Iowa City reaffirms homeowners association is responsible for stormwater management

After many complaints from residents of Olde Towne Village about the state of the wetland area where the management facility resides, the city hired MMS Consulting to pursue management alternatives.


Jeff Sigmund

Marsh and watershed tied to Olde Towne Village, Westbury and Glastonbury St..As seen on Tuesday, Oct.6, 2020.

Brian Grace, News Reporter

Although the City of Iowa City has reaffirmed its position that the city is not responsible for maintenance of the stormwater management facility located in the Olde Towne Village subdivision, it continues to receive complaints from residents about the system that the appearance of the wetland is an “eyesore and nuisance.”

The city hired MMS Consulting earlier this year to assist the neighborhood’s homeowners association in finding stormwater management alternatives.

City Manager Geoff Fruin said in a memo sent to the Iowa City City Council on Sept. 22 that staff has continued to receive complaints from the association and residents of the area regarding the state of the wetland area where the stormwater management facility resides.

He said in the agreement with the Olde Towne Village subdivision, it explicitly states that the city has no obligation to maintain the facility.

“It remains the staff’s position that the City has no responsibility for the maintenance, or potential reconstruction, of the stormwater management facility,” Fruin said in the memo. “However, we hope that through our efforts to resolve the wetland permit and create alternative stormwater management options that the Homeowners Association and the Commercial Owners Association will be able to come together and determine their best path forward.”

According to the memo, the 33-acre piece of land sits on the eastern edge of Iowa City, located south of Rochester Avenue, east of Scott Boulevard, and north of Lower West Branch Road.

Fruin said in the memo that in an effort to address the issue, the city hired, at their expense, the original designer of the stormwater management facility, MMS Consultants, earlier in the year to look at alternative options to stormwater management for the homeowners association.

He said specific costs and alternatives will be presented later in the year.

“We are in the process of right now working with an engineering firm to come up with some alternatives that the homeowners association can consider as they look how to best move forward,” Fruin said in a phone interview. “Those options aren’t quite finalized yet but once we get a few of those options we’ll present those to the homeowners association in hopes that they pursue whatever action they think is best for their neighborhood.”

Fruin said that ownership of the facility by a homeowners association is typical for subdivisions in Iowa City like Olde Towne Village.

“We continue to monitor the stormwater function of that detention basin, which is primarily our responsibility to make sure that the stormwater is being handled appropriately,” Fruin said. “The facility, like it is in many other neighborhoods, is owned by the association, so your homeowners association owns that, and the general maintenance outside of the stormwater infrastructure falls to that homeowners association.”

Senior City Engineer Ben Clark said the area had to undergo wetland mitigation when residential and commercial buildings were first being developed on the property. He said some of the complaints he knew about came from people who were dissatisfied with the wetland appearance.

“They’ve complained that, you know, we need to maintain it,” Clark said. “Some people don’t like the way it looks, some people like the way it looks. Some people appreciate wetlands and the animals and plants and wildlife associated with that, some people don’t really care for that look.”

City Engineer Jason Havel said the city is focused primarily on ensuring that water detention basins like the one in Olde Towne Village do not malfunction and cause flooding that could cause damage to public property.

“We do have detention basins throughout the city that are maintained by private HOA’s and a lot of times if it’d done correctly and done over time, they’re typically not a huge burden as far as maintenance,” Havel said. “Obviously this one’s a little more complicated, there’s a little backstory that goes with it. So, it’s a little challenging but I think the city’s position has remained consistent.”

Fruin said the memo to the city council was meant to update members on the interaction between the city and the homeowners association and that there is no upcoming council action on the matter.