The Waverly City Council decided to delay consideration of the final plans for the Bremer Avenue streetscape project for one week because several downtown business owners had many concerns over the project, council members reported during Monday’s meeting.
The council was scheduled to OK a resolution that would approve those plans, as well as a cost estimate of $227,020, in order to have the project put out to bid.
But after a lengthy discussion, including hesitation over cost of some items, as well as merchants worries about their storefront visibility behind trees, the consensus of the council was to postpone consideration until city staff can talk to the proprietors about their qualms.
The resolution was placed on the next meeting’s agenda for 7 p.m. Monday, Feb. 17.
The streetscape project was planned as early as 2016, when the Waverly Chamber of Commerce and the city established a committee to add beautification elements in conjunction with the Bremer Avenue/Iowa Highway 3 reconstruction project. That work took place during the 2017 and 2018 construction seasons.
The project would stretch from Sixth Street on the west side of the river to just beyond Fourth Street on the east, basically between the two Kwik Star locations along Bremer Avenue. The plans called for four gateway planters, two at each end of the stretch, 21 planter/bench constructs, 23 trees, with two per block on each side of the street, 10 sitting groups, with five each of two types, and a 36-inch at the intersection of Bremer and First Street Southeast.
But Ward 4 Councilwoman Heather Beaufore wondered what the city was trying to accomplish with the project. She questioned the price points of several of the items being used. She highlighted $950 for trash receptacles and $3,570 for each sitting group, which are chairs around a planter.
City Attorney and Economic Development Director Bill Werger explained the project is something that the city wanted to do for the downtown community to go along with the construction project.
“The general consensus from the group we worked with is that they wanted decorations in the downtown,” Werger said. “Something that would make it look pleasant, that when people are walking the streets, walking the sidewalks, it isn’t just a concrete slab down to the curb.”
Ward 1 Councilman Brian Birgen said in the feedback he received from merchants was that they felt their input hadn’t been heard.
“It’s kind of in the sense of there’s the usual suspects who are making the decisions for what’s going on in streetscapes, and kind of a lot of their questions and concerns haven’t been responded to,” Birgen said.
Ward 3 Councilman Rod Drenkow added that some merchants said the old trees that were along Bremer Avenue prior to the road construction had covered up their storefronts.
“It was commented at that time that the business owners would have some input into what was going to be located in front of their store,” Drenkow said. “I’m not sure that had been done.”
He added that some merchants felt they had the opportunity to provide feedback, but they felt it was a suggestion to contact the chamber if they had issues. He didn’t want to see the city spend the money if the downtown business owners wouldn’t like the results.
Werger said the plans presented Monday were nearly the same for the last year. He added the streetscape committee relied on chamber staff for input.
He said the main issue boiled down to trees. There are some who missed having the trees lining Bremer Avenue, while others don’t want them for visibility sake.
The committee and Align Architecture and Planning, of Waterloo, had reduced the number of trees per block in half, from as many as four per block per side of the street to just two.
“Either you have some trees, or you have no trees,” Werger said, “and if you’re going to have some trees, we thought two was a good number to have on a particular block.”
Drenkow, while agreeing with Werger that trees “soften” the central business district, said he was sympathetic to the merchants’ dilemma with the possibility of trees blocking views of their storefronts.
“I would feel much more comfortable about this if we did have some kind of a meeting for the Bremer Avenue businesspeople to be able to come and see these plans and comment on whether they wanted a tree or not and be respectful of what they wanted,” Drenkow said. “I didn’t want to jam this down anybody’s throat.”
He also wondered if there would be flexibility of tree placement. Werger said the proposed locations are optimized so they don’t interfere with the streetlights, of which there are also two per block per side of the street.
Beaufore noticed that the city would pay for the project from the capital improvement fund.
“There’s probably $240,000 that could be put toward something else,” she said. “Sixty thousand dollars on planters, $30,000 on seeding. That’s a lot.
“I don’t see garbage floating around Bremer Avenue. Do we really need six of these $950 garbage cans? Our streets look really beautiful already, and they look very clean. I don’t think that spending $240,000 on this — I think it could be used somewhere else coming up in the near future.”
City Administrator James Bronner said the committee tried to affect the least amount of businesses as possible.
“In the end, there are just some businesses who just don’t want a tree in front of them, and that’s fine,” Bronner said. “If they don’t want one, we’ll see if one next to them does. We can make a shift.
“They’re not — literally — in concrete yet, if the trees are going to be there.”