Zoning change requested to build condos on former Holiday Shores property

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Since the Holiday Shores Motel was demolished in September, a banner calling for “no condos” has appeared sporadically next to the riverfront property. After months of speculation about the site, Trilogy Partners, LLC, who purchased the property in June, appeared before the McGregor Planning and Zoning Board Nov. 30 to request a zoning change in order to build condominiums at the location. (Photo by Audrey Posten)

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor

After months of speculation, Trilogy Partners, LLC, who purchased the Holiday Shores Motel property in June, appeared before the McGregor Planning and Zoning Board Nov. 30 to request a zoning change in order to build condominiums at the location.

A mainstay on the McGregor riverfront since the 1960s, the motel was demolished in early September, after being closed all summer.

The application for the zoning change classification requested that the area be changed from W1 waterfront commercial to W2 mixed use, paving the way for Trilogy Partners to construct a building for 18 condo units, stated Mike Jansen, an engineer with IIW in Dubuque. Jansen has been working with Terry Kerns and Bruce and Lois Buchheit, with Trilogy Partners, on plans for the property. The group’s third partner was not revealed at the meeting.

To date, Jansen said, he’s helped with surveying the site; looked into regulations, zoning and boundaries; and developed preliminary designs. The next steps include developing a building program, floor plans and elevations. Jansen said Trilogy Partners is aware any possible construction could not reach over 2.5 stories, or 35 feet, per the city’s zoning regulations. They also plan to  create 27 parking spaces, in accordance with regulations.

If Trilogy Partners is allowed to proceed, Jansen noted that construction would likely begin in the spring. Only a shell would be built, he said, as condo tenants would be responsible for interior build-out.

Planning and zoning board chair Larry Brummel—who is joined on the board by Neil Dodgen, Sallee Scarff-Muehlbauer, Donna Staples and Beth Regan—allowed the public, which packed city hall, to comment during the meeting.

Some residents commented on what they felt was a poor approach by Trilogy Partners, asking if the group ever had the intention of running a motel at the location, which they knew was not zoned for condominiums when it was purchased.

“We knew it needed remodeling when we bought it,” remarked Lois Buchheit of the motel, which she said was soon condemned. “We didn’t know what we could do with it. We wanted to see our options.”

Buccheit said the group was leery of constructing a new motel because it was not within their budget.

“We don’t think it will cash flow,” added Kerns.

“In this area, has anyone seen a new hotel go out of business?” questioned resident and business owner Richard Palucci. “The hotels and motels do well. I don’t know why you’re worried.”

Fellow resident and business owner Cathy Corpian said the group should not have formulated its decision by asking other area motels if they thought another motel should be constructed.

“Of course they’re going to tell you we don’t need other motels,” she said, adding that contacting the owners of the condos at Harpers Ferry would have made more sense, to see if the condos would easily sell.

Kerns said six or seven people are already interested in a unit.

“If they don’t sell, we’re still responsible for paying the property taxes on the shell,” Buccheit said.

Property taxes won’t be enough, though, remarked McGregor councilwoman Rogeta Halvorson. The city will see a piece of that, she said, but the businesses will not.

Holiday Shores generated hotel/motel tax, she said, which combined with that from other McGregor establishments, largely went to fund the McGregor-Marquette Chamber of Commerce. Without that hotel/motel tax and a place for a number of tourists to stay, the businesses will hurt.

“Each small business needs their piece,” she said. “Eighteen families aren’t going to sustain them.”

Several business owners—including bar owners Josie Davies, of Josie’s River Queen, and Bart Knight, from Pocket City Pub—said business has been down since the motel closed.

“We haven’t seen the foot traffic,” Knight commented. “[Condos] might bring in tax dollars but that’s not bringing tourists and fresh people to town. That’s what we survive on, and we need to be able to pay our taxes.”

“With motel foot traffic, you have people who go to shops and make purchases,” Corpian added. “You’re not going to see that kind of business from condo people.”

Brummel wondered if those who have condos, and don’t live in the community year-round, will be more apt to stock up on amenities before they come to McGregor.

“Then, the only thing we have is the property tax,” he said.

Buccheit said Trilogy Partners has devised a plan that would allow condo owners to live there year-round or rent the condo out when it’s not being used. It’s their alternative to a condotel, she said, and could bring in more people and possibly be a source of hotel/motel tax.

Roland Clinton, who said he was interested in a condo,  felt condo owners would bring in guests who would stay in local B&Bs. Condo owners might also choose to open businesses, he said.

“There are a lot of vacant buildings,” he said. “This is an opportunity for McGregor to step in a positive direction.”

Jim Boeke, a resident and owner of River Junction Trade Company, agreed.

“I’m all for history, but the hotel wasn’t historical. It was giving McGregor a bad rep,” he said, mentioning that a condo, with a nice facade, would better advertise the town. “We don’t need a hotel; you can’t make that thing pay.”

Boeke said River Junction is only open by appointment now, as most of his business is done online. He felt more McGregor businesses should follow that model.

“I don’t need those tourists, and a lot of you shouldn’t if you knew how to run your businesses,” he said.

The planning and zoning board members said they appreciated Trilogy Partners’ willingness to invest in the community, but felt more information and time was needed before making a decision.

“We foresaw making a change and thought about what we’d like to see there,” Dodgen said. “We were envisioning a hotel with a convention center—something everyone can use. I’m apprehensive about it because it’s a very valuable piece of land.”

“That’s the reason why we kept it as is,” said Regan, referencing the city’s decision to rezone the area by the Riverview Inn as W2 while keeping the Holiday Shores area W1. “We felt it was an opportunity for the public to access the property.”

“Zoning districts are designed to have uses that are compatible and provide for the general welfare of the community,” explained city attorney Mike Schuster. “That’s an area you decided should be retail, so the question is whether to change the district for this property. You’re stuck on whether you need additional land zoned for the purpose [of condos].”

Schuster said the board has to make a recommendation to the city council by Dec. 24. The council will then have final say on the matter.

The board scheduled another meeting for Monday, Dec. 7, at 7 a.m. They asked Trilogy Partners to submit more information about development plans, as well as other possible options for the site, for them to consider.

“We’re looking for a win-win, not a lose-lose for everyone,” Regan said.

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