OTTUMWA — The city council committed to bond for up to $3.4 million for a downtown streetscaping project, though Mayor Tom Lazio said he thinks the likely bill will be less.

The project involves the 100 through 300 blocks of East Main Street, and envisions a number of changes. Additional plantings of trees and other vegetation along the streets, new permeable pavement to water them, and enhancements to the mid-block crosswalks are all planned.

The language of the resolution commits bonding. The amount remains in some question. “If we get the grants that are available, and they seem pretty positive, we could get the city’s amount down to $2.2 million,” said Mayor Tom Lazio

There were questions about the project. Councilman Skip Stevens raised concerns about the effects permeable pavers might have on efforts to keep the streets passable in winter. He said his understanding is that it might limit the ability to use salt and could require a different approach to plowing.

“I don’t want you to think I’m opposed to this project, but I have a lot of questions,” he said.

Public Works Director Larry Seals said none of those issues is insurmountable. Monitoring the soil in plantings for salt would be a good idea, but he needed to check on how often any changes would be required or how the filtration might be affected by salt.

Several council members noted that the blocks will need work, regardless of whether it is part of the streetscape plan or another approach. Lazio said sidewalks need repair, which the streetscape program would address.

“I think that those things are factors that need to look at the big picture,” he said.

“Some of this stuff we’re going to have to do,” agreed Councilman Matt Dalbey.

The council also rescinded plans for a public hearing on the development of the St. Joseph Hospital site, but officials stressed this is not a move to step back from the project.

City Planner Kevin Flanagan said there was a discrepancy in the details when the city went to review everything in advance of a public hearing. But the plans still remain for rebatement on the project, a mechanism by which the developer pays taxes and then receives some back. The amount is prorated over the course of the rebatement’s 15-year run.

The project also involves an urban renewal plan involving only the property of the former hospital.

Flanagan said the total city investment through the rebatement would be about $3.5 million. Similar rebatements were used to boost construction of the Washington Apartments and the Asbury Avenue project.

Councilman Victor Streeby said the revocation does not change anyone’s intent toward the project, but is “just following proper protocol here because the numbers have changed.”

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Matt Milner currently serves as the Courier's Managing Editor. Milner is a trained weather spotter and is usually outside if there are storms. He joined the Courier in 2002.

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