Hiawatha Businesses Complain About Consequences of Town Center Zoning Changes

By Dave Franzman

HIAWATHA, Iowa- The Linn County community of Hiawatha has worked on plans to create a town center or “heart of the city” for years. But some of the zoning changes put in place to start the process may be impacting some property owners in a negative way.

The Town Center area of Hiawatha is close to the city hall and eventually calls for an intersection realignment. But several property owners on North Center Point Road now complain zoning changes made as part of the redevelopment plan are interfering with their business.

Bill Bennett, who owns a storage business and an empty building that once housed a small ag equipment company, has several issues with the new zoning.

For one, he disagrees with the city’s decision to erect a stone wall when Center Point Road was widened because he says it makes his business area less visible from the roadway. But Bennett’s biggest gripe, by far, is a 12,000 square foot building that has sat empty since the last tenant left in January. He says he’s had some interest from prospective renters. But he keeps hearing that there are worries about what Hiawatha’s zoning rules will allow a business to do.

“The problem with the new zoning is I can’t really tell the people if manufacturing can go in there,” Bennett said.

Bennett said his building rented for $9,000 a month and the longer it sits empty the more it hurts.

Randy Boyle had a different, but related, problem with zoning rules in Hiawatha that changed as the push began for town center development.

Boyle had a contract to buy a small, empty building on Robins Road that once housed a bingo supply business. He planned to move his wife’s silk screen printing business from Alburnett. But Boyle and the city disagreed if the current zoning allow that type of use. He lost the argument and walked away from the deal in frustration.

“There are existing buildings that must be maintained and people want to use. So until someone comes along and wants to spend the large dollars for redevelopment I think the current users ought to be protected,” Boyle said.

Hiawatha Mayor Tom Theis expressed surprise at the complaints from small business owners about the impact of the zoning changes saying “we aren’t putting anybody out of anything.” Theis also dismissed claims that the city council was favoring big businesses with zoning change approvals while ignoring the needs of small owners.

At least one group of business owners had complained about the zoning changes before. Last August, tattoo parlor owners protested the exclusion of that type of business from buildings in the town center zoning districts. The city council eventually agreed tattoo parlors could locate in the areas.

l Comments: (319) 368-8611; dave.franzman@sourcemedia.net

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