McGregor zoning change allows ground floor apartments in rear of commercial buildings

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By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times

The McGregor Council amended the zoning regulations pertaining to dwelling units in the city’s C-2 general office and retail district at its Aug. 15 meeting. The change will now allow ground floor apartments in the rear of commercial buildings on Main and A streets, as long as they take up 50 percent or less of the floor space.

The council hopes the move will help building owners better utilize their spaces. Potential business owners may also be more attracted to retail spaces at more manageable sizes.

At its July meeting, the council indicated the restoration of the Sullivan Opera House was a factor in the change. The developer plans to have three retail storefronts in the front of the first floor, while the back would include apartments as well as an expansion of the next-door McGregor Historical Museum. At 2,500 square feet apiece, those spaces are quite large.

For buildings that size, councilman Charlie Carroll said he understood the zoning change. He felt smaller buildings, at sizes like 700 or 900 square feet, should be excluded, however.

“I think it has to be a certain square feet,” he said, noting that community members had raised concerns with him. Otherwise, “people are taking a little building, putting an apartment in and maybe have no intention of renting [the front] out. They let it sit empty.”

People with larger buildings, Carroll reasoned, would have more of an incentive to rent out the fronts of their buildings. Once apartments are allowed in smaller-square-footage areas, it will be difficult to ever remove them, he added.

“I can see where you’re coming from,” replied councilman Jason Echard, “but who’s going to regulate it? Are you going to go in every building?”

“There are not that many buildings to worry about,” Carroll said. “Walk up and down Main Street, and you can look in and see if there’s an apartment.”

The rest of the council wasn’t on-board with Carroll’s idea, though. Echard, along with Rogeta Halvorson, Janet Hallberg and Joe Muehlbauer, all approved the first reading of the ordinance and voted to waive the additional readings.

Carroll took issue with that decision.

“The purpose of three readings is to get it out there,” he said. “Maybe someone else has a comment. It may be controversial.”

Echard, Halvorson, Hallberg and Muehlbauer also approved final passage of the ordinance amendment, while Carroll voted “no.”

NEICAC approaches council about program

Jeremy Jostand, housing director for Northeast Iowa Community Action Corporation (NEICAC), approached the council to see if it would be willing to donate a city-owned lot for NEICAC’s Lease Purchase Program.

Through the program, NEICAC would construct a home on the lot. A low-income family would then be selected to participate in the program and rent the home for 12 to 36 months while counselors help prepare them to buy the home.

Jostand said the homes are energy efficient and include three bedrooms and one bathroom, a two-stall garage, basement and energy efficient appliances. They’re built from scratch with the help of local contractors.

NEICAC has built 29 homes in northeast Iowa since 2005.

Jostand said lots 12 or 13 in the Ohmer Subdivision, or lot 14 in Ridgewood West, would be most suitable for the program. Having the lot donated would help with the overall cost of the project, he added. 

In return, he noted the city would gain a new family, home and taxes.

The council expressed interest in the program and promised to let Jostand know by November if the city would like to donate a lot.

If the city moves forward, Jostand said construction would begin around this time next year.

Storm sewer repairs on Buell, Garnavillo

The council approved a bid of $19,800 from Vorwald Excavating for repairs to the Buell and Garnavillo Avenue storm sewer.

Speed concerns discussed

Mayor Lyle Troester, presiding over his first meeting with the city, said the biggest complaint he’s heard since becoming mayor is the speed problem on Business 18, at the west entrance to McGregor.

“It’s not conducive to the people at the nursing home or the people who live there, and there’s a playground,” he said. “There are so many people walking around, and I think it’s really dangerous as far as traffic speed.”

As people enter town, the speed limit is currently 35, but council members felt drivers should slow down to 25 mph.

Troester said he didn’t believe it would be too much of a hardship for people.

“It’ll take 15 seconds longer to go down Main Street,” he quipped.

City administrator Lynette Sander said she would check with the Iowa DOT on changing the speed limit. The police will also be notified to more frequently patrol the area.

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