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NL’s eastern annexation awaits CDB approval

NORTH LIBERTY­– North Liberty’s eastward expansion has been officially put into motion. Now, the city awaits approval from Des Moines.
The North Liberty City Council approved an annexation petition and agreement at its Jan. 28 meeting that would bring over 600 acres of the Scanlon family farm into city limits. North Liberty City Administrator Ryan Heiar said the agreement is a benefit to both the city and to the Scanlon family.
“There is not a lot of binding language in the agreement; rather, it spells out expectations of both parties,” Heiar said. Some of the language in the agreement is based on existing policy, he noted, such as dealing with water and sewer connection fees and future street improvements. “We were definitely looking into the future when crafting the language. I think the important aspect to this agreement is that the city and Scanlon family will know exactly where they stand as development happens in that area.”
The Scanlons are expected to propose a residential subdivision for the area, and part of the property will also be zoned for highway commercial use. The agreement also states a portion of the property will be sold to the Iowa City Community School District as a site for its newest high school, slated to open in the fall of 2018.
“We are excited about this annexation and future high school because we all agree that a high school is needed and will be a benefit to the city,” Heiar said. “We are excited about the high quality development that will be a result of a new high school.”
In order to bring utilities to the developing area, both North Liberty and Coralville have made plans to construct water and sanitary sewer lines to the east. In November 2013, the North Liberty City Council approved a $155,000 contract with Fox Engineering for preliminary designs to expand utilities to the area, and this month, as part of its 2015 Capital Improvements Plan, approved borrowing up to $3.5 million to accomplish the project.
Streets are another aspect of infrastructure that must be considered as the area develops; specifically, North Liberty Road will need to be updated to city standards in order to serve traffic to the new school. The annexation agreement stipulates a cost-sharing arrangement for improvements to the gravel road, with the city responsible for half the cost, and the remaining half to be split between two abutting property owners. Turn lanes will be needed on Dubuque Street, with the city bearing the cost for improvements made within city limits. A pedestrian underpass is tentatively proposed to safely allow passage underneath Dubuque Road, another project with cost-sharing to be determined if and when an underpass becomes necessary.
Six separate property owners are part of the voluntary annexation, including the Scanlons, Alts, Roller Development, Wenos, and Arlington Development, Inc.
The City Development Board in Des Moines is charged with approving all municipal annexation applications, and that body is scheduled to review North Liberty’s petition at its April 9 meeting.
The annexation is coming sooner than expected. Residents of the area requested voluntary annexation into North Liberty in 2006, but North Liberty declined to annex when North Liberty and Coralville became embroiled in a dispute over the area and the City Development Board failed to issue a ruling. Instead, the board directed the cities to craft a compromise, and in 2011, the municipalities adopted a map and a 10-year agreement designating future annexation rights for each community. Initially, North Liberty officials said they didn’t expect to expand eastward for several years.
The proposed new high school prompted things to move more quickly.
“This annexation did happen quicker than originally thought,” Heiar said. “However, because some of the land already within our corporate limits has not developed as quickly as we thought it would, it’s nice to see some movement in this area.”
Heiar said the city is only slightly anxious about completing the necessary improvements in a timely fashion.
“It’s certainly attainable and we have plans in place to accomplish the necessary improvements; however, it is a lot of work and coordination that must be completed in the next couple of years to accommodate the high school,” Heiar said.
But city and school officials have been meeting regularly. “Overall, I feel good about where we are, and where we need to be in the next couple of years. Certainly we’ll run into obstacles and challenges, but I am confident that with the team we have in place, we’ll be able to handle any issues that arise and accomplish the work that needs to be completed.”