SF430 creating the Iowa Public Information Board is sent to Governor

SF430 was passed by the Senate last week and sent to the Governor yesterday.  It creates the Iowa Public Information Board as a new entity to investigate and enforce Iowa’s Open Meetings and Open Records Laws.  It allows the Board to facilitate a mediation and settlement process when a complainant and government entity cannot agree on whether a violation of either act has occurred, and creates an alternative complaint and enforcement proceeding to be adjudicated by the Board if mediation fails or is refused.  The Board will consist of nine members appointed by the Governor.  The Board will be given the authority to hire one staff person, an attorney, to act as Executive Director.

Flood mitigation program sent to Governor

SF 2217 passed both houses, and was sent to the Governor Monday for his signature.  It establishes a flood mitigation program and a flood mitigation board to review proposed flood mitigation projects and authorize funding for approved projects. The bill also establishes two funding sources, a Flood Mitigation Fund and a Sales Tax Increment Fund, to provide funding for flood mitigation projects. The Flood Mitigation Fund will consist of appropriations and other moneys. The Sales Tax increment Fund will receive deposits of increased sales tax revenues from impacted areas, as calculated by the Department of Revenue. The Flood Mitigation Board will determine the funding source and amounts allocated to applicants for approved projects.

The Legislative Services Agency provides a more detailed description of the bill in its fiscal analysis, found here.

More bills, little movement

The first funnel deadline is rapidly approaching, but little action has taken place on any of the bills – other than commercial property taxes – that we have been following.  Some more recently introduced bills of interest include:

HF 2221 allows an assessor to assign more than one classification to a mixed use parcel of property, and specifically allows a residential classification for a portion of a building used as a residence that is situated on stories above the ground floor and a proportionate share of the land upon which the building or structure is situated, even if the residence is not the primary use of the building or structure, so long as the building or structure consists of three or fewer stories and not less than 75 percent of the structural components of the building or structure are more than 30 years old.

HF 2179 clarifies the filing requirements for petitions to the city development board involving involuntary city development action by specifying that a petition for incorporation must be filed with the city development board by 5 percent of registered voters of a territory involved in the proposal, and a petition for discontinuance or boundary adjustment must be filed with the city development board by 5 percent of the residents of the city.  Current law allowing petitions for incorporation, discontinuance, or boundary adjustments to also be filed by a city council, a county board of supervisors, or a regional planning authority involved in the proposal remains in place.

HF 2254 modifies eminent domain. It would prohibit the removal of a property from the state historic register solely for the purposes of allowing it to be condemned, unless it is the Iowa DOT that is proposing to condemn.  Properties on the state historic register could only be condemned after a 2/3 affirmative vote in both the Iowa House and Senate, and approval by the governor.  The bill would also tighten the use of condemnation for lake projects in a number of ways, including requiring more extensive engineering studies, and a requirement that the condemning agency offer the property for sale back to the original owner after 2 years from date of condemnation if construction on the lake has not “progressed substantially.” The bill would also remove the authority of the Environmental Protection Commission and the DNR to use eminent domain to acquire recreational lands.

HF 2262 – another eminent domain bill, would prohibit the condemnation of property designated as native prairie or as a protected wetland by the DNR, or property established as a forest reservation or a fruit-tree reservation except after a 2/3 affirmative vote in both the Iowa House and Senate, and approval by the governor.

SF 2152 amends a provision enacted in SF 321 during the 2011 legislative session which authorizes the DNR to adopt standards for the disposal of wastewater from an on-farm processing operation which processes commodities into food such as a dairy, creamery, winery, distillery, cannery, bakery, or meat or poultry processor. Iowa Code 455B.172A currently provides that wastewater originating from the operation may be applied on land if a number of requirements are satisfied. The bill eliminates the requirement that the wastewater be land-applied by a person licensed by the department to dispose of sewage pursuant to Code section 455B.172(5).

Bill modifying special assessment practices introduced

We have had several cases recently addressing the proper considerations for calculating special assessments (case summaries can be found here and here and here).  HF 2178 if passed, will change/clarify the calculation of special assessments by cities, counties and sanitary districts in a number of ways.  The major elements of the bill include:

Prior to the adoption of a preliminary resolution related to a public improvement, a city must adopt an ordinance setting forth the method to be used in determining the amount of “individual benefit,” “district benefit,” and “community benefit” projected to result from the public improvement and a description of the manner in which the cost of the public improvement will be allocated to each category of benefit. 

The bill requires that 30 days’ notice be published prior to adoption of the preliminary resolution related to a public improvement, and requires the preliminary resolution to contain a detailed description of the method laid out in the ordinance, an estimate of the amount of individual benefit,  district benefit, and community benefit that will be conferred as a result of the public improvement, and the proportion of the total cost of the public improvement which the council proposes to assess against property within the special assessment district.

The bill adds definitions for “community benefit”, “district benefit”, and “individual benefit”, and adds storm water management intakes, sewers, and facilities and traffic-control devices, fixtures, connections, and facilities to the definition of “street improvement.”

All of the following public improvements are presumed to confer an individual benefit on a lot within a district:

a. A public improvement that benefits, serves, or that is intended for use by only one lot, unless such public improvement is replacing an existing public improvement of acceptable or working quality and is required as a result of  work on or repair of another public improvement that does not benefit, serve, or that is not intended for use by only that lot. 

b. A sidewalk upon a lot that is single-family residential property located along the frontage of the lot not to exceed four feet in width at a standard thickness.

c. A sidewalk on a lot that is commercial property or multifamily residential property located along the street frontage of the lot not to exceed six feet in width at a standard thickness.

d. Underground gas, water, heating, sanitary sewer, storm sewer, and electrical connections and accessories located in a public street right-of-way and that serve only the lot.

All of the following public improvements are presumed to confer a community benefit:

a. A public improvement or part of a public improvement that is intended for use by or intended to serve lots outside the district.

b. A sidewalk or recreational trail, or part thereof, that is part of a community-wide public recreational trail system.

c. The portion of a sidewalk that exceeds the portion of the sidewalk presumed to be an individual benefit

d. The planning, legal, administrative, and inspection costs, including city employee salary costs, associated with a public improvement that is paid for in part by special assessments.

The bill amends the definition of “district” to mean “the lots or parts of lots within boundaries of a geographic area established by the council for the purpose of the assessment of all or part of the cost of a public improvement that is intended in whole or in part to provide an individual benefit to such lots or parts of lots.”

The bill specifies that the total cost of a public improvement, except for certain paving near railroad tracks or improvements to be otherwise paid, may be assessed against all lots within the assessment district to the extent of the individual benefits conferred upon the property, and states that the portion of the total cost of a public improvement that is not assessed to individual lots as the result of individual benefits is attributable to the community benefit and shall be paid by the city. The bill allows a property owner to divide property that is subject to a special assessment into two or more lots for the purpose of separating improved portions of the land from those portions of the land which are unimproved or used for agricultural purposes. 

The bill designates certain public improvements that are presumed to confer an individual benefit and designates certain public improvements that are presumed to confer a community benefit. Under the bill, the planning, legal, administrative, and inspection costs, including city employee salary costs, associated with a public improvement that is paid for in part by special assessments may not be assessed to individual lots within a district and shall instead be paid by the city as a community benefit. 
The bill requires each city undertaking a street improvement paid for in whole or in part by a special assessment to complete a vehicle traffic analysis and forecast for the location of the proposed street improvement.  The traffic study must estimate future traffic generated by the lots in the district, and traffic generated by sources other than the lots within the district, based on the type of street being analyzed, completion of the public improvement, full development of the district, and future planned land use within the district. The individual benefit accruing to each lot within the district as the result of the street improvement shall not exceed the percentage of the total benefit from the street improvement that is proportionate to the lot’s forecasted amount of traffic generated

More new bills introduced

SF 2047 would amend Iowa Code 303.34(3)  to allow a city with an historic preservation commission to appoint one member to the commission who is not a city resident or property owner if that member meets certain professional qualification standards defined by rule by the department of cultural affairs.

HSB 536 would amend Iowa Code 68B.22(4), commonly known as the gift law.  The gift law includes a list of exceptions that makes an otherwise impermissible gift permissible.  Currently, one of the exceptions is for food, beverages,  registration, travel, and lodging for a meeting, which is given  in return for participation in a panel or a speaking engagement at the meeting when the expenses relate directly to the day or days on which the donee has participation or presentation responsibilities. The bill would limit the exception to situations where the public official is an actual speaker, not merely a participant.  The bill would also limit the definition of “entertainment” in another exception so that it does not include “admission to a sporting event, concert, theatrical performance, or other similar type of event or performance….”

SSB 3089 would add a new section to Iowa Code 364.17 that would allow a city to adopt housing code provisions related to sprinkler systems in rental housing. Any such housing code provisions could only apply to newly constructed rental units or substantially renovated rental units. The bill states that “substantially renovated” means renovations that include repairs or improvements to more than 50 percent of the rental unit.

SSB 3090 would create an amendment to Iowa Code 414.1 allowing a city to regulate and restrict the occupancy of residential rental property on the basis of square footage, but disallowing ordinances that regulate the occupancy  of residential rental property based upon the familial or nonfamilial relationships of occupants, presumably in response to the Ames Rental Property Association v. City of Ames (link to summary here) case decided by the Iowa Supreme Court in 2007.

SSB 3091 would rename the Iowa Geological and Water Survey as the Sandrock Center for Land and Water Science.  It would make the director a gubernatorial appointee, rather than an appointee of the director of the DNR as it now stands.  the Sandrock Center is to be located in or near to Iowa City, and the University of Iowa shall cooperate with the director of the center to provide office space and staffing assistance.

New legislative session. Commercial property taxes, TIF will dominate.

A quick rundown of the bills introduced thus far that have some relevance to planning.  If anyone is aware of others that I may have overlooked please comment below.

HF 20 – Exempts from lining requirements sanitary landfills that accept only construction and demolition waste.

HF 507 – Exempts municipal housing projects from “sanitary and building laws, ordinances, and regulations, including any inspections resulting from such laws, ordinances, and regulations, applicable to the locality in which the project is situated”

HF 613 – restricts the ability of cities and counties to adopt and enforce ordinances which distinguish between persons living in owner-occupied housing and persons living in rental properties, or which distinguishes residential property based on whether it is owner-occupied or leased.

HF 690 – allows a city or county to exempt vacant commercial property (‘vacant’ for at least the six months prior to the adoption of the exemption) from commercial property taxes if the property regularly attracts unauthorized use, is declining in assessed value, or is determined to be a nuisance.

HF 2051 – adds fish to list of animals considered by confinement feeding operations regulations, but also allows a person who exclusively confines fish as part of a confinement feeding operation to elect to comply with the state’s general permitting requirements pertaining to water quality instead of the confined feeding operations regulations.

HSB 500, HF 671, HSB 519 (the Governor’s proposal) all address commercial property tax reform, but in different ways.

HSB 540 – is a comprehensive revision of urban renewal law and TIF.  It is 80 pages long.  What I see in a quick review includes a prohibition against creating any new urban renewal districts after the enactment of the bill.  Chapter 403 would be replaced by new chapter 402, and new ‘project development plans’ would take the place of urban renewal plans.  All existing districts, except for those with a 20-year expiration, would expire June 30, 2023.  New chapter 402 makes some significant changes to TIF, which I will need to detail in a later post.

SF 2014 – allows the DOT or a county to alter, change or deepen a watercourse to reduce flooding without falling under DNR statutes and rules.  Allows use of eminent domain for this purpose.

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