By Lori Lindner
North Liberty Leader
NORTH LIBERTY– The City of North Liberty is preparing to take its first steps eastward.
In its Nov. 26 meeting, the North Liberty City Council approved a $155,000 contract with Fox Engineering to create preliminary designs for expanding water and sanitary sewer services to the city’s designated growth area east of the current city limits.
The decision to extend services to the area has come sooner than expected because of the Iowa City Community School District’s (ICCSD) decision to build its third comprehensive high school off North Liberty Road. Since the ICCSD’s August decision to purchase the property for the high school, district officials and city representatives have been in discussions monthly.
“We’ve mainly been talking about what their needs are in terms of building there, what they will need for services and utilities, and making sure they understand our concerns and issues over improvements that need to be done in a timely fashion, like water, sewer and streets,” said North Liberty City Administrator Ryan Heiar.
Other entities have also been involved in similar discussions with the school district, including the City of Coralville, Johnson County and the Metropolitan Planning Organization of Johnson County (MPOJC).
“We’ve been working with the MPO on traffic analysis out there, and when that information becomes available we will sit down and determine what needs to be done,” said Heiar. “We’ve been looking at everything, including the potential to partner, to make the transition and the project go as smoothly as possible.”
Heiar said he continues to communicate regularly with Coralville about the future school and the infrastructure projects that come with it. One thing that has been proposed is sharing costs and opportunities for a sports complex, though everything is still in very early stages of planning.
“I think there is a good line of communication between the governing entities in trying to make this process as smooth as possible,” Heiar added.
The location is in an unincorporated area that fell under an annexation dispute between North Liberty and Coralville in 2006, when a Coralville development firm proposed plans for the currently unincorporated Scanlon farmland– which abuts North Liberty’s eastern edge– to be built out with residential and commercial properties. The dispute was officially resolved between the two cities in 2011.
While North Liberty officials have not formally discussed annexation of the area surrounding the proposed school, the city has received annexation petitions from the owners of the Scanlon property, Roller Development, the Weno family and the Alt family, according to Heiar.
“There haven’t been any formal discussions yet,” Heiar said. “The requests to annex are voluntary, and these will follow through the state, notices will be sent out and the other technical aspects of annexation will have to be followed through.”
Between 2007 and 2009, as North Liberty and Coralville wrangled over which city would eventually annex the area and rural residents in the area unsuccessfully requested to voluntarily annex into North Liberty, city officials from North Liberty said public services would not likely be extended to the area for several years. In 2010, when the township citizens’ group came to a North Liberty council meeting to plead for the city to claim annexation rights over Coralville, they were told North Liberty officials would do what they could to protect rural residents from involuntary annexation, and that North Liberty was not ready to incur infrastructure costs of development, such as putting in water lines, sewer services and lift stations.
“We are in no hurry,” Mayor Tom Salm said at the time. “We have no time table and we will keep you involved as we go along.”
In 2011, the two cities approved an annexation agreement that assigned certain portions of the area to each community for any future annexation, and placed a 10-year moratorium on annexation outside those designated zones. The planned high school is located near the intersection of North Liberty Road and Dubuque Street, which lies in North Liberty’s designated annexation area.
Since then, interest in developing the area has escalated.
“We’ve had a number of interested folks talk to us about that area; some own property there already, and some don’t,” Heiar said. “With the potential that the school location presents, I expect it to take off even more. We’ve had some informal conversations with property owners who are testing the waters, and once they see what happens with the school, I am guessing we will see more excitement about growth in that area.”
The 2011 annexation agreement also grants utility easements between the two communities and states that “both cities acknowledge the sanitary sewer and water trunk lines for each city shall be constructed simultaneously to the maximum extent possible with the other city’s, so as to limit disruption to the area.”
Coralville City Administrator Kelly Hayworth said since the State of Iowa Development Board approved Coralville’s annexations of a portion of the Scanlon property and a portion of land purchased by the ICCSD for a new elementary building, his community has been working on infrastructure for the area as well.
“The City of Coralville has the preliminary design completed for the water and sanitary sewer,” Hayworth said in an email communication last week. “Veenstra & Kimm engineering firm is now starting the survey work.”
North Liberty’s agreement with Fox Engineering tasks them to determine two alternative routes for location utilities, locate and size a lift station, delineate any existing wetland, conduct a geotechnical investigation and create a model of a potential water main loop, as well as estimate costs per acre for hook-up fees for the developed area.
The project represents only the preliminary steps needed to expand city utilities to the area, said City Engineer Kevin Trom. Fox Engineering’s contract has a 120-day timeframe for this initial phase of design.
Heiar had even asked Fox Engineering to consider condensing it to 90 days, but settled on 120.
“The school district said to us most recently they were looking at a 2017 opening,” Heiar said. “I understand that may be changing to 2018, but whether its 2017 or 2018, it is still a quick turnaround for a project of this magnitude. We want to make sure we keep the ball rolling, so that when the school is there, so are sewer and water.”