Mohrfeld rolls out Jefferson Apartment project

Residents concerned about impact of project on neighborhood


FORT MADISON – A city panel approved a rezoning request Wednesday that sets the stage for a multi-unit housing project on the former Jefferson Elementary School property.
The Fort Madison Planning & Zoning commission heard comments in Council Chambers from advocates and opponents of an 80-unit, four-building complex being proposed by Michael and Jillian Mohrfeld, owners of MM Real Estate in Fort Madison.
Michael Mohrfeld said the complex will help the city keep from leaking potential residents to area communities, specifically Burlington and Keokuk.
Mohrfeld is currently involved on a multi-unit project in Keokuk, and his other Mohrfeld companies have been part of numerous projects in Burlington.
The Mohrfelds also own GreenOak Development which has built multiple housing units off Bluff Road on Woodland Heights, and the 33rd Street development.
Mohrfeld said more than a year ago he applied for a workforce housing tax credit with the state of Iowa to build homes aimed at attracting workforce to rural Iowa.
He said with the credit, the apartments will not be income restricted.
“A lot of the recent developments we’ve seen in Fort Madison have been tagged with HUD money and different things that create income restrictions that eliminate potential occupants,” he said.
“Our target goal is specific to workforce housing. Not just that but seniors, too. They will be fully ADA compliant so there will be a significant draw from the accessibility standpoint.”
The project needs Planning and Zoning approval before moving to the full City Council.
Mohrfeld said he wants to start with two buildings and then add two more as the market demands.
He said each building will be two stories with 10 units on each floor.
“We will not go above two stories and we will not go beyond 10 units per floor. That’s maximum density of this project and that’s what we’re asking for here tonight,” he said.
Parking will be mostly inside the apartment complex and off-streets, however, there will be additional public on-street parking on the north side on Avenue F.
Current designs show that about 27% of the project will be structures while the rest will be open green space landscaped. Mohrfeld said he’s also building a retention pond to help with storm water run-off.
“We are required to capture storm water on any construction project. They are required to hold the storm water they create with the construction. Our goal is create a water feature in the middle of the property where storm water would run and become aesthetically pleasing,” he said.
“This is an upscale development and we want quality amenities. I’d love to do a small gazebo, dock, things like that, maybe a fountain in the pond to continue to dress up the project.”
One question from those in attendance at the hearing was about the safety of a pond being so close to Victory Park just south of the property where kids play.
Building Director Doug Krogmeier said there are more steps in the process and if there is a plan to put water in the storm water retention area, the city will look at the security of that.
The lot measures 153,000 square feet with each building being about 10,800 square feet.
Mohrfeld said he’s seen social media chatter that said the property wasn’t big enough for the project, but he said that clearly shows there is room for the 80-unit complex on the former school property.
Morhfeld said the city is seeing temporary workforce looking for housing and those people are ‘very quickly’ making the decision to look to Burlington.
“We are losing tenants to our neighboring communities that are working for industry in our town,” he said.
“That bothers me.  We want to grow this community and this is a key component of that.”
He said Burlington currently has 18 units available per a Google search to rent, whereas Fort Madison is currently showing two.
“(Multi-unit projects) are exploding in Burlington and I can probably count on one hand the number of new, single-family homes getting built there. This is the shift that is going on in our society all the way around.”
Residents near the new project expressed concern about possible storm water issues with several already experiencing sewer backups in their basement. Krogmeier and Mohrfeld both said the project design will not add to the residents' issues, but City Manager Laura Leigois said that’s an issue that the city needs to take up in Public Works because that shouldn’t be happening, regardless of the project.
Other concerns centered around the income level of renters and whether that would be a detriment to local homeowners considering vandalism.
Trena Wildrick, who lives on Storms Court, said her main concern was vandalism.
“I lived there for 40 years and never had any problems. Never had any vandalism and that’s my main concern. When you put in the back of a letter I received, that there is no rent restrictions, to me that means low-rent housing,” she said.
“When you have that, you have difficulties.”
Mohrfeld reminded the group that the apartments, which will be called Jefferson Apartments, are not low-income and his target will be seniors and transient industrial employees.
Several residents also expressed concerns about traffic in the area with people going to and from work and tying up 24th Street specifically, which is a main artery north and south through town in that neighborhood.
Tim Gobble, Executive Director of Fort Madison Partners, spoke in favor the project saying he has spoken with plant managers in the city and one of their top five concerns is adequate housing in Fort Madison.
“This is the lack of quality housing and available rentals. A lot of things have changed in the workforce and individuals are doing short employment opportunities. Not just with hospitals, but area industries,” he said.
“They said they are always looking for those rental opportunities.”
The commission approved the rezoning of the property to multi-unit housing and will send the project to city's Board of Appeals before it goes to the City Council.

Fort Madison, Planning and Zoning, commission, panel, Iowa, Lee County, Michael Mohrfeld, housing, apartments, Jefferson Elementary, property, Victory Park, news, Pen City Current,


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