Traer City Council talks ordinances, bond agreement and Traer Mfg.

Brandon Kotz (center) addresses the Traer City Council during the regular August 2 meeting regarding his desire to purchase the downtown property located at 523 Second Street and turn its storefront into a dwelling — doing so would be against the city’s business commercial district ordinance.

The subject of city ordinances dominated much of the discussion during the August 2 regular Traer City Council meeting, but a vote to pass the resolution to purchase $560,000 in general obligation capital loan notes for the city’s street improvement project was top of the agenda.

Nathan Summers, Vice President of D. A. Davidson & Co., was in attendance to share progress on the city’s bond marketing and to explain the bond purchase agreement to the council.

“The true interest costs which encapsulates the interest costs of the city’s paying as well as our fee for advising the city and selling the bonds, came in at 1.84 percent,” Summers said while the council looked through an update on the city’s debt model.

“The fiscal [year] ’22 debt service payment, we size that at $147,000 principal and interest. … and then it drops to about $40-45,000 payments a year through 2033.”

Chelsea Savings Bank was one of the main bond investors.

The city is currently using about 74 percent of its debt capacity with plans to tap into that a bit more with some future projects, Summers said. He also explained the debt service levy going forward would stay in the five dollar range.

The city council ultimately voted unanimously Tuesday night to authorize the Bond Purchase Agreement note. Next steps include a special city council meeting on August 16 to authorize issuance of the bonds, followed by a September 8 closing after which the city would be wired the funds.

Council Member Carri Holst asked if the city would be able to begin the project based on the September 8 wire schedule to which both City Clerk Haley Blaine and Summers replied in the affirmative.

“I think we’re anticipating seeing some of the bills in September, you’ll have the funds in your bank account to start making payments on some of those invoices,” Summers said.

City discusses ordinance book update

During the July meeting, the council discussed updating the ordinance book. Blaine told the council the last time Traer’s book was updated was in 2014 but that it is best practice for a city to update ordinances every five to seven years.

The cost to update an ordinance book, Blaine said, runs between $4,000 and $4,500 depending on how many copies are necessary.

Blaine asked the council if formally updating the ordinance book was something that should be initiated? The process to update, she said, would include Traer’s building inspector Neil O’Brien, city attorney Bruce Reinders, and the council itself.

“[O’Brien] said he would update it with all the legal legislative stuff that’s changed. Then we would just need to go through and decide — we, as a city — what we want to change and keep and get rid of.”

Council members went back and forth over updating individual sections that possibly need more work — parking, streets, and building permits — or addressing the entire set of ordinances. Cost was also discussed.

“It is a dry but yet interesting read,” Holst said at one point while discussing the possibility of council members being assigned separate sections.

Discussion then turned to the zoning ordinances and how different parts of the city fall under different covenants, as well as downtown living space concerns that have come to the city’s attention recently.

Brandon Kotz of Waverly had recently contacted the city about the building located at 523 Second Street west of the library.

“We have a gentleman back there who’s very curious in buying the [523 Second Street] building,” Blaine said of Kotz who was sitting near the back of the chamber.

“We’ve always been saying ‘no living in the storefront,’ but he’s curious ‘how much is that?,’ ‘what is the storefront?,’ and we don’t really have anything in writing stating what that is. So that’s why he’s here tonight.”

Blaine then highlighted the confusion over the storefront living space as an example of why the ordinance book needs an update.

“I don’t know how to answer his question,” Blaine said in regards to the conversations she’s had with Kotz.

Mayor Pete Holden then asked — with some confusion — was not all the property west of the library already zoned residential?

“The old lumberyard down the road can be,” Blaine replied. “They’re all grandfathered in, but everything else is supposed to have storefront in the front of the building and then living space can be in the back — well, even the back is kind of a gray area — but upstairs could be a living space.”

The city’s current zoning map considers everything downtown a business commercial district. Zoning regulations for the business commercial district state that permitted uses only include dwellings above the first floor.

“I really think our stand still is, storefronts are storefronts and that’s what we want,” Council Member James Erhardt said.

“I’m just trying to stay in compliance if I do purchase it,” Kotz said as he addressed the council. “The storefront room is roughly 20 feet by 16. I was either thinking maybe a [small] office space with a sign … it will still be taxed as commercial, it won’t be taxed as residential. But then that way I can get a third unit on the bottom floor.”

Blaine pointed out people had already been living in the storefront space in the building in question. Holst added that the current real estate listing for the building incorrectly lists the storefront space as residential.

Following more discussion between the council and Kotz, Erhardt said, “I’d love to see you just put an office, a regular office, in there and rent that to somebody … we want businesses downtown … and I don’t really want to circumvent that.”

“I’m sorry, Brandon,” Blaine said.

“I was trying to work it both ways so that’s why I came here,” Kotz replied.

A motion was then made and carried to preserve the existing business commercial district ordinance which states one or more dwellings are only permitted above the first floor.

Discussion then fell back to updating the ordinance book.

“It’s time to update the ordinance book and spell out stuff a little bit,” Council Member Matt Rausch said.

A decision was made to assign ordinance book sections to each council member and then form a committee to update the ordinance book at the next regular council meeting.

Traer Manufacturing Building is further discussed

During July’s meeting, the deteriorating condition of the 2011 derecho-damaged Traer Manufacturing building was brought up by resident Dave Barnes during the public comment portion of the meeting.

After being deeded to the city by its parent company in 2012 — along with a $200,000 remediation fund — Heartland Co-op acquired the property from the city in 2015. Remediation and/or demolition has still not begun on the property.

Council Member Erhardt brought up the property again during the August meeting in regards to fact-finding that is being done on a possible new community building.

“I spoke with the fire department guys … one thing that came up is maybe we ought to look at …. the Traer Manufacturing building … Maybe we want the building back. We have two hundred and some thousand dollars, we can fix the building, we already got a structure, we got concrete, we have room for more things we ever thought of putting in there. And we can actually make it look decent.

“It’s been ten years and they haven’t done anything with the building.”

Erhardt stated if the city again acquired the building, there would be “plenty of room for joint ambulance-fire stuff … for a community building like we’ve lost at Traer Activity Center. There’s room for TMU [Traer Municipal Utility] stuff. There’s a huge amount of room.”

Erhardt pointed out the current fire station and ambulance shed cannot be sold or otherwise before new facilities are built. He also discussed how the current fire station is not adequately sized to house modern fire trucks and equipment.

Discussion centered around trucks and ambulances pulling in and out of the current fire station at 632 Second Street.

“There’s concern with emergency vehicles backing in, there’s not enough room coming in and off of [Iowa Highway 8] … traffic is pretty understanding but it’s short right here to the highway … there’s all kinds of room out there [Traer Manufacturing]. Fire guys do training out there already.”

Discussion also focused on how traffic would flow to and from US 63 at a possible new fire station on the grounds of Traer Manufacturing.

“Obviously they [Heartland] don’t care about the building or that portion of it anyways, at this point. … we’re pursuing negligent property or nuisance property with them. Maybe they just give it back to us and we take it? At least we could have something done with it even if we don’t use it for that specific purpose.

“[Heartland] wanted the land for the bins … I’m just throwing things out here.”

“I think it would swallow up so much of the city’s stuff,” Rausch said. “You’re not starting from scratch … it just needs to be reskinned basically.”

“We could have it skinned and done in a few months and it’s not an eyesore to the public anymore, and then we can decide what we’re going to do with it,” Erhardt said. “[Heartland] didn’t hold up their end of the bargain.”

Following discussion, Mayor Holden reiterated what was decided during the July council meeting — the city would continue to reach out to Heartland on the condition of the property and possibly begin nuisance abatement.

Other business

Tama County Sheriff Dennis Kucera’s monthly report showed 60 calls for service including one to assist the Oskaloosa Police Department in making contact with an individual in the community.

Sharon Stoakes with the Traer Historical Museum addressed the council during public comment about the Princess Theatre Poster Tour which is taking place during the Winding Stairs Festival August 12-15. Stoakes asked the council if one of the tour’s 11 refurbished posters could be displayed in the Traer Memorial Building lobby. The mayor said yes but that Stoakes should also speak with American Legion members.

An appointment was made to fill an upcoming library board vacancy. Mike Estes is leaving the board due to a move out of town. North Tama High School teacher Levi LaRue has indicated he would like to fill the vacancy. A motion was made by Council Member Patrisha Kennedy and seconded by Holst to appoint LaRue to the Traer Public Library board. The motion was passed unanimously.