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The owners of a 400-acre farm just outside of Princeton are asking the property be annexed by the city with the long-term goal of turning it into a green business park.

The proposal comes from Paul and Marijo Anderson, who farmed the land between 1970 and 1990. He grew up there. The land currently is rented to a relative, and the Andersons live in Solon, north of Iowa City.

The annexation request for "The Anderson 400," as the couple calls it, will be the subject of a public hearing at 6 p.m. Thursday, March 8, before the Princeton City Council. Because a crowd is expected, the meeting has been moved to the Princeton Community Center at Boll's Building, 428 River Drive.

Although the eventual goal is for a green business park, Marijo Anderson wants to stress that this first hearing is just on annexation — does Princeton want to grow by 400 acres?

If it does, then what, exactly, is a green business park?

It is commercial development built according to written, environmentally friendly specifications, and one of the designated categories that the Iowa Economic Development Authority can certify as "shovel ready" for development, similar to the industrial certification the authority gave to the Eastern Iowa Industrial Center, allowing Davenport to attract companies such as Sterilite Corp. and Kraft Heinz.

The park would be marketed to regional, national or worldwide businesses seeking a regional or corporate headquarters and would be developed under specifications that include the construction of buildings to LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards, preservation of any remnant ecosystems, such as wetlands, and adherence to lighting approved by the International Dark-Sky Association.

There isn't anything like the "Anderson 400" anywhere in the Quad-Cities. The John Deere World Headquarters in Moline comes closest in appearance.

In fact, there is no certified green business park anywhere in Iowa, although  one other developer in central Iowa is seeking the certification. If all necessary conditions are met, the Anderson property could become certified in the fall of 2019, Amy Kuhlers, of the Iowa Economic Development Authority, said.

The Princeton public hearing has been moved to the community center because "anytime you're looking at (rezoning) 400 acres of ag land to C-2 (commercial) you can pretty much count on that," Tim Huey, planning and development director for Scott County, said of an anticipated crowd.

Princeton city council members told the Quad-City Times that they support annexation and the project.

"I think annexation is inevitable," Kevin Kernan, a 14-year Princeton councilman said. "If not this council, then the next council. As presented, it (the proposal) sounds pretty good."

When the Andersons went before the Scott County Planning and Development Commission in December for a request that they ultimately dropped in favor of seeking annexation to Princeton, several county residents spoke against it.

Lowered residential property values and increased traffic and flooding of a local creek were cited as concerns, according to the minutes.

At present, Princeton's boundaries encompass 1,650 acres, according to the county. For comparison, at 400 acres, the Anderson farm is about 12 times the size of Davenport's Vander Veer Park, or twice the size of Emeis Park and Golf Course.

How the green park idea originated

Since around 2000, the Andersons have been considering ideas for what might eventually happen to their land, Marijo Anderson said.

Overall, the property is not prime farmland because much of the soil is poor and there are steep hills and deep ravines. "That is not necessarily supportive of row crop farming," she said.

At the time of European settlement, Marijo Anderson said, the land was covered in trees, not prairie. The trees were cleared for farming.

For a time the Andersons considered residential development with great river views, similar to the nearby River Highlands subdivision in rural Scott County.

Around 2011, Iowa Economic Development Authority Director Debi Durham became interested in instituting a "certified site" program for the state that would identify and prepare areas as "shovel ready" for development so that when/if opportunity came knocking, there would be available options for potential companies considering an investment in Iowa, Kuhlers said.

"She had seen this work in other states and wanted to put together a program so that Iowa could compete with other states," Kuhlers said.

Around this same time, the Andersons got an idea for a green business park, an interest that that grew out of their 22 years of living in Ohio. In Columbus, they became familiar with a 50-acre business headquarters on the banks of a river, where a symphony orchestra performed on weekends.

"You could sit under the stars and listen to the symphony," Marijo Anderson said. "Not only was it the property of a large employer, but it was shared with the community. And it was beautiful."

Why not that for "the Anderson 400"?

"We are passionate about moving this land back to an environmentally sustainable state that is productive and shared with the entire community," she said.

The development would blend nature with "green" infrastructure in addition to providing jobs and increasing the tax base. Recreational trails and green space area would be open to the public.

And it would be "unlike anything in the state because of that Mississippi River view," Marijo Anderson said.

What it takes to be certified

To qualify for state certification, the Andersons must meet numerous requirements in a three-step process.

The Andersons currently are in step two, with the application due March 16. Following a site visit by IEDA representatives in May, they expect to be invited to move to step three in June. After that, the time frame calls for them to be notified of certification in 16 months, or October of 2019, Marijo Anderson said.

A starting point for certification is that a site must contain at least 50 acres, be within 15 miles of an interstate or four-lane highway, and must be able to be served by water, sewer, natural gas, electrical and telecommunications fiber service as well as a road.

The property currently is not served by city water or sewer, but Princeton has the capacity to extend it, councilman Kernan said. 

Natural gas and electricity service are not obstacles, either, as MidAmerican has gas lines and electrical easements through the property, Marijo Anderson said.

The one negative is that there is just one access from U.S. 67, and the road into the property runs along a creek that occasionally floods, Scott County's Huey said.

In addition to LEED standards for building, retention of remnant ecosystems and adherence to Dark Sky light standards, certification invokes other covenants, such as using rainwater/greywater for a portion of the project's needs, avoiding conventional irrigation and requiring the use of native vegetation.

What happens after certification?

If/when the site receives certification, it would be marketed by the state as well as Mel Foster Co., with certification lasting five years.

The Andersons are hoping for one major buyer who would be the developer. But if a buyer wants only a portion of the property, Anderson would likely act as the developer, she has said.