Airport improvements, new rental housing now on fast track

The Jefferson city council received unexpected good news at its May 28 meeting when Carl Byers of Bolton & Menk presented the bids for the relocation of a portion of 243rd St to allow for an extension of the runway at the Jefferson municipal airport.

The first piece of good news was that six bids on the project were received and two of them were below the engineer’s estimated cost.

Bolton & Menk had estimated the project cost at $654,126. Murphy Construction bid $598,426 on the project, and Leroy & Sons of Arcadia bid $563,897. The council accepted Bolton & Menk’s recommendation to award the bid to Leroy and Sons.

The second piece of good news was larger – the airport project was awarded a pair of grants that will cover the estimated $2,350,000 cost of relocating 243rd St and lengthening the runway. The project was planned assuming the city would receive 90 percent of the cost from the Federal Aviation Administration. The grants provide 100 percent of the funds needed, saving the city $235,000.

Byers explained that in 2018 the FAA’s Airport Improvement Program received an additional $1 billion in discretionary funds, with priority given to projects at regional, local or basic airports not located within a metropolitan or micropolitan area.

Byers said virtually every airport in Iowa applied for the funds. Three airports in Iowa received grants, including the Jefferson airport. The local airport received two grants, which will put the project on a fast track.

Without the grants, the road work would have been done this summer, but the runway work wouldn’t be completed for another four years or so. Having the grant funds will allow runway design work to begin this fall and construction to be done next summer. The entire project should be completed by the end of 2020, and without the 10 percent local match required.

Byers said the project fared well in the grant process because it had been under consideration for several years, it would promote business development, and the safety issues of larger planes using the runway and it’s proximity to County Road E-53. “I was tickled to death when we learned we not only got the runway extension grant, but the road construction grant, too,” Byers said.

Four-plexes in Jefferson would use this general plan, with two 2-story units flanked by 1-story units.

The council received good news of another sort when Andy Rowland of Rowland Real Estate presented his plans for multi-family “workforce” housing.

Rowland had shared his proposal for four-plexes in the 500 block of N. Olive St (now owned by St Joseph Catholic Church) with the county supervisors earlier this month. The 1,000 square-foot, two-bedroom units would rent for about $850 per month.

Sid Jones introduced Rowland to the council on behalf of Greene County Development Corporation. Since Rowland met with the supervisors the St Joseph Parish Council has said it is willing to sell the half-block in question.

Rowland Real Estate is a small company that primarily builds custom homes in Des Moines. Rental units are a side business, Rowland said. He now has three duplexes similar to the four-plexes he’s proposing for Jefferson. His mentor, a former neighbor he didn’t name, has 100 four-plexes in Polk City.

Jefferson building and zoning officer Nick Sorensen has toured Rowland’s rentals. He reported to the council that they’re well-constructed and use 2 X 6 framing for better energy efficiency.

The council was receptive to Rowland’s ideas but didn’t get excited until city attorney Bob Schwarzkopf asked what participation he wanted from the city.

Rowland isn’t asking the city to help secure funding for construction via grants or state housing loans, and he isn’t asking for costly infrastructure improvements. Rowland asked for a 10-year tax abatement on the buildings and the property at no cost.

Jones said GCDC plans to take care of the property, with the county and city routing funding through GCDC. He thinks that if the city will okay the tax abatement, the supervisors will be agreeable to helping fund the land acquisition. Rowland has already said that once he builds some units in Jefferson he would be willing to look at other communities in the county.

According to Rowland, he plans to own and manage the buildings, not build and sell them. He will hire local persons for lawn care and snow removal.

The current tax abatement for new construction in Jefferson is three years of 100 percent abatement. The State Code allows for up to 10 years of 100 percent abatement on multi-family housing. Jefferson could change its ordinance to offer the longer abatement, making it available to other developers as well.

Mayor Craig Berry polled the council and every member spoke in favor of the project. Matt Wetrich called it “a good step, a good idea.”

Council member Darren Jackson said the council is “missing the boat if we do all this work to get new jobs here but the people all live somewhere else.” Jackson, a school teacher, reminded council members that developing affordable housing would be good for school enrollment.

Dave Sloan said it’s time “to get the ball rolling.”

The council plans to hold a public hearing on the longer tax abatement at its June 25 hearing. If all the details are worked out, Rowland will begin construction this summer with a goal of having them move-in ready before winter. He plans to build two or possibly three four-plexes on the site.

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