Muscatine politics

An empty Muscatine City Council chambers. The chambers have an upper level with a total seating capacity of 200-plus.

John Schultz, QUAD-CITY TIMES

MUSCATINE — A few Muscatine residents Thursday night asked the city council to consider recognizing Oct. 9 as Indigenous Peoples' Day, coinciding with the nation’s celebration of Columbus Day.

Activists across the country have been requesting their city leaders honor people native to America and provide information about Christopher Columbus' treatment of indigenous people. Recently, the city of Davenport agreed to recognize Indigenous Peoples' Day on Oct. 9. Then on Wednesday, Mayor Frank Klipsch said it was a coincidence it will fall on the same day as the national holiday and the city will still honor Columbus Day.

Thursday, Muscatine resident Travis Glynn, with Progress Muscatine, implored the city council to consider a similar proclamation. He said honoring Indigenous Peoples’ Day would pay respect to those who lived in America before the Europeans, as well as local residents of Native American descent.

“We don’t want to rewrite history, we want to study history carefully … and merely celebrate those who deserve to be celebrated,” Glynn said.

The group, he said, understands it is not possible to replace a national holiday, but handed the city council a petition, with around 50 signatures, asking for the city to expand the day’s meaning. Councilman Santos Saucedo said he would like to hear more information before the council makes a motion. While no one spoke against the petition at the meeting, Councilman Scott Natvig said he has received calls from people of the opposing view.

Progress toward senior housing

After a lengthy discussion, the Muscatine City Council approved rezoning around 10 acres of real estate at the corner of Blaine Street and Isett Avenue, to accommodate a new 48-unit housing development, on a first reading.

The Oak Park Development project includes triplexes of two-bedroom senior apartments, for residents who earn less than 60 percent the area median income. Thursday, project manager Chris Ales said one-fourth of the units will be occupied by people who qualify for Section 8 Project-Based Vouchers.

Currently, the area is a single-family residential zone and the council approved rezoning the land for large scale residential development. The city could also create a tax increment financing district for 15 years to support the development, or offer tax abatement.

After speaking to about half of the residents in the area, Ales said he amended development plans, to reduce the number of entrances on Blaine Street from three to two, plus lower the elevation to prevent storm water run-off issues. Some residents, however, are still unhappy.

A resident who lives near the proposed development, Denny Jens, presented the council with a petition, including 36 signatures from homeowners, asking the city to zone the area to accommodate condos or single-family residences instead of apartments. He argued building rental properties in the residential area would lessen property values, plus believes condos would better fit the needs of area seniors.

Another neighbor, Jane Daufeldt, said she would prefer to have apartments in the area, so homeowners only have to contact one landlord if problems arise. She added one-story senior housing would be a safe choice for residents wanting to maintain a quiet neighborhood.

Ales is applying for a grant from the Iowa Finance Authority, and Councilman Tom Spread said the development will not be possible without the state funding. City Planner Andrew Fangman assured residents the new zoning will be in effect for one year, and if the development does not happen, it will revert back to single-family residential zoning.

City leaders said Thursday’s action was the first of several needed to make the new housing development happen. The developer will create a final plan, including steps to prevent flooding and road damage, to be approved by the city council.

Run-off problems

With the announcement of the potential senior housing development, resident Kurt Zimmerman approached the council about the need to fix Blaine Street before construction is done in the area. If the city is going to develop the area properly, he said, it is necessary to repair the road so that storm water run-off does not flood nearby yards and homes.

Zimmerman said storm water runs down Isett Avenue, through Blaine Street and ends up flooding his mother’s property. After heavy rain, he said water is often “gutter-high” on the streets, making it dangerous for vehicles and pedestrians to pass through.

Fangman said a drainage plan will be proposed with the final design. No matter what development happens in the neighborhood, Spread said Blaine Street will need to be repaired. City Administrator Gregg Mandsager said the city council will address the issue in November.

Blaine Street residents are not the only people facing water run-off issues in Muscatine. Every month, resident Ralph Burr, who lives near Houser Street, has spoken up at council meetings, asking the city to address flooding issues near his neighborhood. He said for more than 20 years, streets and yards in the area have flooded because of an inadequate or flawed sewer line.

Councilman Phil Fitzgerald said he has been looking into the problem, and Mandsager said it will be the responsibility of the Public Works Department. The city council agreed to discuss the issue next month.

Southend residents have discussed similar issues at public meetings, including Jack Hillier who lives on Nebraska Street, and claims his yard becomes a “swamp” after heavy rain. City leaders said sewage line and storm water repairs are expensive, but the Public Works Department will investigate some of the concerns.

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