NORTH LIBERTY– The owner of a local hobby store, claiming to have unfinished business with the city, aired his frustrations in a public meeting July 14.
Bill Kiesel, owner of MidAmerica Hobbies in North Liberty, approached the North Liberty City Council to recount a 2006 agreement between the City, an agreement that Kiesel said includes a transaction that has yet to occur.
In 2003, Kiesel opened his first MidAmerica Hobbies location in Liberty Plaza along Highway 965, and added an outdoor, off-road track for radio-controlled vehicles in 2005. When neighbors complained of noise from the track, the North Liberty city council asked Kiesel to relocate his business and promised to help with the transition.
The city agreed to sell Kiesel two parcels of land at the intersection of 240th Street and Highway 965, which it had purchased from the Iowa Department of Transportation with the intent of cleaning it up for public use. Kiesel bought the land and constructed a new, 8,080 sq. ft. building and adjacent outdoor track. The terms of his construction and operation were spelled out in an agreement between Kiesel and the City of North Liberty dated May 23, 2006.
Three years later, a small sliver of land, measuring about 33 ft. by 120 ft. and also mentioned in the agreement, has been brought into question. According to Kiesel, ownership should have been transferred to him three years ago, after it had deeded it over to the city.
“We signed an agreement that included three parcels of property,” Kiesel told the council. “We went to closing last October and it was brought to our attention that the third parcel was never signed over to us.”
Kiesel read from the 2006 document:
“The city agrees to acquire a third piece of property abutting the site, if available to do so, only if the property can be obtained with only legal, abstracting and document preparation cost incurred by the City. The property is shown as abandoned by the D.O.T. (Department of Transportation).”
Kiesel said when he researched the property’s ownership and discovered the city owned the land. he contacted staff right away to request they transfer ownership to him.
“Seven months later, we still do not have the land and we have spent over $1,400,” for attorney fees, he added.
Currently, Kiesel is using the land for part of his outdoor track. Under a previous lease agreement, Kiesel had to construct an 8-ft. fence around the track area, which required specific engineering and cost $12,000 to build. He was also required to purchase $2 million in insurance to use the property, he said.
Kiesel said he asked city staff to file a Quit Claim deed on the property six weeks ago, his attorney and City Attorney Scott Peterson exchanged communications, and he was told the matter was supposed to appear on the July 14 council meeting agenda.
When it did not, Kiesel told the Leader last week, he decided to bring it before the council.
“This has been going on actively for eight to nine months, with the current administration,” he said.
Kiesel said he understood if the transaction was delayed when the city experienced a significant change in administration and council members in 2008.
“I fully understand it just got lost in the shuffle,” Kiesel said. “But it’s not just me paying $1,400 to my lawyers. It’s that, every time this happens, the city of North Liberty is also being billed for legal fees.”
Peterson declined to provide details about past transactions on the property, but told the Leader in a telephone interview last week that he has been reviewing documentation and “it has not been clearly established or determined who owns the third parcel.”
In fact, though records at the Johnson County Assessor’s Office show the City of North Liberty as the deed holder, North Liberty City Administrator Ryan Heiar said the transaction with Kiesel has been delayed because there remains a question of ownership.
“Even though the county record indicates City ownership, the abstract shows differently,” said Heiar. “Some time ago, the City, as per our agreement with MidAmerican Hobbies, authorized an abstract for the property. When the title opinion came back, it noted that the City did not own the property. Owners were shown to be a couple who now live in Missouri.”
The matter will appear on the agenda for the council’s July 28 meeting, subsequent to the publication of this newspaper. Heiar said it is possible the council could take action on the matter this week.
“In exchange for the deed, we are asking Mr. Kiesel to sign an agreement that will release the City from any further obligations related to this property,” Heiar wrote in a council memo. “Staff is recommending approval of the quit claim deed if Mr. Kiesel provides an executed copy of the release agreement prior to Tuesday’s meeting.”
Kiesel said his choice to address the matter during public comment was motivated out of concern for taxpayers.
“It hurts the whole community of North Liberty. If stuff like this is going on and people don’t know what’s happening, yet three years later we’re still not settled on this, what does that say to the other businesses and the citizens of North Liberty?
“I believe, after three years, time’s up,” Kiesel concluded.