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Supervisors close to finalizing land purchase for Behavioral Health Urgent Care Center

Multiple studies OK purchase and construction, Rettig still opposed due to flood risk

IOWA CITY– A long awaited comprehensive access center for behavioral emergencies and mental health crisis in Johnson County, the Behavioral Health Urgent Care Center (BHUCC), took another step toward becoming a reality as the board of supervisors received an update on the various studies being performed ahead of finalizing purchase of land for the facility.
Matt Miller, the project manager with Hart Frederick Consultants P.C., reported on the pre-purchase progress during a Wednesday, Oct. 31, work session of the supervisors.
The supervisors approved purchasing 5.34 acres of land near the intersection of South Gilbert Street and Southgate Avenue in Iowa City on a 3-1 vote in June. Supervisor Mike Carberry noted at the time the location (270 Southgate Ave.) is ideal and within walking distance of other partner agencies such as HACAP, the Shelter House, Prelude and the Crisis Center, along with other ancillary and complementary agencies and facilities.
Supervisor Janelle Rettig, the lone no vote on the motion to purchase, opposed the acquisition due to the area’s history of floods and flash flooding.
Carberry countered by pointing out the two parcels remained dry during 2018 flash floods, and added fill dirt would be brought in to raise the facility above the 500-year flood level. The land sits some 1,400-feet east of the Iowa River and is in the 100-year flood plain.
An offer of $1,350,000 was accepted by the seller and was $150,000 less than Kennedy LLC’s original asking price.
However, before the deal is finalized, a number of surveys are required.
The county contracted with Hart Frederick Consultants P.C. (HFC) for site development plan services. In turn, HFC brought in Earthview Environmental, Inc. to conduct an environmental impact and a sensitive areas study looking for any concerns such as underground storage tanks, ground water contamination, endangered species and even any historical concerns related to existing structures. Studies were also to be conducted to determine if the cost of flood mitigation, or dealing with any other environmental concerns, would be too high. The county has the option of backing out of the purchase if this were deemed to be the case.
Miller reported six surveys were conducted: a wetland and threatened/endangered species survey, Iowa City Sensitive Lands and Features Review, an archaeological study, a geotechnical evaluation, an environmental site assessment and a limited subsurface investigation.
He stated no wetlands were found to be present within the project area, and no threatened or endangered species’ habitat was noted or found to be present. The Iowa City Sensitive Lands and Features Review also came back negative.
The archaeological study revealed the area seems to have a low archeological potential and the building that’s on the site right now has limited architectural style and is not recommended to be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. Miller’s comment drew laughter from the supervisors.
“Thank God,” Carberry said.
“What a shocker,” added supervisor Rod Sullivan.
The structure consists primarily of a single-story concrete block garage with an attached two-story structure on the north side. Miller added the summary stated no further archeological or architectural studies would be necessary. He also indicated he forwarded the report to the City of Iowa City as part of its zoning conditions.
“They (Iowa City) requested we have the state archeologist take a look at it and sign off on it,” Miller said. He stated he would send the report and did not anticipate any issues.
The geotechnical evaluation determined the site is suitable for the envisioned facility, assuming the appropriate fill dirt and compaction method is used.
The Environmental Site Assessment did find some issues, Miller said, requiring additional testing as four recognized environmental concerns were discovered, and associated with the historic and current use of the property and adjoining properties.
The property, he said, has been and is being used as an auto body repair shop. The Cedar Rapids and Iowa City Railway (CRANDIC) has track along the east side of the property, which is its line to Hills. The study determined the track had the potential of historic applications of oils containing PCBs or other toxins. It also pointed to the former Winebrenner Ford car dealership, on the north side, which has a leaking underground storage tank (registered with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources). It also noted a current auto repair shop on the neighboring property.
Soil sampling on the property was recommended, Miller said. That led to the limited subsurface investigation which found lead and arsenic in the groundwater. However, he noted this was not a concern for two reasons. One, the facility will be on the Iowa City municipal water system. And two, Iowa City has an ordinance prohibiting private wells.
“So, it’s not a great risk,” he said. “The groundwater’s not great there, but we won’t be using it, so they didn’t recommend any additional action to be taken.”
Miller said the studies met the city’s zoning process requirements, which led to its Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously approving a rezoning application on Sept. 20, with a public hearing set for Tuesday, Nov. 6.
There is a bit of a snag, Miller pointed out, as the hearing is predicated on the Conditional Zoning Agreement being signed by all of the sellers.
“The LLC doesn’t own one of the pieces of property,” Miller said, “There’s several plots there, one of those is in all of their names, so we need like, eight different signatures. We’ve come to find one of those persons lives in Greece, the others are spread out across several states.”
Miller said the Realtor is working on collecting the signatures and he has asked the city if a majority of signatures would be sufficient, but was denied.
“It doesn’t set us back as far as the overall project,” he added. “But we do want to close on Dec. 14, as planned.”
Rettig reiterated her objection to the site based on her concerns over flooding.
“There’s been tremendous flash flooding over the past few months, making the case that this is a bad place for the county to put an essential service, and I wish we would talk to Emergency Management and find out their opinions about more development in that area,” she said. “I think it is absolutely the wrong thing for us to be doing.”
Miller also advised the board an agreement had already been reached with the CRANDIC for a new crossing, which is required by the city’s zoning, to create a second access into the property. Also, sourcing is underway for the fill dirt. Miller noted Johnson County Conservation currently has a surplus, which may be an option. In addition, a facility committee comprised of professionals who will provide services in the BHUCC have been working with the architects to determine space needs.
“Our next step will be taking all those puzzle pieces and determining the actual layout,” Miller said.
He said the participating agencies have also been working diligently to develop governing rules for the facility.“We do have an overview of our legal structure that will include a 28E agreement with those providing funding and our municipalities, and then we’re also working through all the details of our service delivery,” Miller said, including such details as who will be providing services, who will do the billing and who will handle reimbursement.
“That’s going to affect the contracts that we have written up, and the agreements between all these different service providers,” said Miller. “For each service you’re providing, you have to have a licensed provider.”
The agreements, he added, would address staffing, including the potential need for cross-licensed providers who would able to provide multiple services.
The board also received an update on funding, with Miller saying much work was done to secure resources for the facility with several presentations delivered, including one to the North Liberty City Council on Oct. 9.
“We had a request of $500,000 to help fund the project,” Miller said. “We didn’t get an answer, one way or the other, they were very appreciative, and we told them we don’t need the money right now, but if they could plan for it in their next fiscal year.”
The North Liberty council, he said, has since asked if it would be possible to make multiple payments over multiple years.
“We told them we would be amenable to something like half next fiscal year and the other half the fiscal year after that,” Miller said. “So, we’ll continue to work with them.”
The $500,000 amount was based on the city’s population, crisis intervention calls to law enforcement and calls to the county’s mobile crisis unit, Miller explained. The same amount is being asked of Coralville, and Miller noted Coralville already expressed support for the project.
Community outreach has been ongoing with a presentation to Iowa City’s council and a good neighbor meeting for nearby property owners, he said. He concluded with a brief report on operations, which he pointed out, is tied closely to the governance he described earlier.
The supervisors were also advised a contract with Neumann-Monson Architects was prepared and forwarded to the county attorney for review, which prompted Rettig to ask why a request for proposals (RFP) had not gone out to multiple architectural firms.
“Every time the county has built a building, we didn’t just choose an architect. We’ve received proposals,” she said. “It’s not fair to the other architects. It’s not how the county has ever done business.”
“We can do anything we want,” Sullivan said. “We don’t have to do anything in particular, although it is important to note that Neumann-Monson has done a lot of work on this, some of which has been pro-bono.”
Miller said when he took over the project, he looked through the files of Jessica Peckover, the previous Jail Alternatives Coordinator for Johnson County and a driving force behind the County adopting Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training and the BHUCC.
“I found building plans from Neumann-Monson, so I reached out to them to continue the relationship,” he said.
“I’m not saying they wouldn’t be hired,” Rettig said. “But this is just how we’ve never done it with a new building. Ever. We only do that on very small projects, otherwise it’s not very transparent and fair to anyone to have an insider deal. It’s just not right.”
Sullivan suggested an RFP could be sent out to multiple firms for review without adding any delay to the project.
As the meeting was a work session, no action was taken.