Future Use Plan for Buyout Properties
After flood buyout properties are purchased and cleared of all structures, the land is turned over to the Mason City Park Department for maintenance. The maintenance and future use of the land varies. All but two of the properties acquired must retained by the City and be maintained as beneficial flood plain green space. Limited development is allowed and is generally restricted to only those facilities that would not be significantly damaged in the next flood.
To identify potential future uses of the properties, the City Administrator formed an ad hoc committee that included staff from the Development Services Department, Engineering Department, Operations and Maintenance Department and Park and Recreation Department. The committee also included representatives from the Park Board, Planning and Zoning Commission and Environmental Stewardship Advisory Commission. Representatives from the neighborhoods around the buyout lots were also invited in September 2010 to participate in a small-group discussion regarding the future of the properties. The ad hoc committee reviewed the properties being acquired and made recommendations for the future use of the properties. Recommendations were based on the state of infrastructure in the area, soil conditions, proximity to neighbors, past conversations regarding potential development in the area and financial constraints.
In March 2011, the public was invited to attend a visioning meeting at the Mason City Public Library. Each property owner within 300 ft. of the buyout properties was individually invited by postcard. Approximately 100 persons attended. After introductory remarks, those attending broke out into smaller groups based on neighborhood. An ad hoc committee member was at each table to lead a discussion regarding the committee’s recommendations regarding the area and the vision the neighbors had for the area.
The ad hoc committee met in April 2011 to discuss the outcome of the public meeting and to incorporate the feedback received from the neighbors into the recommendations for each neighborhood. These recommendations do not define a final state for the property. Rather, they are an interim step. So long as the City stays within the restrictions placed on the properties, the future use can be changed.
The suggested uses include these categories:
- Naturalized Area: A naturalized area would not be regularly maintained by the City. Instead, after the structures are demolished, the ground would be seeded and the naturally occurring ecosystem would be allowed to reestablish in the area. For aesthetic purposes, 30 ft. of the lot abutting the adjacent street right-of-way would be mowed on a monthly basis.
- Light Maintenance Area: A light maintenance area would be periodically maintained by the City. After demolition, the ground would be seeded. Once the ground cover is established, the lot will be mowed on a monthly basis.
- Developed Area: Several areas were identified for a specific future use. These sites would be developed within the restrictions placed on the properties.
- Leased Area: Neighboring property owners would lease adjacent buyout properties. They would be responsible for maintaining the property including mowing and snow removal. They would not be allowed to construct structures on the buyout lot. The lease cost would typically be $1 per year and would be subject to any conditions, as approved by the City Council.
The following recommendations were made for each of the neighborhoods. They reflect permissible levels of development given the buyout program restrictions. Click the link to view the map for the neighborhood:
- Parker's Woods/West Park Neighborhood: Whenever possible, streets and alleys should be removed. Underground utilities should be disconnected and abandoned in place, if possible. It appears that N. Harrison Avenue between 4th St. NW and 6th St. NW can be removed. It may be possible to remove the alley in the block bounded by 4th St NW, N. Harrison Ave. 6th St. NW and N. Van Buren Ave. The area west of N. Van Buren Avenue would be allowed to naturalize. Neighbors have requested that the City use natural pest control measures in the naturalized areas including bat houses and purple martin houses. The area east of N. Van Buren Ave. and north of 6th St. NW would receive light maintenance. Whenever requested, lots should be leased to neighbors for use as green space or as gardens. We also recommend that future study be done regarding the demand for community gardens. If there is sufficient demand, a well-managed program coordinated by the Recreation department that includes a fee for participation should be undertaken. There appears to be interest among neighbors to extend the existing walking path network. We recommend that the residents in the area be engaged in further discussions about this trail segment and potential funding sources. Finally, if demand warrants, additional permeable-surface parking for West Park should be developed on the north side of 4th St. NW. There is interest from neighboring property owners to lease the three lots on Crescent Drive. If the lots are not leased, they should receive light maintenance, given their proximity to occupied structures.
- West of Downtown Neighborhood: The area on the east side of Madison Ave. should be incorporated into the adjacent greenbelt and walking path along Willow Creek. This light-maintenance area could be landscaped using plants and shrubs currently found on the buyout lots. There is interest from neighboring property owners to lease the lots and maintain them. Natural pest control including bat houses and purple martin houses should be considered. The area west of Madison Ave. should be developed as a community garden, if a well-managed program coordinated by the Recreation department that includes a fee for participation could be established. Because this is a lower income neighborhood, grant funds to help develop community gardens may be available.
- Elm Drive: The consensus of the ad hoc committee and the neighbors is that this area should be developed as a dog park, incorporating two City-owned lots north of 14th St. NE. Although there appears to be significant demand for this type of facility, funding is not available within the City’s current budget. The Council should commit to placing a dog park here now, should private funds become available. This will allow private groups to begin fund raising. Wherever possible, streets should be removed. Underground utilities should be disconnected and abandoned in place, if possible. There is also strong support for a small memorial to workers killed on the job along 13th St. NE. Given the proximity of the former Decker site, this would be an appropriate location for such a memorial and the memorial could be constructed given the restrictions placed on the lot.
- 10th NE/11th NE: We recommend that in order to protect the levee, Oakland Drive be abandoned between 11th St; NE and the alley to the south. To allow the continued passage of service vehicles, a new alley should be constructed further east. All paving on 11th St. NE, west of the new alley should be removed, if possible. There is a river access point on 10th St. NE that is frequently used. The existing gravel cul-de-sac on 10th St. NE has wandered on to private property on the south side of the street. The City should return that portion of the street on private property to green space and construct a better defined cul-de-sac and parking area for those wishing to access the river. The area should be allowed to naturalize, with some light maintenance along street frontages and on the lots immediately adjacent to neighbors.
- Oak Park/Maryland Avenue neighborhood: If possible, the streets west of N. Carolina Avenue should be removed and the underground utilities disconnected and abandoned in place. The area should be allowed to naturalize. Light maintenance should be performed on the portions of the properties that abut N. Carolina Avenue or are immediately adjacent to an occupied structure. The area east of N. Carolina Avenue and south of 7th St. NE should also be allowed to naturalize. If possible, additional trees should be planted in the area to help take up additional storm water. The area east of N. Carolina Avenue and north of 7th St. NE should have light maintenance. There is neighborhood resistance to community gardens in this area because of concerns over their appearance. The tree cover in the area may make this area less than desirable for community gardens. Whenever requested, lots should be leased to neighbors for use as green space or as gardens, subject to the restrictions of the buyout program and any additional conditions established by the City Council. This area may be suitable for more open space development in the future.
- Norris Youth Softball Complex area: The neighbors are opposed to any additional ball field development, including a “Miracle Field.” They are also opposed to the creating of off-street parking south of 2nd St. NE. The lots on the south side of 2nd St. NE should be leased to neighboring property owners, whenever requested. To prevent parking on these lots, driveway approaches should be removed and replaced with full curb sections. The area west of Tennessee Avenue should be developed as green space with benches and a small playground. The area could also be used as a warm up area for the softball complex. If funding becomes available, this area would also be suitable for a reinforced grass parking area, so long as care was taken not to damage trees. The alley at the west end of the block, adjacent to the IC&E tracks should be vacated with the south half being conveyed to the abutting property owner. The balance of the alley as well as the east-west alley that transects the block should be removed. The right-of-way along Tennessee Avenue, north of 2nd St. NE could be developed as a head-in parking area for the softball complex.
- Birch Drive area: After demolition, the area should be seeded and allowed to naturalize.
- Meadowbrook area: The area along the creek should be allowed to naturalize. A strip of the lots, where they abut Meadowbrook Drive, should be periodically mowed. The neighbors would like to see the lot at the intersection of 10th St. SW and Meadowbrook Drive developed as a playground. They would also like to have a pedestrian bridge or some other type of access constructed across Cheslea Creek which would give them walking access to Big Blue and Ray Rorick Parks. Currently, they have to go 14 blocks to get to Big Blue.
- 26th St. SW area: This lot should be seeded after demolition and incorporated into the existing greenbelt along Cheslea Creek. The property would be lightly maintained as is the abutting property that is already owned by the City.
- S. Adams Ave. area: These two lots are the only two properties purchased by the City of Mason City that have no deed restrictions attached. Consequently, we believe it would be best to hold these lots until a final determination is made regarding changes to Highway 122.
On May 17, 2011, the Mason City Council approved the proposed re-use plan.