By Julie Ann Madden
Editor’s Note: Because much of this 70-minute discussion was contentious, this discussion is summarized with few actual quotes.
Residents shared their concerns about a driveway easement near their homes as well as their displeasure with city officials’ lack of communication and transparency at the Akron Council’s Feb. 28 meeting.
Mitch and Traci DeRocher, of Akron, are planning to build a new home, complete with inground pool and storage shed/shop, just south and west of Russ and Beth Van Beek’s and Mary Parkinson’s homes, which are located at the west end of Torbert Boulevard.
The land where DeRochers’ home will set is on farmland owned by his father, Kevin DeRocher.
DeRochers’ desire was to build at the top of the hill right behind Van Beek’s and Parkinson’s homes but to “be neighborly and not screw up” any of Akron’s future development, they offered to build their house 200 feet out into the field to the south and west of Parkinson’s property. In doing so, they give up the better view and lay of the land. This latter location was at the suggestion of City Administrator Dan Rolfes.
The DeRochers will not have their new residential property annexed into Akron’s city limits because they would have too much taxes, said Mitch.
The DeRochers have four options for a driveway to access their rural residential acreage:
1) a driveway easement, on what would be a future extension of Country Club Drive;
2) Iowa Highway 12, which would cost an additional $50,000 in concrete costs than first option and cut through future city business park expansion;
3) Iowa Highway 3 with which they would have to seek an easement or purchase of land owned by John and Mary Lucken of rural Akron and it would run along the south side of Torbert Boulevard residents’ backyards; or
4) Norka Drive, which would need to be extended south of Sherri’s Auto Ranch and would possibly interfere with future industrial park development.
The DeRochers requested No. 1, a driveway easement on city-owned land between Parkinson’s property and the old city dump. The driveway would connect with Torbert Boulevard, go west about 30 feet then south, running along the west side of Parkinson’s property to the DeRocher farmland. The driveway would be 31 – 38 feet from Parkinson’s property line.
DeRochers will pay for the driveway installation and have agreed to meet stipulations that together they, City Attorney David Stuart, and City Administrator Dan Rolfes draw up.
Stipulations being discussed included a 6-inch thick 16’ wide concrete driveway with a culvert and whatever else is needed to maintain proper drainage — all maintained by the DeRochers — and when city officials decide to extend Country Club Drive, DeRochers would remove their driveway, construct another driveway to the extended street at the nearest point to their home; and release the easement.
The DeRochers’ new home will be connected to Akron’s water and electric utilities but not sewer.
For water, DeRochers will pay the costs from the Westerner Drive-Torbert Boulevard connection to their property but the actual location of this water line was not stated. Rolfes said they could not connect to the water connection at the southwest corner of Parkinson’s property because they would have odor and taste issues since that water line runs to the fire station and doesn’t circulate properly.
For electricity, they can connect to the electrical lines at Parkinson’s property but both the water and electrical lines will have to run west of the driveway easement so as not to interfere with future housing development in that area.
For sewer, although the line is already to the Akron Golf Club Inc.’s clubhouse, DeRochers’ house’s elevation will not work with the city’s current sewer system. They will have to have a septic system.
“With our current (sewer) infrastructure, everything needs to run down through our current pipes to the lift station,” said Rolfes. “Our engineer would have to decide how much more development it can handle.”
When residents were concerned that non-Akron residents were using city utilities, Akron City Clerk Melea Nielsen explained there were plenty of non-Akron residents receiving municipal utilities along Iowa Highways 3 and 12. In addition, when asked why city officials would allow a septic system in a future housing development now, it was noted there were other Akron residences with septic systems due to times when city sewer connections were not available.
City officials have no plan for future development of Akron, Rolfes told the council.
“Basically, just waiting for when the last (Portlandville Heights Subdivision) lots are done, then we’ve got to start working on another plan,” said Rolfes. “What we’re going to do next — are we going to try to go south (of Akron) or to the east?”
To the east, engineers would have to redesign the sewage system to accommodate growth, he said. Developing to the south, water pressure would be an issue. Either way engineers will have to be involved.
One problem city officials are trying to avoid is having deadend streets, said Rolfes, giving the example of near the school where a house was built where a street could have continued, forming a T-intersection instead of a through-street.
“If anything, we should be working closer with the Planning & Zoning folks — making forward-looking plans,” said resident Jim Miller, who supported DeRochers’ request and construction business. “One of the reasons I moved here was I looked at Akron as a real progressive community, looking at development and growth — always kind of on the front, giving the kids the best…”
Residents were definitely split over the proposed easement.
Dr. Beau and Mackenzie Waddell’s home faces Parkinson’s across Torbert Boulevard.
They admitted they had been concerned about losing their view until they talked with Mitch when he was out checking out the land but since it wouldn’t be ruined, they spoke in support of the easement. Even with traffic, they felt it would increase real estate values and the “more nicer homes that move into the neighborhood, the nicer the neighborhood is,” said Beau.
Miller also spoke in DeRochers’ favor, noting the house quality their construction company builds — that property values will increase, benefiting all the town.
Mitch’s brother and sister-in-law, Corey and Nicolle DeRocher also spoke on their behalf.
A petition with 18 Portlandville Heights Subdivision homeowners’ names asking the council deny any easement was presented. The council also received a list of 18 questions from adjacent homeowner Mary Parkinson.
Beth Van Beek and Parkinson spoke against the driveway easement, noting the driveway would be the only access for the DeRochers’ hair salon, increasing the traffic as Torbert Boulevard in front of their home would no longer be a deadend street.
Traci explained her business is only open Monday – Wednesday with four to eight clients on those days — much less than daycare traffic in other parts of the subdivision.
They were also concerned about DeRochers’ construction business equipment impacting their quality of life but were assured by the DeRochers their residence would not be their business site after the initial residence construction period — except for an occasional skidloader brought in for snow removal.
Corey stated the DeRochers would sign a contract stating that residence would not be the business construction setup location.
In addition, the two women said the increased traffic would decrease the street’s safety where children often play, and furthermore, change the way of life they’d paid for in purchasing the most-expensive Portlandville Heights lots and had enjoyed the past 20 years.
Because of the city dump to the west of Parkinson’s property, they had been told by former city officials when they’d purchased their lots that there would be nothing to the west of them — unless city officials cleaned out the city dump according to Environmental Protection Agency requirements.
“We were willing to pay more money for our lots because we were going to be at a deadend street,” said Van Beek. “We weren’t going to have the traffic. We weren’t going to have the noise and now my lot doesn’t mean anything.”
They felt city officials were favoring non-Akron residents over city residents who pay city property taxes since DeRochers’ property is not within city limits.
“What are we as residents getting out of it?” asked Parkinson.
“You’re making revenue off my utilities,” said Mitch.
Parkinson was also concerned a non-curbed driveway would cause drainage issues. She noted the former city dump often ends up a lake after rainfall. She asked about the safety of a culvert in a neighborhood filled with children.
The two asked if city officials considered other access points off Torbert Boulevard such as Westerner Drive and had DeRochers considered their other access options. Response was by coming off other stubbed-out streets along Torbert Boulevard, it would end any future development to the south because the driveway would run through potential lots as it runs along current Torbert Boulevard residents’ backyards.
Parkinson asked why the city didn’t sell DeRochers the land where their driveway would be instead of grant an easement.
It was also suggested city officials extend out Country Club Drive now instead of do the easement. However, the easement option is all at the DeRochers’ expense — no cost to the city.
Most importantly, the two women were angry at how they’d been treated by city officials. On Feb. 24, Van Beek’s husband had someone mention the driveway easement to him at Akron Jo’s Cafe during lunch; and after he went to Akron City Hall for details, Parkinson received a Facebook message from Traci — not city officials. Then about 2 p.m., Rolfes personally handed her typed information that was not on city letterhead, not dated and not signed but included a hand-drawn map of the proposed driveway easement.
Rolfes took the blame for only giving them four days notice, saying he was still learning his job which includes formal notification on certain issues.
They felt they’d never have been notified if they hadn’t heard it in the cafe.
“I’m understanding this is doing favors so that profit happens later for the City of Akron,” said Parkinson.
“I don’t agree with that at all,” said Councilor Alex Pick.
After the vote, when Parkinson said her house would be up for sale, Mayor Sharon Frerichs told her to contact a local realtor.
“If this easement isn’t allowed, there will be no future development behind any of those houses,” said Corey. “That will not happen…I can guarantee you if this doesn’t happen, there is absolutely no chance of Akron developing up there.”
Mitch admitted he’d prefer to be at the top of the hill and could have a driveway to Highway 12.
“I’m trying to give here and I need to get a little back,” said Mitch, admitting he’d prefer to build at the top of the hill and could have a driveway to Highway 12 then but that would eliminate any future city development to the south. “I’m trying to be as respectful as possible, putting it where I’m putting it. All I’m asking is for an easement.”
“The city council’s position is to take the city’s best interest into mind,” said Nicolle, who is a former Akron city clerk. “It’s really easy to get caught up in minor details, maybe what some people think are bigger details, emotions…however, ultimately this boils down to a driveway placement.”
“What negative impact from passing this easement besides one family’s increased traffic on that street and equipment used during construction, what other negative things when we have all these positive things supporting future development, increasing utility revenue?” asked Nicolle.
“Any time we vote on something we’re setting a precedent,” said Councilor Jenell Lanning. “What happens if somebody comes in and wants an easement off of Norka and they say ‘you gave it to DeRochers, why won’t you give it to us?’”
“You have to be careful when you start down this path,” said Lanning. “Do I believe future development is great? Yes, I do but you have to have a little more comprehensive plan than we’re going to put one house out here and some day we might develop the rest of it.”
“It basically all comes down to the common good of the majority of the town, especially because if you look in terms of development, you’re not going to want to start up an entire new development, get all the infrastructure set up and tie it in with a different area,” said Corey. “The ease of developing and continuing out to the south and around the golf course — you’re No. 1 asset of trying to build a town that’s around 1,500 people is going to be the golf course.”
“It’s your main attraction so just in terms of the common good and the way this thing needs to move, everything needs to continue around that new development and around the golf course and really make this area beautiful, make a nice attraction,” he said. “That’s what we really need in this town. We need that area, that boost. You go to all the surrounding small towns and they have their new development, golf course close.”
There was more than $800,000 in infrastructure costs in Portlandville Heights, which will be filled in five to 10 years, said Nicolle, “the city is either going to be able to expand (on DeRocher farmland) if DeRocher sells the ground to the city or you are going to have to start over somewhere else.”
When asked if they were going to develop a “DeRocher Development,” Nicolle responded it is a ridiculous rumor, and Corey said, “Absolutely not.”
When asked if this guarantees the city can purchase this land at a later date, Corey responded, “My dad said he would sell some off — yes. There’s nothing in contract, more of a verbal deal.”
“Mitch is trying to stay out of everyone’s way,” he added. “If for some reason, he couldn’t get the easement, he wouldn’t put his house where he’d put it if he works with the city on the deal. It would go up past all the houses, it would block all their views and then there will be heavy equipment running up and down the hill.”
“We’re trying to avoid all of that,” said Corey. “We really love Akron. We take a ton of pride in the town and we really want to see this place grow. We want to see it develop and we want good things to happen in it. I think the only way good things happen is you take the assets you have — the golf course and development up there and continue to build on that.”
Nicolle clarified, “DeRochers in any form — there will never be a DeRocher Development up there. That will never, ever happen.”
Parkinson summed up what DeRochers said at the meeting as “the easement saves them $50,000 by not having to build a driveway to Highway 12, they don’t have to pay city taxes but can have a quick access on city property, and the city gets a threat if they don’t do this and ever want to purchase that land, it won’t be available.”
When Lanning asked if it would help to table this a month and let the neighbors work this out, Mitch responded, “It just needs to be done.”
Stuart gave the council the option to give consensus to move forward and then he’d bring back a written easement for council to approve at a future meeting.
However, Pick made a motion to grant DeRochers a driveway easement with stipulations determined by Stuart, Rolfes and DeRochers without further council action. Councilor Denise Loutsch-Beitelspacher seconded it.
Parkinson noted Councilman Kasey Mitchell had wanted to participate in the vote via phone but Frerichs said she’d told Mitchell she had a quorum. Then she called for a vote. It was unanimous, 4-0.