Bluffs medians

Traffic moves along West Broadway near 27th Street as renovations continue on Wednesday. The Council Bluffs City Council will reconsider medians as part of the West Broadway Reconstruction Project.

COUNCIL BLUFFS — The debate over adding medians to the remaining three phases of the West Broadway renovation project is threatening to stymie development of a new Starbucks location at North 26th Street and West Broadway.

Council Bluffs attorney Deborah Petersen said in an email to City Council members on Monday, “If medians are approved, the construction and lease to Starbucks will not move forward.”

Petersen represents Council Bluffs X LLC, a company she said that recently “invested in the community” by investing well over half a million dollars to acquire and conduct due diligence on the property at 26th and West Broadway.

“During their due diligence period, they worked directly with the project designers at HGM Associates as well as consulting with city staff on the project details,” she said in an email.

“They were assured by the city there were no medians in the project at all. There were no medians that would affect the intended business to be located at 26th and West Broadway.”

“Will medians be built as part of the project? While medians were components of the master plan, on March 13, 2017, the Council Bluffs City Council passed a resolution to amend the master plan to eliminate all medians.”

Based on that information and comments from officials at HGM Associates and City Engineer Matt Cox, “Council Bluffs X proceeded to close on the property and implement plans to build a new Starbucks location at that site. Once this matter (medians) rose back to the surface, they were shocked to learn of the possibility of medians including one that would prohibit left-hand turns at 26th Street.”

Petersen said her clients have indicated that the inability to access Starbucks from 26th Street via a left turn off West Broadway “will likely kill this project.”

Petersen added that “it will certainly result in substantial losses for Council Bluffs X, due to their justified detrimental reliance on the representations of the city, their staff and their design firm.”

Efforts to reach Councilwoman Sharon White, who requested that a discussion of adding medians to the remaining three phases of the West Broadway improvement project be added to the agenda for the council’s Nov. 26 meeting, were unsuccessful.

In March 2017, council members Roger Sandau, Melissa Head and Al Ringgenberg, who subsequently lost his bid for another term on the council, voted to remove medians from the West Broadway project. Council members White and Nate Watson voted to retain the plan to include medians.

Mayor Matt Walsh, who said he had not seen Petersen’s email to City Council members, and the chairman of the Iowa West Foundation board, which is providing funding for beautification projects along the West Broadway corridor, favored the medians included in the original plan.

Walsh said studies conducted in eight states offered virtually identical results when they researched the impact of medians on commercial businesses.

“Business dropped during construction, but post-construction returned to normal based on sales tax revenue,” Walsh said. He added that one business category for which medians were detrimental or did not improve business was “non-durable goods.”

The mayor said Starbucks would likely be seen as offering non-durable goods.

Walsh was asked if the city would consider the possibility of installing traffic signals at the intersection of 26th and West Broadway that would allow left turns for eastbound traffic. He responded, “I don’t think we would have any interest in putting signals at 26th Street.”

“Due to the manner in which this issue was raised, it was impossible for Council Bluffs X to know anything about the potential inclusion of medians which make the property not viable for any national retailer of this quality,” Petersen said.

“As certain council members have said in the past, property owners have an investment in their property and they should be entitled to rely on the city regulations on property and the surrounding area,” she said. “That is what Council Bluffs X did and now that could be to their detriment.”

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