OTTUMWA — Seizing an opportunity to add more housing to the city, the Ottumwa City Council during Tuesday's meeting agreed to waive two considerations of an ordinance to change the zoning classification for a property on the city's south side.
The property involved is at 420 Minneopa Ave., the site of a church that is no longer in use. The property is for sale, but developer Tim Hall, who wants to use the church to develop multifamily residential housing units, would only buy the property if it was rezoned.
The property was zoned R-1, which is low-density residential. However, the church itself is too large to be classified at that level, so the only course of action was to amend the city's Future Land Use Plan in the comprehensive plan, move ahead with the change now, and bring in any other amendments to the plan and reflect the change to that property later in the year. The property will now be R-4, which is medium-density multifamily residential.
"This former church building is similar to other former church buildings in neighborhoods, and there isn't a lot of uses for a big commercial building," city planner Zach Simonson said. "Multifamily is one of the few options really available for those property owners to have future value to their property."
The church, which has a large parking lot in the rear, would have up to eight dwelling units — four on top and at least three on the bottom.
Hall, who was on hand to discuss the project, said it would probably be at least May before any work was done after purchasing the land. Plans and specifications weren't yet developed.
"We've been buying homes for the last 10 years ago so, and we go through them and fix them up. Some of them have been eyesores, mostly foreclosures, estates," he said. "With this property, they will be 800 square foot, two bedrooms, one bath. Brand-new HVAC, heating, plumbing. The sewer would have to be replaced. There will be washers and dryers and separate entrances."
"Our current business model is not income-based. We provide a good product," he said.
Still, there were concerns from the council.
"It seems like every time we do a development, small or large, somehow we get burned," council member Matt Dalbey said. "I appreciate the opportunity for quality housing because that's something we desperately need. But if issues arise, like they have with some of our bigger developments, the phone line goes cold. You can't follow up and can't do anything.
"I just want your commitment that you'll take care of those legitimate issues if they would arise."
Hall stood by his work and his reputation.
"Everything I've done and the properties I have here, I think I'm in good standing with all the neighbors," he said. "We try to keep a good, clean product. That's just our business, which is having good, affordable housing."
He estimated rent for a top dwelling would run between $900 and $1,000 per month, a bottom dwelling between $750 and $800 per month.
According to the comprehensive plan, multifamily residential property makes up just 3.2% of all land use in Ottumwa. The availability and affordability of housing in the city is one of the core principles in the plan.
In conversations with the area's residents, Simonson identified two key concerns: traffic flow and property values.
"The traffic is understandable, but it's only eight units, and it would be considerably less traffic than 20 to 40 vehicles coming into the street after church," he said.
"We did our best to look at the impact on property values with other rezoning we've done," he said. "We rezoned Asbury for a proposed multi-family project, and didn't see a change in assessed values in that area. Similar with Agassiz, where that previous elementary school was rezoned for a multi-family project. That hasn't happened yet, but there's been no appreciable difference in values for properties."
The only true instance where values went down, Simonson said, was with the Washington Street Apartment project, but he said "that was a bad comparison because it's a much larger project, but there's also been a slight downward values for the entire west side of Ottumwa."
"These are not lower-quality units," Simonson said. "Hopefully this will be an opportunity to move up the values rather than have blighted conditions by being vacant for an extended period of time. We think leaving it vacant would be worse than having it rezoned and having a little more density in the area."
As for the process, council member Bob Meyers was concerned that waiving considerations of ordinances was not a good habit to get into, even though it had been common.
"In this case, we did so we could hopefully make the development go a little bit faster, but I think we will take that recommendation to heart and try to avoid waiving those readings in the future," Simonson said. "It is important that people have a chance to come to the hearings."