicing an informal version of contextual design by which the Commission would look at the feasibility of the developers plans, ask developer for revisions to suit several variables (similar to you visual of the parking lot in the back), critique revisions and hold developer accountable by sending back until all suggestions met. This process is inefficient and frustrating for all. Having standards/form accelerates the process bc it eliminates ambiguity. I think the progress on The Hill demonstrates things are improving and I know you agree. However, I am interested in learning more about contextual approach – do you know of cities that use it? I think the goal for everyone is to nail the most efficient way to uphold efficiency while still upholding creativity.
    Kate Dunning
  • Nicholas Taiber
    This is referred to as ‘breaking the plane’. Building articulation (i.e. a change in surface depth), a porch, a balcony column, etc. could break the vertical plane. Banding, change in clapboard width, material transition (brick to something else), etc. could break the horizontal plane.
  • Nicholas Taiber
    Hi Lynn, thanks for the inquiry. 30% seems to create a minimum standard for decoration, it’s hard to identify the function in it. My concern is what happens to the remaining 70% of the front of the building and potentially 100% of remaining sides. Ordinarily the balance is vinyl siding, which has been a major source of complaints (because of its tendency to warp in heat, rip off in wind, and fade with sun). My main point is this – commercial buildings and multi-unit dwellings need materials that withstand the demands of mother nature and the planned use. I am an advocate for durable materials (masonry, stucco, fiber-cement board, etc.) and planar guidelines as a matter of functional design. Nick