Sunday, November 23, 2014

A lake for Ottawa? City lands deal on waterfront

By DOUG CARDER, Herald Senior Writer | 5/21/2014

If it were appropriate, Sara Caylor would have been dancing in the Ottawa City Commission chambers Wednesday morning at City Hall, she said.

The commissioner and former mayor was excited about the prospect of establishing a community park with a water feature.

If it were appropriate, Sara Caylor would have been dancing in the Ottawa City Commission chambers Wednesday morning at City Hall, she said.

The commissioner and former mayor was excited about the prospect of establishing a community park with a water feature.

Ottawa city commissioners voted unanimously Wednesday to purchase 20 of 23 lots in Lakeside Estates — a single-family unit development on Easy Street, between 15th and 17th streets, on the city’s southwest side. The purchase price, $111,725, would cover the amount of property taxes owed by Lawrence-based developer Wayde LLC, which approached the city about acquiring the property after the residential development proved unsuccessful, city officials said.

“Monday, June 2, is the closing date,” Bob Bezek, city attorney said of the real estate transaction.

The agreement is straightforward, Bezek said: Once the taxes are paid off, the city will receive title to the property.

“The lots not going under this [sale] are lot 18 [a private residence on the southeast end of the development and the only structure in Lakeside Estates] and lots four and five, the two lots on the southwest corner of the property, which are owned by Ottawa University.”

Easy Street is a private, cul-de-sac road in the middle of the development, which winds along a lake in roughly the center of the property.

“While you’re acquiring the lots, you’re also acquiring the road Easy Street,” Bezek said.

The undeveloped tracts are in a populated area of the community that is flanked to the east by single family homes and to the west by multiunit apartment buildings, according to the map.

“There’s a lot of [population] density in this neighborhood,” Wynndee Lee, the city’s director of planning and codes, said. “In fact, when [the city] put in sidewalks along 15th Street that was one of the driving factors — the sheer number of people that live near here.”

LIFE ON EASY STREET

Easy Street is accessible from 17th Street, near 17th and Willow streets, at present.

“When we looked at the [lake], which is an amenity we do not have in Ottawa, it was part of what attracted us to this parcel,” Lee said.

Features in the park could include a fishing dock, a shelter, a small playground and a walking path that could provide another connection between 15th and 17th streets, Lee said.

“It’s had a difficult time — hence [Wayde LLC} coming to us — developing as a single-family neighborhood,” Lee said. “There’s a possibility [the city] may want to consider selling some of the lots for continued residential development, but we would want to develop the park plan before that were to come about so we could really delineate what you want there, what we can afford to do there and how we would finance that possibility.”

About one third of the purchase price would be coming back into city coffers, in the form of the city’s share of the owed property tax dollars and mowing fees, Lee said.

“We have been mowing it, and so some of those funds include mowing charges that are owed back to us,” Lee said. “I can tell you from a neighborhood standpoint, they would rather we own it than someone else, because we can only mow it under a nuisance ordinance once [the grass] hits 12 inches. When we own it as a public parcel, we can keep it mowed and maintained like we do other parks and land owned by the city.”

Richard Nienstedt, city manager, told commissioners before the vote the project also would provide an opportunity to seek feedback from neighbors and the community about what they would like to see happen with the parcel.

“If you buy this, there is no hurry in developing what we see here,” Nienstedt said as he and commissioners studied the map. “We have a vision. We think we know what can be done there, but I think this gives us an excellent opportunity to use our social media to have the community weigh in as to what they think would be appropriate there. And we need to go out and have a conversation with the neighborhood there and find out what they think they ought to have. So here’s an opportunity not only for development of an additional park, but we can also use it to a certain extent to help drive housing development and it also helps us go out and have a conversation with the community about what things they would like to see in the development of a community park here. This is a rather unique opportunity that has been presented to us.”

BUY IT FOR A SONG

Linda Reed, Ottawa mayor, agreed with Nienstedt that this was an opportunity the city could not pass up.

“Even in the years I was on the planning commission, there have been multiple developments that have tried to make it here, and I agree this is a unique opportunity for us to take advantage of this piece of land for basically tax money,” Reed said.

The city would be acquiring the property for less-than-market value, Blake Jorgensen, city commissioner, said.

“In our community, with this really being the first lake feature in a potential park, that’s pretty exciting, and I’m very excited to see how this is going to develop into another park facility in our community — especially getting this ground and lots for the taxes that are owed against them. Of course, we get roughly a third of those taxes back from that purchase price, so we’re getting the lots at below market value.

“It’s another quality of life opportunity we can add to our community,” Jorgensen said.

With the property zoned for single-family residential development, Mike Skidmore, city commissioner, asked Lee if converting the space to a park would present problems from a zoning standpoint.

Parks would be a normal allowed use in single-family residential development, Lee said, but the land could be rezoned to a public district.

“We won’t do that until we’ve determined which tracts you truly want to remain, and even at that point you could re-plat it if you want to,” Lee said. “But that is some time down the path yet. In the meantime, it will just be mowed.”

Parks are essential to the community, commissioner Caylor said.

“If it were appropriate right now, I would be up dancing because I’m so excited about the potential acquisition of this property and this project,” Caylor said before the vote. “This has been a project that has been on the radar for a couple of years, and I just couldn’t be more excited about the opportunity we have in the south part of town where we are seeing growth and where we have seen growth — and we anticipate growth will continue to happen in that part of the city. It’s just a fabulous acquisition for us.”

Nienstedt, who has developed lakes in other communities where he has served as city manager, said accessible docks could be added to the lake to encourage family fishing and possibly allow groups that work with youth to put on fishing clinics.

“This is a great opportunity for the citizens of Ottawa,” Nienstedt said.

Skidmore had one final question, he said.

“Bob, would skiing be allowed on this lake?” Skidmore said, to laughter from the gallery.

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