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North Liberty council fails to pass developer’s agreement, touches on efficacy of tabling

Quorum of three creates conundrum

NORTH LIBERTY– Miss a meeting, miss a lot.
With two councilors absent, the North Liberty City Council on Tuesday, March 10, faced a situation that resulted in the failure of one and the tabling of two agenda items related to a planned new subdivision, as well as a discussion about tailoring future votes.
At the beginning of the meeting, City Attorney Scott Peterson reminded the three councilors present that while they constituted a quorum thereby allowing them to take action, resolutions would require unanimity in order to pass.
The sticky wicket came when voting on documents supporting Liberty Farm, a 24-lot residential subdivision near Highway 965 and Pheasant Lane intersection.
The Liberty Farm preliminary plat was approved in September 2014, against recommendations of City Planner Dean Wheatley and the Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z). Most of the homes in the subdivision will be built on a cul-de-sac, which went against staff’s and P&Z’s recommendation that the street be extended all the way to Highway 965 in order to provide access to the adjacent Aspen Ridge neighborhood.
Last fall, city council voted 4-1 to accept the plat, cul-de-sac included, with Coleen Chipman voting against it.
And last Tuesday, Liberty Farm’s developer’s agreement, storm water management plan and a related easement agreement were all on the agenda for approval–a procedural formality for documents that typically garner little scrutiny or discussion by council.
However, city councilor Annie Pollock is a former P&Z commissioner who voted in opposition of the subdivision’s preliminary plat when it came before her and the P&Z last fall.
Still opposed to the cul-de-sac, Pollock voted against the developer’s agreement. Since approval required a unanimous yes-vote from all present, it failed.
That prompted council member Chris Hoffman to call for discussion and send Peterson leafing through the council rulebook to determine what to do next.
Hoffman asked Pollock to explain the reason for her dissention, and prefaced his question.
“I have something coming up I will let you know about in advance and hope to get your opinion on it,” Hoffman told Pollock.
Pollock explained that when she first saw the subdivision plat as a P&Z member, a “robust” discussion was held about whether to allow the cul-de-sac.
“To increase traffic flow I think it would be better to have that (street) directly go to (Highway) 965,” Pollock said.
Hoffman and fellow councilor Brian Wayson reiterated why the council voted to accept the cul-de-sac plan last September: it would require the developer to eliminate two revenue-generating lots, and costs to construct a through-street would be excessive.
“I thought the folks that developed Aspen Ridge and what will come online just to the north of Aspen Ridge should be a part of that cost,” said Hoffman, adding he thought it unfair to ask a single developer, of such a small subdivision, to bear the entire expense of a through-street in this location.
Peterson and the council bandied about options for proceeding, as the preliminary plat was already accepted and approval of the three documents is required for construction to move forward.
Pollock would have to bring it up for reconsideration in this very meeting, Peterson concluded.
City Administrator Ryan Heiar reminded the council of a bigger issue.
“The preliminary plat has already been approved, and I don’t think there is any going back on that unless the developer agrees,” Heiar said. “They’ve invested in construction plans based on that preliminary plat, so before they can start that construction they have to have approval of this developer’s agreement.”
A developer’s agreement specifies the way in which public improvements within a subdivision will be made, requires the developer to follow the design of the preliminary plat, and ensures compliance with city standards, codes and any special conditions set forth by the city.
A developer’s agreement is necessary in order to proceed to the final plat, which indicates all required improvements have been made, inspected and accepted by the city, or that a surety bond has been secured in the amount of the improvements so a developer can’t walk away without completing them.
Pollock clarified the situation.
“So there is no way to get the cul-de-sac out of this development,” she confirmed.
Still, she was unmoved to call for reconsideration.
Peterson said the failed motion can be brought back for reconsideration at a subsequent meeting by request from the mayor and city administrator.
But that wasn’t the end of the three-person dilemma last Tuesday.
Hoffman brought up a future agenda item he feared would suffer the same consequence.
“I was deflated when I found out I couldn’t vote in opposition to it tonight, so what I’m going to choose to do is for us to table it so all five of us can be in the conversation for it,” said Hoffman. “It doesn’t seem like a very effective meeting for the three of us (tonight), but it allows for everyone who has been elected to be part of the conversation and the final outcome.”
Wayson said the council did that previously when a vote to financially support a temporary homeless shelter in Iowa City came up and only three members were present.
“It would have failed, because it would have been two-to-one, so we just tabled it so everybody could vote on it,” said Wayson.
Pollock indicated if that were to become practice, it should be set forth as a matter of official policy.
“I’d rather not cherry pick topics and wait, so let’s vote on everything. It’s almost insinuating that something is more important than another agenda item. I’d rather either we vote on everything or don’t vote on everything, depending on the numbers” said Pollock. “I would rather be equal and consistent across the board when voting on measures.”
Hoffman said it was a perspective he had not considered, and Wayson agreed that tabling agenda items was not necessarily productive.
“Things need to get done,” Wayson concurred.
State law dictates some council protocol while the city’s own City Council Rules policy, adopted in 2012, allows some discretion in agenda setting and certain other council actions, Peterson said.
“There are some things we could look at in light of your request,” he offered the council.
No direction was given, and the rest of the agenda progressed without dissention.
“I do expect to have more discussion with the mayor and council at some point, hopefully not too far into the future. That may lead to an amendment of the rules,” Peterson said in an email Friday.