Mayor and city manager report: 2017 accomplishments, 2018 goals

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By Molly Moser

Editor's note: In December 2013, after a year of collecting input from the community and extensive research, the city council approved a new comprehensive plan to guide the next 20-30 years of progress in Guttenberg. The Press checks in with Mayor Russ Loven and City Manager Denise Schneider about the fourth year of progress on the plan, and what’s to come in 2018. 


Outgoing Mayor Russ Loven sat down with City Manager Denise Schneider at the end of the year to discuss the city’s 2017 progress on comprehensive plan goals and look ahead at the coming year. He presented her with a document he created to guide a city manager in completing comprehensive plan objectives through 2020. 

The opportunities and challenges facing the city are addressed by the following nine categories of the comprehensive plan. 

Community Culture: Goals for enriching Guttenberg’s community culture included the preservation and enhancement of the history and architecture of Guttenberg, drawing tourists to support the local economy by making the city a destination, providing ample opportunities for residents to participate in the arts, and offering year-round recreational activities for residents and visitors. In 2017, the Historic Preservation Commission worked on a brochure for a walking tour of historic limestone buildings. Various improvements were made at the city’s 1930s-era city hall, including restoration of the auditorium floor and the original terrazzo floor in the hallway, stairs, and entryway of the building. Work to be done in the coming months includes fixing plaster damage, improving the front entrance, and alleviating moisture problems near windows. “Hopefully with these improvements, and the purchase of new chairs, we can encourage more community events in the auditorium,” said Schneider. 

Great River Road was widened in 2017, from the city limits north to Big Springs, which goes along with the Clayton County trail plan. An art festival in the park was hosted by Guttenberg Gallery and Creativity Center, Umbrella Arts continued its summer concert series and expanded its list of events, and two new arts-related retailers opened storefronts. Guttenberg Chamber of Commerce held its annual GermanFest, Stars and Stripes, Eagle Watch and other events, improving the quality of life for residents and attracting visitors.  In 2018, the city manager plans to continue promotion of these events and welcomes the new public art sculpture to be placed in the park. 

Housing: Priorities for housing in Guttenberg include keeping existing housing well maintained and attractive, providing adequate space and infrastructure for residential development, and ensuring affordable housing is available for all. “There’s a real need for affordable housing all around, and senior housing especially. We have the assisted living and the nursing home, and the apartments, but not necessarily senior-type non-assisted living for people that want to get out of their large homes into a smaller, maintenance-free apartment,” said the city manager. “That would hopefully open those up for families, which would help the school district.” She’s currently meeting with two developers interested in the large lot south of the municipal building, who would build either small, one-story units in a connected community or condo-type living arrangements. 

“When housing becomes available, usually someone buys it. Quite often it is out-of-towners buying for a second home, which is good for property taxes but doesn’t help the school district or employers looking for the work force. That’s one of the positive and negative things about living in a desirable place,” Loven noted. 

In 2018, the city will also apply for a housing grant to restore low to moderate income housing, and will be able to utilize leftover funds from a previous rehab grant to assist Guttenberg residents with home repairs. Those funds will be available through the Upper Explorerland Regional Planning Commission.

One housing goal in the comprehensive plan is the annexation of property into the city. Schneider has accomplished this in a previous position. “It’s a long, drawn-out process. At least 80 percent of residents in the property to be annexed have to agree to it, and you have to get approval from the state annexation board in Des Moines,” she explained. New residents would benefit from city utilities, city services and potentially higher property value, and the additional users of water and sewer would benefit the city as a whole.

Economic Development: Goals for economic development in Guttenberg include supporting a sufficient workforce by maintaining a high quality of life, facilitating thriving service and manufacturing industries as well as commercial areas downtown and along Highway 52 that provide for residents’ needs, welcoming and cultivating entrepreneurs, and promoting tourism as a main economic driver. 

“The city has the infrastructure to handle a lot of expansion, including fiber optic internet. Nationwide we are really in a good place as far as technology ability here, and our sewer and water are capable of taking on a lot more users,” said Loven. In 2018, the city plans to continue to encourage aesthetic improvements along Highway 52. Umbrella Arts is working on signage outside city limits to promote Guttenberg and the riverfront. A new Chamber of Commerce director, Mandy Ludovissy, is in place. 

“The city could also take initiative to create a corridor to downtown on Schiller Street,” the Mayor suggested, noting that signage, plantings, and sculptures could make the avenue more appealing. “We can get creative,” he said. 

Transportation: In 2017, the Canadian Pacific Railroad closed the Pryam Street crossing and repaired crossings at Schiller Street, DeKalb Street, and others, which will continue into 2018 and is scheduled to include removal of the two unused sets of tracks at the Schiller Street crossing. 

The city council approved utility terrain vehicles for use on city streets. “There’s been no feedback since it passed, so it’s obviously not as big an issue as some people thought it would be,” said the city manager. 

The Garber Road bridge replacement is ongoing, with construction scheduled to begin in 2018. The estimated project cost is $1.25 million with 80 percent funding from the federal government through IDOT. The city council is considering bids which have to be approved by the State of Iowa, and the city manager expects a three-month closure of the road in the coming year. 

Facilities and Services: With city hall restorations largely complete, the Wave of the Future campaign for a new swimming pool in Guttenberg takes the stage. A committee of dedicated volunteers has spent hours researching, developing, raising funds and raising awareness about the project. A bond referendum vote has been scheduled for March, and fund-raising will continue after that time to decrease the $2.8 million burden on taxpayers should the referendum pass. To date, just under $700,000 has been raised. 

The city manager is scheduled to meet with the cemetery sexton in early 2018 to follow up on a grave digitization project in the city cemetery. Landscaping at the library is also on the docket for 2018. 

Infrastructure and Utilities: According to the mayor, the city has been proactive in infrastructure planning, sustainability and developing a long-term vision that meets the needs of a diverse population. New generators have been put in lift stations and a new generator for the water system is being installed. The city is ahead of schedule on replacing electric poles according to the capital improvement and equipment plan. 

A wholesale power provider will be selected this month. “In 2018, we will be moving forward with plans to replace the rest of the River Park Drive water main and fire hydrants for better fire protection,” said Schneider, indicating replacements would run from Schiller Street to Koerner Street. “Then we have to replace the street, too.” The city manager also plans to pursue mitigation of stormwater leakage into the wastewater system and the rehabilitation of aging brick sewer manholes. 

Natural and Agricultural Resources: In 2017, city officials began drafting a bluff protection ordinance that will come to the council for a vote this year.  “The bluff protection ordinance would preserve the beauty of the bluff from erosion due to an unusual amount of rain, as well as prevent clear-cutting up above which leads to more erosion and less natural beauty,” said the mayor. This ordinance would also help protect Bluff Street residents from the hazard of large rocks tumbling down the bluff. 

Hazards: Other hazard mitigation action taken in 2017 includes the trimming of all trees along city streets and the placement of warnings and signal arms at additional railroad crossings. The new city manager continues to familiarize herself with the railroad hazard mitigation plan. 

Land use: In the new year, Schneider expects to explore annexation options and looks forward to a simpler codification of the city’s zoning ordinances with help from the State of Iowa. 

“The comprehensive plan has given me an idea of where the community has said they want to be or what direction they want to head in, so it’s been helpful,” said the new city manager. “Even the 1970s plan is still applicable – we’re still heading in the direction

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