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More development on East Main

Erusha presents mixed-use concept to council Spring 2021 construction planned

SOLON– The landscape of Solon’s Main Street is set to change again.
At a June 17 meeting, Solon City Council members reviewed a plan by Neil Erusha, of rural Solon, to redevelop three-quarters of a city block on the northeast corner of Highway 1 and Main Street into a mix of commercial and residential use.
Erusha proposed two new two-story buildings facing Main Street and the rehabilitation of an existing building on the north end of the property.
The concept depicted accesses on Highway 1, Cedar Street and Main Street, and that’s where Mayor Steve Stange had an issue.
“I would have a huge concern with the parking being dumped out onto Highway 1 in the middle,” Stange stated. “There is no way that I would support that. It would just be a disaster.”
Council members also questioned buffering for an existing single-family residence adjacent to the site and noted difficulty with the intersection in general.
No formal action was taken, but council members will likely see the project’s site plan on an agenda in the near future.
According to City Administrator Cami Rasmussen, city staff (including Rasmussen, Public Works Director Scott Kleppe and City Engineer Dave Schechinger) previously held preliminary meetings with Erusha and his project team.
“What they’ve come up with is a pretty dynamic addition to Solon Main Street,” she told council members.
Erusha will be seeking tax credits the city hasn’t really worked with a lot, she noted, and wanted the opportunity to present the concept to the council to obtain early feedback before starting the formal process.
She added the renderings presented to council were conceptual and only received in the week leading up to the council meeting.
In addition to feedback on the early design, the developer also sought support for the state tax credit applications, explained Chad Pelly, business development manager for Compass Commercial Services, LLC., of Hiawatha, part of Ahmann Companies, a commercial and residential development company assisting Erusha.
Pelly said application would be made for both Grayfield Brownfield Redevelopment and Workforce Housing tax credits through the Iowa Department of Economic Development (DED).
According to the DED website, Brownfield sites are abandoned, idled or underutilized industrial or commercial properties where real or perceived environmental contamination prevents expansion or redevelopment. Examples of Brownfield sites include former gas stations, dry cleaners and other commercial operations that may have utilized products or materials potentially hazardous to the environment.
Grayfield sites are abandoned public buildings, industrial or commercial properties vacant, blighted, obsolete or otherwise underutilized. A Grayfield has been developed and has infrastructure in place but the property's current use is outdated or prevents a better or more efficient use of the property.
Pelly said the tax credits would be used to fill in financing for high-quality materials, parking and possible environmental cleanup.
The deadline for the Grayfield/Brownfield application is Sept. 1, he said, while the housing credits open up in April, in time for spring 2021 construction, if both are awarded.
The Workforce Housing Tax Credit requires monetary participation from the city, he added, a minimum of $1,000 per residential unit.
Six market-rate (four 1,000 square foot two-bedroom and two 700 square foot one-bedroom) condominiums were proposed on the concept plan.
The two new structures (40-foot by 80-foot) would face RJ’z Express on the east side of Highway 1, each with about 3,200 square feet per level. The lower level of each building would offer commercial space to be dictated by the current market, Pelly said.
The renderings depicted a mix of materials including brick, cast stone and siding, he added.
As the design is refined with feedback from the city, he continued, a preliminary construction budget will be prepared.
“Parking is obviously a challenge everywhere,” Pelly said. “Early on Neil was conscious of that and not knowing his tenant mix, wanted to make certain he afforded ample parking on site.”
While there is public parking in close proximity to the site, he said, the project will feature two phases of parking, one with the two new structures, one with the rehabilitation of the former Jim’s Garage.
The concept plan showed 26 parking spaces in the first phase and 35 in the second phase.
Several existing structures, including the former Solon Economist office and an adjacent house and garage will be razed.
Council member Dan O’Neil questioned how the new development would be screened from the adjoining residential neighbor, noting it would be “quite the change from the current view from that place.”
Pelly said he wasn’t familiar with the city’s code, but said the development would follow city requirements for fencing and landscaping.
Mayor Stange pointed out his concerns with traffic from the property attempting to enter Highway 1 and suggested Cedar Street as a better route. He added, however, the width on Cedar is “terrible,” and parking is currently allowed on the north side.
Council members briefly discussed visibility in general around the property and expressed some concern about increased traffic on Cedar Street.
Pelly said Erusha is willing to work with the city, but suggested too much alteration would limit the use of the site.
Pelly also requested a letter of support for the Grayfield/Brownfield application, which would not bind the city to any action but would state the city believes the land to be a qualifying site.
City Attorney Kevin Olson indicated he was familiar with the state tax credit program.
The letter of support will be on the council’s next agenda, Rasmussen noted.
The developers have until July 15 to submit a formal site plan for consideration by the Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) for its next meeting at the end of the month, she said.
If a site plan is received in time for the P&Z meeting, it could come back to the council at the first meeting in August, she said.