A review by the Woodward city attorney of procedural moves made at the city council’s July meeting has concluded that a zoning ordinance amendment, believed to have failed last month, was in fact approved by the council in a three-to-two vote in favor of the zoning change.
The rezoning of the property near Hawk Stadium at Fifth and Cedar streets from single-family residential (R2) to multi-family residential (R3) opens the way for a local developer with plans to build a 24-unit apartment house on the lot.
The zoning change has been a subject of contention all year, dividing opinions among Woodward residents and city council members alike. Opponents of the apartment project claim the city’s defective sanitary sewer system — which everyone agrees is defective — will be further overwhelmed by the additional discharge from the new housing units.
Woodward Mayor Brian Devick explained at Monday night’s council meeting how the council came to misstate the outcome of the July 11 vote and how Woodward City Attorney DuWayne Dalen later corrected the misstatement.
“At that council meeting,” Devick said, “we had a substitute attorney, if you will, because our regular city attorney was out and gone and unavailable, so they sent another attorney in who is maybe not quite as familiar on the current laws and ordinances of the state as Mr. Dalen is.”
A petition in protest of the zoning change was presented to the council at the July meeting, and it was believed the petition increased the number of votes needed for approval from a simple majority of 50 percent to a super majority of 75 percent.
“The city attorney that was here knew that somewhere in state law it said that if you get a petition for that submitted to the city council, the city council has to decide by a super majority or a three-fourths or better vote instead of a standard majority vote,” Devick said. “The council did a vote. The vote was three to two in favor of changing the zoning and approving the third and final reading, so I publicly announced that it failed based up the information that it had to be a super-majority reading.”
Dalen’s subsequent review of state law determined the protest petition needed to be filed prior to the public hearing on the ordinance amendment, and that hearing was held six months ago.
“The public hearing for that ordinance was held in February,” Devick said. “Therefore, that petition would have to have been filed in February to require the city a super majority. So a simple majority passes that ordinance.”
Local property developer Wayde Burkhart said he was surprised by the mayor’s announcement Monday. He said he was reconciled to the July vote and has been weighing other options for developing the property.
“They did the right thing and reviewed everything,” Burkhart said. “I’m kind of at a loss for words. I’ve got to take some time to think about this property. Something will be done, but I’m a little confused as to what to do.”
Burkhart originally planned to build two 24-unit apartment houses on the northeast corner of Fifth and Cedar streets. He sought to have the 3.2-acre property rezoned for multi-family housing before sinking money into engineering and architectural designs for the apartment complex.
Devick said the call for reviewing the procedural validity of the July vote came from within the Woodward city government and not from any outside interest.
“I do want to make it very clear that no one individual or person initiated that,” the Woodward mayor said. “The property owner did not initiate that review. The people filing the petition against it did not initiate that review. That review was handled internally by our legal department to make certain that we did things right. That’s the ruling that we got.”
Devick said the substitute city attorney “felt terrible about any mistake that he made, but I appreciate the fact that out legal firm and our attorney, Mr. Dalen, do the best job they can to make certain that we’re following the law and doing things right. Personally, I don’t have any preference in it whether it changed or it didn’t change. I just want to make certain that the city follows the law and we do the right thing the right way and for the right reasons.”
Even minor errors can raise doubts in suspicious minds, he said, and he tries to avoid any hint of impropriety in city affairs.
“Like most things in a small town, rumors will float around town like crazy,” Devick said, “but I’m going to tell you the truth right from here: it was nothing more than a simple mistake that was made and a review done by our attorneys, and we’re going to make certain that we follow the law.”
Backers of residential housing development in Woodward might be pleased with Monday’s clarification of the council’s vote, but the problem of the city’s sanitary sewer system remains to be solved, a point made forcefully by Council member Dave Luke, who noted the town received 5.5 inches of rain July 19, and “the sanitary sewer backed up, and it blew off manhole covers in the community.”
Luke said he was “pretty confident” that Woodward Public Works Director Chris Newland informed the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) about the wastewater discharge.
“He called me and visited with me on the phone and was kind of looking for a way of how to present that to the DNR,” Luke said. “One of the things that bothers me is that this has been going on for years, and as of the 19th of July it was the very first time we had ever reported that we blew manhole covers off and that we were pumping raw sewage out onto the streets and into the ditches of our community. I went down, and I actually took pictures and have them on my cell phone of toilet paper and human waste in the streets and ditches of our community.”
Luke said the council is “all pretty much in agreement on getting this I&I (inflow and infiltration) taken out of our sewer system. I do believe there are literally hundreds of homes in our community that are directly dumping storm sewer water directly into the sanitary sewer.”
Council member Paul Thompson said the sanitary sewer mains themselves might also be leaking at their joints and allowing ground water into the system, a claim rejected by Devick.
“I’m 98 percent sure that is not correct,” Devick said. “We have done about 80 percent of the town with relining of our sanitary sewers, and we have recently done a pressure clean out of all the sanitary sewer main lines. Where water is getting into the sanitary sewer is through houses, property owners that have drainage tiles connected directly to it, sump pumps tied into it or even having open drains in their basement that fills with water every time it rains, and that water runs right down the drain. Those are the issues that are causing us problems.”
Devick also mentioned leaky service lines that connect houses to the sanitary sewer main. He said the council is waiting for AccuJet to complete its video inspection of the hundreds of service lines in the town, which is expected to give an accurate picture of the sources of I&I that supercharge the system during heavy rains.
“I only bring this up to the council to let them know that this problem has to be taken care of,” Luke said.
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