CLINTON — The city of Clinton should construct its new road farther west rather than across Unity Christian School’s property, Dee Willoughby, a Unity Christian parent, said Monday.
“It’s our land, and we prefer that it remain our land,” Willoughby said.
Owners of land to the north and west of Unity’s property at 1000 19th Avenue NW near Mill Creek Parkway have already agreed to let the city build a road across their land, Willoughby said.
“I’ve met with the leader of the Seeser family, and I’ve met with the leader of the technology park,” Willoughby said. The city could connect the road to 19th along the east side of land belonging to Seeser’s S & S Farms and not cross Unity’s property, he said.
“If you have two cooperative neighbors that are willing to facilitate a road for the city, … why would you choose to create a controversy with an out-of-state entity?” Willoughby asked.
Unity Christian School of Fulton, Illinois purchased land on 19th Avenue NW in 2017 from the Galbraith Estate in order to build a 45,000-square-foot school for kindergarten through 12th grades on the Iowa side of the river.
Unity hoped to move into its new building in January 2021 but the school is still under construction. “We had some delays with wetness of land. We had some delays with COVID,” said Willoughby.
The school initially planned to have a parking lot on the north side of the school where the city is proposing a road, Willoughby said. “We moved the parking to the south side of the building temporarily because the land on the north side is too wet.”
As the school grows, the parking will be moved back to the north side, said Willoughby.
“I’m not interested in a road in the front yard. We have other plans for our front yard,” Willoughby said. Because the parking lot is on the south side now, land on the north side may appear available for a road, he said, but the land is designated for another use.
With willing neighbors to the north, “the city might want to engage that” instead of trying to force Unity to give up its land, he said.
“We just think that it’s the wrong approach,” said Willoughby.
Unity’s project manager, Chris VonHolten, said Tuesday that the school’s original drawings showed a parking lot on the north side. The plan was approved by the city, he said.
“Our change at our site changed their position,” VonHolten said. The city approved changing the access to 19th Avenue NW from the S & S property, “so at some point there was opportunity at doing that,” he said.
The city and the school haven’t met to discuss the issue in over a year. “We’ve had wet site conditions that we’ve been dealing with for a year,” said VonHolten. “We’ve been struggling and trying to work through our site.”
The city has had the extension of LaMetta Wynn Drive in its plans since before City Administrator Matt Brooke arrived in January 2017, Brooke said Tuesday. “The city already has it on its long-term plan,” he said.
The road extension is needed for the development of West View Heights 2nd Addition, Brooke said. “If you have 30 or more houses that are occupied dwellings, you have to have two entrances and exits.” Currently, the subdivision’s only exit is 10th Street NW.
The development, bordered by West View Heights 1st Addition on the south and the S & S Farms property to the north, was platted by Katie’s Holding Company in 2012 with an extension of LaMetta Wynn Drive running the length of its north side.
The city has already purchased the land it needs for that section of road from S & S Farms, owned by Harlan Seeser. “They were super nice,” said Brooke.
The city needs the northwestern corner of Unity’s property to connect the new portion of road to 19th Avenue NW.
Unity had planned to build a road to the school and connect it with 19th Avenue NW, Brooke said, but the road was slightly west of where the city plans to connect to 19th.
By Iowa Department of Transportation regulations, the entrance to a road has to be a certain distance from an intersection, Brooke said. The entrance to LaMetta Wynn Drive from 19th will be located across from the existing driveway of First Wealth’s on the north side of 19th.
The new road will allow people to build homes on lots in West View Heights, Brooke said. The plat shows 36 lots from 16th Avenue NW to the LaMetta Wynn Drive extension between Jesus Christ Prince of Peace Catholic Church on the west and Unity Christian School on the east.
The city will spend $405,000 to make that development possible, $300,000 on the road and $100,000 for right-of-way purchase and to install a sidewalk along the road, Brooke said.
Typically a school would build the road to the city’s standard and then turn the street over to the city if the road is a through street, Brooke said. In this case, the city will build the road, and Unity won’t have purchase the right-of-way at 19th Avenue NW or build a road.
“At some point we have to move forward with this,” said Brooke. The city has to do what is best for all and not for the few. “We can get development to the north, and get houses being built.”
“We’ve been asking for assistance from Unity the whole time,” Brooke said. “We couldn’t even meet with their board members.”
Unity representatives who met with the city as recently as 2019 included VonHolten and Willoughby, VonHolten said.
Brooke said someone is inquiring about building high-end apartments in that area, but he needs two entrances. “We have people looking all the time, and we need to have things ready to go,” Brooke said.