Plans for a 48-unit apartment complex in Woodward hit a speed bump Monday night when the Woodward City Council postponed the first reading of the zoning change the project needs in order to move forward.
Local developer Wayde Burkhart of Woodward wants to build two 24-unit apartment houses on the northeast corner of Fifth and Cedar streets in Woodward. The housing units would stand next to Hawk Stadium, where the Woodward-Granger and Woodward Academy football teams play.
Burkhart’s property is currently zoned for single-family dwellings (R2) and would need to be rezoned for multi-family housing (R3) before the apartment complex could be built.
The Woodward Planning and Zoning Commission recommended the zoning change to the city council, but progress stalled when the council postponed the first of three required readings of the resolution.
Council member Dave Luke said he firmly opposed the planned apartment complex at Monday’s meeting.
“I have had enough people in that part of town contact me that they’re not looking forward to a multi-family dwelling in a residential area like that,” said Luke, who was sworn in last month for his second four-year term on the council. “I’m elected by people I need to represent, and I’m not going to budge forward on this at all.”
Luke was joined at the meeting by Council member Craig DeHoet and Council member Todd Folkerts. Council members Richard Hartwig and Paul Thompson were absent.
Burkhart presented the council with preliminary plans for the project — provisionally called the Hawk Stadium concept — but he said he is reluctant to sink money into engineering and designs before the council approves the rezoning resolution.
“I want to do whatever I can to work with my neighbors and make things right,” Burkhart said at Monday’s meeting. He said the buildings would cost between $2.8 million and $3.4 million to build, and each would add about $50,000 annually to the city’s property tax revenues.
“I’m not going to build something that’s going to be nasty,” Burkhart said. “The project is $3 million, not $300 million as reported in the Perry Chief and Dallas County News.”
He said Kathleen Connor of Snyder and Associates engineering firm will develop the site plans. Results of independent market research and the number of calls he has received from people seeking apartments and other types of housing were factors “that spurred our decision to help our community,” Burkhart said.
Woodward’s zoning regulations require at least half the people affected by a proposed rezoning to agree to the change in order for it to be approved. If fewer than 50 percent agree, the zoning change can be rejected by the council.
Burkhart collected signatures from three of the five residents living within 200 feet of the proposed project, and they signaled they were agreeable to the idea, but two of the signers withdrew their support at Monday’s meeting, leaving the proposed rezoning short of the 50 percent minimum needed for approval.
“With that,” said Luke, “we don’t have the 50 percent of people who are wanting to allow this to happen, so I am not for rezoning.”
Bill Barrow of 504 Birch Ave. and Bev Johnson of 205 E. Fifth St. initially signed Burkhart’s petition, but they attended Monday night’s meeting, withdrew their support and voiced serious concerns about the impact the project would have on the sanitary and storm sewer systems in their neighborhood.
Barrow and Johnson expressed sincere friendship and goodwill toward Burkhart before turning their criticism toward the council and the city’s sewer system. They complained about chronic sanitary-sewer backups in their basements and said they only oppose Burkhart’s apartment project because it could worsen sewer problems they already have.
Barrow said he built his Birch Avenue house in 1993 and first suffered extensive damage to his basement in that year’s record flooding.
“The floods of ’93 were God’s will,” Barrow said, “but the sewer’s backed up on me every year since. At the time I lost my basement, I was advised by the council to put in a backflow valve, so I did. That backflow valve has shut the sewer off more times than I can recount. This year alone, five times it’s shut off. The last time it shut off, I had no service for 30 hours.”
He said he needs special insurance to cover sanitary-sewer damage. “Why should I have to protect myself from a service that I have no other choice but to have, and it’s causing me damages, and I have to be on my guard all the time whether it’s going to shut off?” he said.
Barrow noted the city’s revised building code now requires a backflow valve on all new construction.
“This just reinforces that there’s a dramatic problem going on,” he said. “This is a sanitary sewer system that’s supposed to be sealed and not overwhelmed with storm water. We’ve dyed the system, smoked the system, scoped the system. We’ve put in a new storm sewer and dug the ditches deeper. It’s had no effect on me. Every time we have saturated ground, a downpour, it shuts off. I’ve never been able to finish my basement. I’ve never been able to really enjoy my home. I think I should be able to. People say, ‘Oh, that end of town’s a swamp,’ but that’s not what my taxes say. I’m paying a premium in taxes, but I’m being damaged by our sewer system. It’s up to me to protect myself from the town’s sewer system, and it’s not right.”
Barrow said if the city approves Burkhart’s development plan, “it would be negligent on their part without fixing the problem that’s existing.”
Johnson is Barrow’s neighbor from around the corner on Fifth Street. She said she agreed with everything her neighbor said but also told the council she is more inclined to sue.
“I will fight it,” Johnson said. “I’m not as light and easygoing as Bill is.”
Johnson said she has contacted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, and a private attorney about the chronic sewer problems and believes “we have a leg to stand on” in a potential lawsuit.
She spent $3,000 to have backflow valves installed, she said, “and after all that, I was told, ‘If it rains very hard, Bev, don’t wash your stools. Don’t take a shower. Don’t run your washer. Don’t run your dishwasher or other things needing water because then you will have your own waste in your house.”
Woodward Public Works Director Chris Newland tried to address the concerns of Barrow and Johnson. Without denying the claim that storm water inflow and infiltration overwhelm the sanitary sewer system, he said saturated ground also causes groundwater seepage into basements in a process “that’s like 50 little boys peeing on a wall.”
Newland used the same image of “50 little boys” at the December meeting of the Woodward City Council, when residents from the town’s west side complained of leaking basements after mid-December’s four-inch rain. At that meeting, Nicole Brewer of 612 Walnut Ave. told the council water from the newly deepened stormwater ditch was entering her house, and Terri Sommer of 802 Walnut Ave. made similar complaints of water in her basement and backyard.
Refocusing the discussion, Council member DeHoet tried to address Burkhart’s zoning question while also promising council action on the sewer problems noted by Barrow and Johnson. He said the council should immediately take the first step in the three-step process of rezoning.
“We don’t have a lot of opportunities for building and growth and development in the community,” DeHoet said. “If we don’t move this forward to the next consideration, the timelines are pretty much done for, and the project’s dead in the water. I would ask the council to consider moving forward with this step. By moving to the next step, it gives us time to address some of the issues that we need to look at and maybe get some more information on options that we can do to fix and correct the problem. Again, moving this forward isn’t giving him permission or changing the zoning, it’s just a part of the step.”
Burkhart said he was concerned about sewer and drainage issues on his parcel and also wanted to try to keep the project moving.
“I’m not here to run a project down somebody’s throat,” Burkhart said. “I understand the concerns of Mr. Barrow and Ms. Johnson about the drainage issues, and I’d like to have those looked into and taken care of because I really do not want to impede on their personal lifestyles and what they want to do with their properties. That’s not right.”
An unrelated question was raised about how tenants in the 48-unit complex would be screened and selected. Burkhart’s wife, Julie Burkhart, addressed the question.
“If I can talk my mother into leaving Boone, I want her in one of those buildings,” Julie Burkhart said. “I’m not going to let anyone in there that I wouldn’t trust my mother to be around. She’s 75 year old. She needs help to get around and things. She pretty dependent on someone else, and I wouldn’t put her in a situation where I couldn’t trust the people around her.”
Woodward Mayor Brian Devick said the notion of building two large multi-family units in the middle of a neighborhood of single-family houses would not sit well with urban planners. He asked Wayde Burkhart whether he would consider changing the location of his apartment project.
“Dave Luke asked me to consider the Ironwood Lots owned by the city of Woodward next to the water treatment plant,” Burkhart said. “I did as per his request.” The resulting plan of the Ironwood Greens concept was also provided to the council. Burkhart’s parcel and the city’s lots on Ironwood Avenue are comparable in size.
“It appears to me,” Devick said, “that if this potential development was moved to the Ironwoods property, there would be a benefit in the infrastructure required to support those buildings. So it’s possible that it could be beneficial to you if the city was willing to work with you on a plan to develop this at Ironwoods instead of the current property. There could be a benefit to you. That could work for you as well.”
Luke seemed happy with the prospect of a land swap.
“Possibly the trade, if we could get it done, would be straight up,” Luke said. Utilities and sewer and water lines are already in place near the Ironwood Avenue lots, he said, and storm water drainage is not an issue.
Burkhart said he liked the idea but was concerned the Ironwood Avenue lots might be encumbered by covenants with previous buyers, a complication that could further slow progress, “and I’m not sure how that gets resolved,” he said. He would “like to start moving dirt by mid-May,” he said, in order to keep to a timetable for engineering and inspections.
The council directed Woodward City Attorney DuWayne Dalen to look into the Ironwood Avenue titles and report to the council on any covenants or other possible impediments to a swap.
Faced with the council’s need for more information, Todd Folkerts, newest Woodward City Councilor, moved to table the rezoning resolution until the March meeting. DeHoet seconded, “with the understanding, Wayde, that between now and the next meeting to resolve these issues. We’re going to do everything we can so that you know you can move forward and do what you need to do. We’re going to work hard on that.”
Luke remained steadfast in opposing any movements other than the council’s outright rejection of the rezoning resolution.
“In all honesty,” he said, “I can’t support this at all as a multiple-family dwelling here. I’ve got too many people living in my neighborhood that have already come to me and told me they don’t want a multiple-family dwelling in a residential area. It’s not a good fit.”
The next meeting of the Woodward City Council is Monday, March 14 in the Woodward City Hall at 105 E. Second St.