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City approves $150k for 121 on Main

Questions on site plan go unanswered
Al Wells of Solon questions the site plan for 121 on Main during a March 15 Solon City Council meeting. (photo by Doug Lindner)

SOLON– A one-time, $150,000 investment into 121 on Main will be made by the city.
At a March 15 meeting, city council members voted 4-0 in support of a lump sum payment to HPR Investments LLC for a Main Street commercial/residential development planned west of Big Grove Brewery.
The city expects to use an internal loan to cover the initial expense, to be paid back through Tax Increment Finance (TIF) revenues.
One member of the public, however, said the city had not gone far enough in requiring off-street parking for the project.
Al Wells, speaking during public comments at the beginning of the meeting, questioned why council members approved the 121 on Main site plan without receiving elevations, drainage and landscaping plans as required by city ordinance.
Wells said he had emailed all council members individually regarding his concerns, but received no replies.
“There’s a laundry list of other things that were never submitted on the site plan, and yet, it’s passing through like a fast train,” Wells said. “I don’t understand it. I thought we all learned our lesson on Big Grove.”
The city previously waived parking requirements for several private Main Street developments, including Big Grove Brewery (2012), the Palmer House Stable (2013) and Red Vespa Pizzeria and Wine Bar (2015).
Wells, owner of the Palmer House Stable, said 52 parking spaces would have been required for Big Grove Brewery. A similar minimum would be required under city ordinances for 121 on Main, but Wells pointed out the eight stalls to be added in front of the proposed structure on Main Street cannot be used for off-street parking.
“How do you approve that?” he asked, saying the city was placing additional burdens on the businesses and residents of Solon by not holding HPR to parking requirements.
Wells is also a part of Prairie Equity Group LLC, which proposed rehabilitating the former St. Mary auditorium on Dubuque Street into Solon Lofts and Commons, a mix of residential apartments and commercial space.
The city council, citing the lack of off-street parking, Trumped the Lofts and Commons site plan in January, despite its recommendation for approval by the P&Z. Prairie Equity Group proposed using on-street parking with overflow to an adjacent public lot.
The site plan for 121 on Main was approved at a March 1 council meeting, and although HPR has proposed 12 initial off-street spaces, no formal details were approved. An agreement on both parking and drainage are to be finalized in a developer’s agreement. A minimum of 52 parking spaces would be required under city ordinances.
Mark Pattison, Jim Hauer and Brad Randall, doing business as HPR Investments, have proposed demolishing three houses on Main Street and replacing them with a single, two-story building consisting of 12,000 square feet of ground level commercial and eight condominiums on the second story. One of the three houses targeted– 131 W. Main St.– belongs to Mayor Steve Stange and is currently the subject of a purchase agreement.
Council members didn’t respond to Wells’ comments, but City Attorney Jim Martinek bridged the gap.
Martinek said the city had not made a decision yet on parking for 121 on Main, but was reviewing several options presented by the developers.
“The parking part of this is something that will be decidedly probably in a few weeks when the developer’s agreement comes up, if we get that far,” Martinek said. “The parking issue, which is your issue, is going to be dealt with in open session, you’ll have plenty of notice of it and we’ll welcome anything you care to say.”
HPR Investments originally submitted a TIF application seeking $350,000, or 10 percent of the $3.5 million project cost, but council members instead directed City Administrator Cami Rasmussen to project the impact of between $125,000 and $200,000 in TIF rebates over a span of five budget years.
Both the site plan and TIF request were considered at the March 1 meeting, but HPR modified its request, asking instead for $150,000 up front, and with only three council members present, the item was tabled.
“It intrigues me to do the 150 up front, but how do we analyze our risk to the city?” asked council member Steve Duncan at the March 1 meeting.
Kevin Olson, city attorney for the City of Coralville, indicated the risk would be minimal with some built-in protections.
According to Rasmussen, under the rebate, the city would wait until it began collecting taxes on the completed structure before making annual installment payments. The up-front amount would be paid before taxes are collected, she said, with details in either case worked out in a TIF agreement.
“What helps me to minimize that risk in my mind is that we’ve got three people that live in this community, that maintain property, a substantial amount of property, that are doing this development,” Duncan said at the March 1 session.
Duncan asked Pattison why the developers were asking for the change.
“We’ve got a lot of construction costs,” Pattison said, adding HPR paid more for one of the homes than was expected.
“We actually need the money now,” he said. “Originally when we asked, it didn’t seem like it was make-it, break-it. But you know how things go, just as Cory (Hodapp) mentioned. Things add up.”
The TIF application stated HPR hopes to begin demolition in spring with completion in early 2018.