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Yeas and nays for first floor apartments uptown

The Creston City Council denied Jesse Harris' request to continue renting out a ground floor apartment in this building on West Montgomery Street.
The Creston City Council denied Jesse Harris' request to continue renting out a ground floor apartment in this building on West Montgomery Street.

Creston Board of Adjustment granted Above the Pub’s request to place an apartment on the ground floor of an uptown building at 212 N. Maple St., which is zoned as C-1 commercial. An hour later, Creston City Council rejected Jesse Harris’ request to continue his rental of a first floor apartment at 121 W. Montgomery St.

Above the Pub owns the building on Maple Street where Hot Air Brewing is planning to open a brewery. Co-owner Andy Rullestad said he would like to build an apartment that begins on the ground floor in the back one-third of the building on Maple Street. He said adding this apartment will not affect the apartments above the ground floor and that it would be occupied by the owners themselves.

Board of Adjustment members discussed previous recommendations by the Iowa Economic Development Association that allowing owner-occupied residences in the back of commercial spaces is the type of development that is a good idea before voting to approve the request.

Across the street at the intersection of Maple and Montgomery streets, the Creston City Council terminated an agreement with Harris for a ground floor apartment. It had approved a one-year term for Harris to rent out a ground floor apartment in November 2018 with a requirement that a public hearing be held in 2019 to review if the arrangement would continue.

Harris said the building had been used illegally as an apartment prior to his purchase of the building. He spoke of the fact that many of the downtown store fronts are vacant and spoke of the need for uptown apartments. He said he found only two such apartments available online for rent at the current time, one of which is in the Iowana — a building that is restricted to low-income and disabled residents — and one at Green Valley.

He listed several properties in Uptown Creston that are vacant or about to be.

“The vacancy rate in downtown Creston is five times what it was when I grew up here,” Harris said. “I understand the need for Creston to have commercial space in that realm, but I don’t see the occupancy there to fulfill those.

Harris also said his taxes quadrupled with the temporary zoning change and spoke of the difficulty of paying those taxes if the building should sit unoccupied for a length of time.

He also spoke of the other ground floor apartments on Maple Street that may not have requested proper zoning for residences on the ground floor.

“If we drive down Maple Street right now, there’s five (ground floor) apartments,” Harris said. “I’m not here to talk about anyone else’s issues with their zoning, but if I’m going to be held to this standard then everyone else should be. Otherwise it’s just discriminatory,”

Connie Purdum, co-owner of two uptown buildings on Adams Street, spoke against allowing ground floor apartments.

“There are only so many square blocks of downtown that we can use for services, for retail, to try to keep people involved in their downtown,” Purdum said.

She said she has no objections to second floor apartments or an owner-occupied apartment in the back of a business.

Coen Furniture owner Mike Coen also spoke against using ground floor space in Uptown Creston as apartments.

“You need your main floors need to be open for business,” he said. “I know it seems like there isn’t enough space but next to him (Harris) there’s been two rented within the last year.”

Council member Rich Madison moved that the council table the decision to wait for the completion of a downtown assessment that is currently taking place.

Council member Gabe Carroll seconded the motion so that the council could discuss the issue, but said he would vote against tabling it. He cited the Iowa Economic Development Association’s advice that ground floor apartments cause an interruption in the flow of business and are detrimental to sustaining a retail-based uptown area. He also spoke of problems arising from apartment dwellers who own animals and do not pick up after them or who smoke on the sidewalks outside their apartments.

He stated the downtown assessment would likely contain a recommendation to get rid of the current apartments on the ground floor.

Harris requested a second opportunity to speak where he asked if a council member should be prevented from voting if they had an interest in the proceedings due to connections between landlords and council members.

The council gave no response to Harris’ question.

The motion to table was defeated 4 to 2 with Madison and Brian Davis voting in favor of tabling it.

Carroll then made a motion to deny allowing Harris’ ground floor apartment to continue, which passed 4 to 2 with Madison and Davis voting no.

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