By Chris Umscheid
North Liberty Leader
TIFFIN— Extending Ireland Avenue north to Highway 6 has been in the planning and discussion phase for several years, yet there are still many unknowns. Among them is where and how two mainstays of the Tiffin business community will be accessed.
John Schneider, owner of Jon’s Ice Cream Store & Restaurant, addressed the city council during their March 14 regular monthly meeting. Schneider expressed concerns about a new driveway accessing The Depot that would directly impact his business by reducing his already-limited parking. Schneider has signs in his lot asking patrons to limit their time to one hour in order to make parking available for others.
“We’re maxed-out now,” Schneider said of his parking lot.
While Ireland Avenue has been a topic of discussion for several years, and the right-of-way has been purchased and cleared, the actual intersection with Hwy. 6 and Roberts Ferry Rd. is still in the design phase. How The Depot and Jon’s will be accessed has yet to be finalized, which left Schneider with frosty feelings toward the council. Citing his 33 years in business in Tiffin, Schneider told them, “either find a solution, or buy me out.”
City attorney Steve Greenleaf sympathized with Schneider and conceded the expansion of The Depot was happening a little differently than the city had anticipated. He said the city would be acquiring land from him and The Depot while being very mindful of the situation.
“To remain viable, you need good entrance and exit off of Hwy. 6, and we have to be able to provide that,” Greenleaf said. “Something’s going to have to look different to keep you in business,” he added.
Schneider expressed his frustration at a lack of communication from the city throughout the Ireland Avenue planning and discussion processes. Speaking about a proposed joint access with The Depot, he said, “It’s very easy to determine, it’s not going to work.” He also added, “I’d just like to be able to plan my future.”
Again Greenleaf reassured Schneider, telling him the city has realized that Jon’s, more than any other business, was going to be affected and the city was continuing to look at options. “I want you to stay there,” Greenleaf said.“You’ve been A-number one on our radar, and that’s not going to change.”
Councilman Jim Bartles asked Schneider if he had been in contact with the city or The Depot about the situation. “I’ve communicated with you (the Council past and present),” Schneider replied. He said he hadn’t really talked with the owners of The Depot about their expansion, feeling it was up to the city to ensure he would have adequate access.
“If entry and exit are not done properly, nothing else matters,” Schneider said.
city engineer Doug Frederick said there is a five to six percent down-slope from the highway into Schneider’s property, which complicates the access design.
Representatives of The Depot said they had to make numerous changes during their expansion project and agreed with Schneider that access should have been determined much sooner. They recently poured concrete for new pumps and parking, concrete which may have to be torn up later, depending on what the city and Iowa Department of Transportation (IDOT) ultimately decide. Highway 6 is under the IDOT’s jurisdiction as a federal highway.
They expressed frustration with what they called a long, drawn-out process, and not knowing for sure what was going to happen.
Another wrinkle comes from a lack of certainty about the IDOT’s plan to widen Hwy. 6 in the Depot and Jon’s area to accommodate turn lanes.
“There is nothing we can do right now,” Greenleaf concluded, noting both businesses are currently functional. He added the city needs to make a single entrance to them in order to keep them functional.
The Depot representatives said they were willing to make adjustments, but added Schneider’s property was not their problem. Ultimately, they feel the city needs to pay to fix the situation, which they feel should not have happened in the first place.
Councilor Peggy Upton asked if the council should fix this now while construction is still underway at The Depot. Councilman Chris Ball said, “we don’t know where the driveway will be exactly.” Ball said they were waiting on the IDOT, but conceded eventually the city will have to pay.
Mayor Steve Berner defended the decision to approve The Depot’s expansion before all of the Hwy. 6 plans and access had been worked out.
“The council didn’t want to delay (the project).” Berner added, “(There was) no way at the time to know where the drive was going to go,” acknowledging that concrete is already in, and that there will need to be some tear-out or other work.
Ball echoed Atty. Greenleaf’s earlier comments. “We want you to stay there,” he said. “We’re going to put you on the busiest corner in Tiffin.”
“I can be on the busiest corner in Iowa City, but if I can’t get people in and out, what good will it do me?” replied Schneider.
After the meeting, Schneider expressed confidence that the city would come up with a solution. Mayor Berner knows what’s going on, Schneider said, but reiterated his frustration with the whole process. “I have every entitlement to be informed about my driveway,” he said.
Under the agenda heading of unfinished business, the council turned back to The Depot and their approach to Hwy. 6.
“Are we where we’re supposed to be?” a representative asked since the aforementioned new concrete is at least nine inches above the existing grade for the highway. Berner told them, “for now, you can dump gravel (between the slab and the highway) when you’re ready to open.” Another representative said the driveway would be IDOT’s responsibility (located in their ROW) and pointed out how it was a big hassle to get potholes fixed and that The Depot had paid out-of-pocket for what the IDOT should have. They also were reluctant to go further until the IDOT’s final plans have been approved.
Ball anticipated a June bid-letting for the Hwy. 6 work. Engineer Frederick said July would be the earliest any construction would begin and anticipated August, September or even October as the soonest the project would reach The Depot.
“We want to work with you,” Berner assured them. “But we don’t want to have you pay for concrete, or we pay for concrete only to have to pay again to re-do it.” He again suggested they place gravel for now. However, the representatives cited potential problems with that option such as a tendency to not stay put as it will be on a significant slope. They also said the IDOT likely won’t be happy with the gravel especially if it washes down onto the highway.
“Go with the temporary fix for now,” Berner instructed them.