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2009 a year of contrasts

NORTH LIBERTY– It was a year of dichotomies.
National economic woes filtered down to the state level, requiring state and local governments and school districts to tighten belts and trim budgets, but the Corridor area still managed to gain a number of new businesses and ventures in 2009. North Liberty welcomed new restaurants, a new discount store, a business consulting firm and copy service center; approved plans for another convenience store, a bowling center and an implement retailer; and watched the building progress on a church, a second credit union and two new schools, one public and one private. Several area businesses expanded, opening new locations in and around North Liberty, yet the community lost at least five established businesses in its commercial sector.
While the national housing market collectively plummeted in value, Johnson County saw an overall growth in its property valuations.
Federal stimulus funding rolled into the state, allowing for municipal and county projects to proceed, but enough anticipated funding was diverted or declined that the city of North Liberty curtailed a major highway upgrade, scaled back a library expansion plan and reduced its overall budget for the next fiscal year. Even with such reductions, the city of North Liberty proceeded to make three major land purchases to increase its park land and prepare for a future city facilities expansion.
It was also a year of gains and losses in area government.
Both Clear Creek Amana and Iowa City school districts gained new board members, but said goodbye to Van Allen’s elementary principal, and will soon bid farewell to Superintendent Lane Plugge after 10 years of service. All of Johnson County at once celebrated the life and mourned the death of Supervisor Larry Meyers.
Finally, grass roots activism was the year’s buzz phrase, with citizens’ groups backing various petitions, including the efforts to: oppose certain municipal annexations; ban bicycles from state and county roads; keep bikes on the roads; demand a new Corridor high school; and call for a special county-wide election to choose a new county supervisor.

1: The University of Iowa Hawkeye football team brings home a 31-10 victory over the South Carolina Gamecocks in the 2009 Outback Bowl.
7: North Liberty welcomes the East-West School of Integrative Healing Arts, which relocated from Iowa City to a new location on Jordan St.
14: AlphaGraphics Digital Business Center celebrates its new North Liberty store with a grand opening Jan. 15.
15: A new record-low temperature of -29 degrees was set in Cedar Rapids, the coldest day since -23 degree temperatures recorded in 1994.
20: Barack Obama is inaugurated into office as the first African American president of the United States of America.
21: Iowa City Community School District Superintendent Lane Plugge is honored at a reception in recognition of his Superintendent of the Year award from the School Administrators of Iowa organization.
21: Parents rally together to give input on proposed school boundary changes in the North Liberty school attendance areas for Penn, Van Allen and the new Garner elementary schools.
21: City Tractor announces plans to build a new retail and service facility off Penn St. in North Liberty.
21: Hy-Vee Inc. recalls products sold in their Midwest store locations containing peanut butter potentially contaminated with salmonella.
28: The city of North Liberty receives word that $1.3 million in sought-after federal funding is denied for improvements to Highway 965, and the council discusses issuing general obligation bonds to help pay for the project.
28: Collins Community Credit Union hosts an Open House to celebrate a new North Liberty branch, the sixth banking institution to open along Highway 965.
4: Residents of Golf View Mobile Home Park approach the City Council with concerns over rumors that the trailer park will be closed in favor of commercial development. Current owners reassure residents there are no current plans to re-develop the property.
4: The city of Coralville loses the first go-round in a disputed annexation case involving property along North Liberty’s eastern border.
11: Voters in the Clear Creek Amana School District approve a measure allowing the district to use money from the Iowa Secure an Advanced Vision for Education (SAVE) fund by 64 percent.
18: The North Liberty City Council requests $240,000 be cut from the overall city budget.
4: The North Liberty Community Food and Clothing Pantry releases numbers from the previous year, including: 423 families served; 92,000 pounds of food distributed; 8,000 pieces of clothing circulated; and as many as 350 visits from needy patrons in one month.
4: Red’s Alehouse is in full swing at 405 N. Dubuque St., after owners Faye and Matt Swift relocate from the flooded Slugger’s location in Coralville.
11: Van Allen Principal Brad Laures announces he is leaving to accept a superintendent’s position with the Lisbon Community School District.
Dollar Daze offers a new choice for discount shopping in North Liberty, opening March 11.
18: The Iowa City Area Chamber of Commerce sponsors a public forum to announce its support for Amtrak passenger rail service to be brought to Iowa City.
18: North Liberty’s Highway 965 project receives $285,000 in federal government stimulus funding, awarded through the Johnson County Council of Governments.
18: Johnson County Planning and Zoning Commission recommends the county leave its two-phased Corridor Land Use Plan intact, the document that designated 19,333 acres as potential residential growth areas.
25: Johnson County Sheriff’s deputies arrest six people when a methamphetamine lab was discovered in a camper located outside Swisher, at 1603 Blains Cemetery Road.
25: University of Iowa Hawkeye wrestling team clinches the NCAA championship title.
1: The North Liberty City Council votes not to assess property owners for improvements to Forevergreen Road.
15: Advocates for a new high school to be built in North Liberty hear the Iowa City School District’s position that issues such as bus scheduling, Roosevelt Elementary School and enrollment imbalances between City High and West High take precedent over planning a new facility.
22: The city of North Liberty is asked to return $195,000 of a $750,000 Community Attraction and Tourism grant for Liberty Centre Park and Pond by the Iowa Department of Economic Development, because the project did not cost as much as originally estimated.
22: The Iowa City Community School District unanimously votes against raising property tax rates from its current $14.19 per $1,000 of valuation, proposing instead to change bus routes and eliminating up to 10 district positions in order to meet necessary budget cuts.
5: The county-wide vote to impose a Local Option Sales Tax, proposed to mitigate funding and repair for flood-damaged areas, fails in the cities of Coralville, West Branch and North Liberty, as well as within the unincorporated areas of Johnson County, but passes in Iowa City, University Heights, Hills, Lone Tree, Oxford, Shueyville, Swisher, Tiffin and Solon. In Iowa City, the referendum passes by just seven votes, while in Coralville, the measure is defeated by just eight votes. In West Branch, only 10 total voters came to the poll, to defeat the measure 6-4.
6: Advocates for a North Corridor High School officially form and circulate a petition urging the Iowa City School District to resume planning to build a high school in North Liberty.
27: Five city of North Liberty police officers are named in a lawsuit claiming excessive force stemming from a June, 2007 incident during the community’s annual Fun Days celebration.
27: Heritage Christian School celebrates a contract signing for building a new 25,000 sq. ft. school facility.
3: The North Liberty City Council agrees to downsize planned improvements for Highway 965, as the failure of the Local Option Sales Tax, lack of federal earmark dollars and denied grant applications reduce funding options for the $30 million project.
9: In a fervently-contested move, the Iowa City Community School District Board of Directors unanimously vote to decommission the long-standing Roosevelt Elementary School as an attendance site.
14: The North Liberty Fun Days Truck & Tractor Pull celebrates its 20th year in the annual community celebration.
17: Kum & Go., LC, proposes a new 3,400 sq. ft. building to be built on Lininger Lane in North Liberty, just off the I-380 exit.
17: Tryon Enterprises is the third company to occupy Liberty Centre’s commerce building, launching a new business consulting firm in the Corridor.
24: Clear Creek Amana 2009 seniors celebrate their high school graduation in a newly-finished building.
24: Premier Automotive in North Liberty becomes the first auto body repair shop in the Corridor to switch to an environmentally-friendly, low VOC paint technique.
1: The city of North Liberty earns an Environmental Excellence Award from Governor Chet Culver’s office for its new wastewater treatment facility, a dramatic turn-around after the facility had garnered a slew of DNR permit violations in 2005.
8: Johnson County Board of Supervisors vote to have the historic Sutliff Bridge inspected after floods damaged the structure in 2008, at a cost of $19,500.
8: Population estimates released by the U.S. Census Bureau indicate North Liberty’s population doubled in size in the last 10 years.
14: The city of North Liberty approves a $205,000 land purchase along Cherry Street, part of its administrative facility expansion plan.
22: The Iowa City School District shifts in favor of continuing to plan a third high school to be built in the northern part of the Corridor, after Superintendent Lane Plugge presents a draft plan that includes a third high school targeted for the 2014-15 school year.
26: Governor Chet Culver rolls through Eastern Iowa on a whistle-stop rally to show his support for expanded passenger rail service between Iowa City and Chicago.
5: A consultant recommends the city of North Liberty scale back plans for the Community Library expansion, from the proposed 29,000 sq. ft. to a first-phase construction of 11,400 sq. ft.
5: Just for Kix dance program opens a new studio at 1310 Kennel Ct. in North Liberty.
12: The North Liberty Youth Baseball and Softball League completes its 17th year of operation, serving 787 local boys and girls in 2009.
19: In light of stringent budget cuts, the Iowa City School Board fluctuates yet again its position on a third North Corridor high school, saying odds are against a 2014-15 school year opening date.
26: U. S. Congressman Dave Loebsack (D-Iowa) addresses a large, unsettled crowd in Cedar Rapids, who express much concern over the health care reform debate taking place in Washington, D.C.
26: VJ Engineering firm offers a grim inspection report of Sutliff Bridge to the Johnson County Supervisors, stating the condition of the bridge is “critical,” and poses a threat of collapse unless significantly restored.
2: Officials for North Liberty’s largest elderly housing complex, Jefferson Point, announce it will cease to be an assisted living facility and operate as an affordable housing project instead, due to lack of tenants requesting assistance services.
2: The city of North Liberty, in cooperation with Coralville, applies for a $30 million grant from the Federal Government’s Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery fund to help pay for improvements to Highway 965.
2: A petition initiated by a concerned group of neighbors sparks statewide debate about the use of bicycles on Iowa’s roadways. The Iowa Bicycle Coalition responds with a petition of its own to keep bikes on county roads and highways.
3: Clear Creek Amana high school student Alyssa Benedict, 16, is killed in a rollover accident on I-380, the second student death in the school district in six months.
8: Two newcomers– Sarah Swisher and Tuyet Dorau– and incumbent Michael Cooper are elected to the Iowa City Community School District board. In Tiffin, Eileen Schmidt and Aimee Pitlick join the Clear Creek Amana School Board.
13: Heartland Community Church breaks ground on a new building in North Liberty, while Holy Trinity Lutheran Church announces the addition of a third weekly service.
16: The Iowa City Community School District, both due to and despite a severe budget crunch, agree to hire an outside consultant to do an enrollment analysis and make recommendations on a third high school and boundary changes, at a minimum cost of $80,800.
22: Johnson County Supervisor Larry Meyers, age 58, succumbs to a two-year battle with cancer. Meyers was most recognized for leading the effort to keep a controversial road improvement plan off the county’s long-term road plan.
23: Johnson County announces the taxable valuation of property in the county grew an average of 4.18 percent in 2009, in sharp contrast to the majority of the nation, where property values plummeted in the last year.
30: Plans for a 27,200 sq. ft. bowling center are approved at a North Liberty City Council meeting; the center is slated to open in 2010.
30: Restaurant Taste of N’Awlins, formerly operating out of the Corridor Convenience location, opens a new location on Mehaffey Bridge Road, bringing the Cajun flavors of Louisiana and the spice of Chicago barbecue back to North Liberty.
7: The Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs announces the Iowa City/Coralville/North Liberty area as one of its Great Places communities.
7: The Secret Cellar Wine Shop in Shueyville expands in a new location, marking five years of retail success.
8: With a decline in the state’s revenues of $414.9 million, Iowa Governor Chet Culver asks for 10 percent, across-the-board budget cuts for all state departments, sending schools and local governments reeling during the height of budget discussions.
9: North Liberty’s MidWest One bank sees its third bank robbery in just over one year, after it is robbed at 4 p.m. It is the community’s fifth bank robbery in as much time.
14: The Johnson County Supervisors narrow the options for the fate of Sutliff Bridge to three: repair it, replace it, or demolish it. The county board asks for one more public input meeting before making a final decision.
19: Supporters of saving the historic Sutliff Bridge flood the Johnson County Supervisors with pleas to refrain from demolition at a public forum in Iowa City. The county makes no formal decision on whether to spend $2 million to replace the missing span or remove the remaining pieces, which would free up $1.2 million in FEMA funding for other projects in the county.
21: The Johnson County Conservation Board acquires an 87-acre riparian tract of land along Clear Creek near Tiffin, at a cost of $480,000, the first such purchase made after the Conservation Bond referendum passed in 2008.
30: A statutory committee comprised of the county’s auditor, assessor and treasurer, vote to appoint Iowa City resident Janelle Rettig to fill the seat left vacant by the death of Johnson County Supervisor Larry Meyers.
3: North Liberty voters elect new member Brian Wayson and re-elect incumbent Gerry Kuhl to serve on the North Liberty City Council. Voter turnout is bleak, with less than 7 percent of the community’s registered voters going to the polls.
13: A grass-roots petition seeking a special election to fill a vacant Johnson County Supervisor seat succeeds, with Lori Cardella of Solon leading the push for the required 7,299 signatures.
18: Swisher gains a library, thanks to an eight-year effort by the Jefferson Monroe Friends of the Library association.
18: The city of North Liberty approves a second land purchase relating to plans for expanding city facilities; the city pays $325,000 for two lots along N. Dubuque St.
25: The Iowa Supreme Court upholds an earlier court decision impeding annexation of property along North Liberty’s eastern border into the city of Coralville. It is the fifth and final court action in three years regarding the disputed annexation, all of which were rulings in favor of the Citizens for Sensible Development, a group of residents who wish to annex into North Liberty instead.
2: The North Liberty City Council entertains a request from the Iowa City/Coralville Area Convention and Visitors’ Bureau for $10,000 to support the area’s City of Literature designation by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
2: Parents from the Iowa City Regina Catholic School District stridently oppose a proposal by the Iowa City School District to cut busing to Regina students, a move that would save Iowa City an estimated $260,000 per year.
2: The city of North Liberty puts in place its first administrative assistant in the North Liberty Police Department.
5: Rural Solon resident Lori Cardella announces she will be on the Jan. 19, 2010, election ballot for the supervisor’s seat left vacant by the death of Johnson County Supervisor Larry Meyers. Cardella will face opponent Janelle Rettig, appointed to fill the vacancy in October.
8: The North Liberty City Council approves a three year, $176,800 lease to rent office space for its administrative services in the Epley building on Highway 965.
8: Eastern Iowa is blanketed with its first significant snowfall, getting more than 10 inches in the North Liberty area over two days.
9: The North Liberty Police Department organizes the city’s first employees’ union, Local 2003, to represent its 12 law enforcement officers in collective bargaining.
9: Cedar Ridge Winery and Distillery holds a ribbon cutting to celebrate the completion of a 7,000 sq. ft. facility near Swisher off Highway 965.
16: The Iowa City Community School District board votes 6-1 to stop busing Iowa City Regina Catholic School students, a money-saving measure in a time of tightening budgets.
23: The Iowa Hawkeye football team finishes its season 9-2, and advances to the 2010 Orange Bowl in Miami against Georgia Tech.
28: A third candidate– James Knapp of Iowa City– files nomination papers to run for Johnson County Supervisor in the Jan. 19, 2010 election.
30: Iowa City Community School District Superintendent Dr. Lane Plugge announces he will depart Iowa City for a new position as chief administrator of the Green Hills Area Education Agency in Western Iowa.