It is a "sleep-losing issue."
That's how Storm Lake City Councilwoman Julie Egland described the decision to sell 3.39 acres of public-owned, lake-view land on the west side of the golf course to create a condominium development as part of Project AWAYSIS.
The council voted 5-0 to set a public hearing that would be the first step in selling the property, but not without some soul-searching.
While reasons to sell the property are compelling, Councilman Denny Vaudt said, even a few acres of the public's land is not to be given up lightly. The community's forefathers had great foresight in setting aside so much lakefront land for public uses, he said. "It wasn't easy to take a few trees out, either."
Councilmembers pointed out that the city needs the housing and the future property tax revenue - not to mention the estimated $1 million that the city estimates it will make off the sale of the land to offset the costs of building AWAYSIS.
"It is simply a business decision," Mayor Jon Kruse said, "but it's hard to keep the emotion out of it."
The plan calls for a minimum of 30 new condo units in three buildings at the current site of the #3 fairway, overlooking the lake from the ridge that was the original high-water line. The city hopes to see all the units built by May of 2008.
Currently, local officials prefer to sell the land over leasing it long-term. Kruse said that such a lease could lock the city into situations it may not want to be in 50 or even 100 years from now, and since Iowans are generally used to owning the land under a home they buy, city officials fear that a lease option could decrease asking process for the condos.
"Selling public land would only be considered in an extraordinary circumstance," said Mike Wilson, director of Project AWAYSIS.
"In the interest of the greater good, it seems like a reasonable trade-off in order to get AWAYSIS built."
No one spoke against the sale. The unanimous vote sets a public hearing on the proposed land sale for April 3 at 5 p.m. in city hall. After that, action could be taken.
Wilson said the property, overlooking a lake on one side and the soon-to-be-renovated golf course on the other, is so totally unique that it is hard to establish the value of the land. If 30 units were built, the city's estimated asking price would break down to $33,000 for land alone per condo unit.
Kruse said that there is demand for such housing, as all condo units in the city are currently full. Wilson added that he has already spoken to five contractors about potentially bidding, and said he has a list of 30 total to target for the project.
Given the slightly crescent-shaped area of land hugging the ridge - 775 feet frontage with 914 feet on the golf course side and a depth of 170 feet, the chosen contractor could adjust building layout as desired within the space - as long as they meet city codes and the new Gateway East standards designed to help the area be a complement to the AWAYSIS lodge. More than three buildings could be built, and more than 30 units. The maximum height allowed for the area is 55 feet - probably meaning a complex could go no higher than four stories. There has been some discussion of a below-level first story in order to provide for a walk-out on the west, in the area where a little-used skating rink was located in past years.
The city will reserve the right to reject any or all bids or plans from contractors, however, if council members feel they would not be appropriate. The city also expects to have some influence over the look of the buildings.
Council members sought to justify the sale, noting that Project AWAYSIS has added more land to the public parks system than the condos would take away - including the Harbor House site purchase by the city to make way for the lodge, and additional land being added to the other side of the golf course to make way for the redesign.
Councilmember Jim Treat said that the land proposed for sale was never a prime recreation area, and Vaudt said that he feels the construction can help to further stimulate the Storm Lake housing market.
The Parks Advisory Board is scheduled to meet this week on the issue, and is expected to bring a recommendation to the council prior to a final determination by the city.
The fact is that the city may have relatively little choice. Development of the condo area was included in the application plan for Vision Iowa, which resulted in the multi-million-dollar grant that is helping to build the AWAYSIS project already underway.
"I am a big believer in public ownership of land," Mayor Kruse said, "but there are times and places when public ownership is not the best use... and we have to look to the greater good."
Again, Egland captured the mood in a few words.
"We need to grow," she said.