Princeton council members navigating their way to perhaps the biggest economic development initiative in the Quad-City region’s history were stumped.
What kinds of businesses might they like to see on the Anderson 400, the newly annexed 400-acre bluff property that Paul and Marijo Anderson and family hope will attract a corporate buyer? What should they prohibit? How big should the buildings be?
The council’s long-range planning occurred July 24 in an empty council chambers, just minutes after the council addressed another dilemma that filled city hall. A dozen residents crowded in to contest a family’s request for a one-foot variance to accommodate a new garage in the Lost Grove Acres addition. After an hour of intense discussion, the family and their neighbors agreed to meet privately and try to resolve the dispute.
Then, all spectators left and council members, attorneys and engineers worked through details of the city’s first-ever Green Business Park Zoning District. The district is among many steps toward marketing the site for a corporate campus.
“We are quickly trying to get this green zone in place,” council member Kevin Kernan said.
The Andersons are working with Iowa’s Economic Development Authority for the certification needed to market the property for uses compatible with rolling hills, river views and a more rural location.
“I keep trying to figure out how a Deere might fit in here,” said Kernan, envisioning development much like Deere’s corporate headquarters in Moline.
The state certification will limit some uses, but Princeton’s law firm suggested the city create a zoning district so the city has some say over future land use.
The city attorney’s five-page draft outlined 20 preferred uses, and four restrictions, along with a three-story limit on building height.
“I don’t agree with three stories. We should go bigger,” council member Jami Stutting said. “Big businesses won’t want to come here if it’s limited. I like if they have flexibility. We’re the ones who will decide if it works or not.”
“Do we even want to limit it?” Kernan asked.
Suggested uses in the draft include insurance company headquarters, convention facility, personnel training center, light manufacturing, research labs and pharmaceutical packaging.
Forbidden practices included businesses that emit smoke or particulate air contaminants or store flammable liquids or chemicals.
“What if they want to hold a barbecue?” Kernan asked.
Council member Ann Geiger suggested fewer restrictions.
“We should limit examples so we don’t rule anyone out,” she said.
The Andersons’ attorney, Matt Hektoen, advised the council to rely on the state certification process to limit the types of projects.
“Before you put on restrictions, take a close look at what the state requires. When it comes to state certification, there are some no-goes,” he said.
Hektoen specifically advised removing the draft code’s requirement of a minimum 50-acre lots for development. He said the Andersons are hoping to work with a single buyer, but want to keep options open.
“I don’t think the Andersons’ intent is to sell to a third party,” he said.
Kernan wondered if the new code should limit excavation.
“They could potentially bulldoze that whole hill down,” he said.
Representatives from the Andersons’ engineering firm said the state’s green certification will attract interest from those who value the terrain and the views, so Princeton needn’t worry about local restrictions on excavating and road construction.
“People who want a green office site probably won’t have any intent of tearing everything up,” Shive Hattery engineer Dan Solchenberger said.
He also said the state will require the project to be built to nationally recognized Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design or LEEDs standards. That includes energy efficiency, permeable pavement and vehicle recharging stations.
Solchenberger said the state will require the project to meet those standards, but specifically does not require actual certification by the U.S. Green Building Council, which created the standards.
“We don’t actually care if you get certified. We just need you to meet the standards,” he said. “It’s ridiculously expensive.”
“It’s the same as wanting a pedigree dog, but not spending to get the certificate,” said attorney Dee Runnels, of the Pastrnak firm representing Princeton.
Shive Hattery engineer Marti Ahlgren said the Iowa Economic Development Authority certification deadline is in March, but said the Andersons hope to complete documentation by November.
Ahlgren also shared the city of Woodward, Iowa’s Eco-Business Park Zoning District adopted June 12, 2017. Most council members said the nine-page Woodward ordinance seemed to cover Princeton’s needs. It also was prepared to market a state certified site for environmentally friendly development.
“So we know this ordinance was approved by the state,” said Candy Pastrnak, one of two attorneys representing Princeton at the meeting.
The Woodward ordinance includes 17 suggested uses, including call centers, printing or publishing, and public utility facilities. It also includes “accessory uses,” which resolved Kernan’s barbecue question.
The Woodward ordinance stated 13 prohibited uses, including food processing, chemical storage, truck stops, places of worship or adult entertainment.
Pastrnak and Runnels said they will incorporate Woodward provisions into a new Princeton ordinance that will be available for the city’s Planning and Zoning Board’s Aug. 7 meeting, and the full council’s Aug. 9 meeting.