City talks nursing home, parking
With Iola City Council members rejecting overtures from a developer in February to convert an old nursing home into an apartment complex here, the fate of the empty, crumbling building shouldn’t be neglected, one Council member said.
Councilwoman Nancy Ford, who lives near the old Iola Nursing Center on North Walnut Street, said the building is falling further into a state of disrepair, and meets many of the same criteria as condemned homes the city has ordered demolished.
“It’s time we roll on it,” Ford said Monday.
Any costs to the city to have the building demolished should be recouped by the property’s owners, Ford continued.
“They should pay for it,” she said. “We shouldn’t have to.”
Councilman Aaron Franklin noted he was absent from the Council’s Feb. 25 meeting, during which the Council voted, 6-0, to reject a zoning application necessary to convert the facility into an apartment complex.
“I understand the blight that property causes on the community,” Franklin said. “I’m sorry I wasn’t in on the conversation. It seems odd we’re going from shutting down somebody who wants to invest in a property to tearing it down.”
Iola budgets $15,000 annually for property demolition, Franklin continued, while tearing down the old nursing home likely would cost in excess of $100,000.
“Where’s the money going to come from?” he asked.
“It’s going to come from the owners,” Ford replied.
“This is a tricky subject,” Mayor Jon Wells interjected. “Do we have to front the money or sue the company? Put it on the tax rolls?”
Wells said the options facing the city should be investigated further before a decision is made.
THE COUNCIL ALSO said they’ll look closer at Iola’s downtown parking rules.
The city has fielded concerns regarding tenants renting downtown apartments who have been cited for vehicles left parked along the square after hours. The city forbids any such parking from 2 a.m. to 6 a.m.
Donna Houser asked if the ordinance could be relaxed for those living downtown.
Houser said she was acting on behalf of apartment owners to approach the Council.
Perhaps the city could issue special permits for short-term apartment occupants, she suggested.
Wells said fairness must be considered, adding that street crews like to have the streets clear overnight for street sweepers, or when necessary, snow removal.
“What’s on the face seems simple, can suddenly become very complex,” Wells said.
THE COUNCIL expressed its approval for SAFE BASE to skip pumpkin planting this year at the Wayne Garrett Children’s Garden and Pumpkin Patch along Lincoln Street.
Squash bugs became more than a nuisance at the pumpkin patch last year, SAFE BASE director Angela Henry said.
Gardening experts encouraged SAFE BASE to plant something else in the patch this year, so the students will shift their focus on planting flowers in 2019.
The flowers will be harvested and sold at the weekly Allen County Farmers Market, which runs April through October.
Henry gave a brief synopsis of SAFE BASE’s history. The 19-year-old program is the second-oldest after-school program in the state, she noted.
She touched on the services SAFE BASE has provided through the years, particularly educational enrichment activities.
Since its inception, SAFE BASE has brought in nearly $14 million in grants and donations, Henry said.
Much of the program’s success, she continued, was due to USD 257’s partnership with the city.
In 2016, Council members agreed to support SAFE BASE, to the tune of $5,000 annually, through 2020. That, in turn, led to SAFE BASE attracting a $360,000 operations grant, Henry said.
“You have my full blessing,” Councilman Gene Myrick told Henry. “I know what you do, and how you’ve enlightened a number of kids’ lives.”
IN A RELATED matter, Council members said they were eager to collaborate with Thrive Allen County to determine alternative uses for empty lots, mostly on the south edge of town.
The city owns more than 130 lots in South Iola, most of which were vacated following the 2007 flood.
Because that land remains in a flood zone, the city is limited in what can be placed there.
As a result, Iola spends more than $11,000 annually to have those empty lots mowed.
City Administrator Sid Fleming said the city approached Thrive Allen County about finding other uses for the property. Thrive officials agreed to spearhead efforts to seek grants to assist with such a conversion.
Among the suggested uses were a butterfly garden, a space for native grasses or beekeeping area, plus potential outdoor classrooms for science students.
Myrick asked if land could be leased for haying. It could not, City Clerk Roxanne Hutton said.
THE COUNCIL voted, 7-0, to purchase a new Toshiba copier for the utilities office. The machine replaces an 11-year old Konica, Hutton said.
Council members accepted a bid from Copy Products, Inc., for $4,895, the lowest of four.