PRINCETON, Iowa — From atop one of the highest points of the Anderson 400 near here, Marijo Anderson not only can see the entire Mississippi River valley but has a clear vision of the family farm's future as a business park.
After a rigorous process that began nearly three years ago, the Anderson 400 Green Business Park is on the verge of becoming Iowa's second certified green business park.
"With a green business park all this has to stay... it protects the natural beauty," Anderson said as she looked over the rolling hills and pasture of the 400-acre farm. "We want to return this to the best and highest use."
For Anderson, who is the driving force behind the project with her husband, Paul, the real finish line will be when a major corporation selects the site's park-like setting to build a new environmentally-friendly development that lives up to the project's mantra "Restored, Productive, Sustainable and Shared."
Preparing the site for a new chapter has been a maze of political steps and governmental approvals for Anderson, who began the journey at Scott County to rezone 350 acres of the property out of Ag Preservation. She soon learned of Iowa's site certification program and the green park designation from Debi Durham, director of the Iowa Economic Development Authority, or IEDA. The project then became part of Round Two of the state's three-step certification process, which eventually led to a months-long process to annex the ground into Princeton and zone it as a Green Business Park, a brand new Iowa zoning category that their project helped create.
"The green site certification was a God wink," Anderson said, adding the program's environmentally sustainable requirements matched up to the family's goals.
In a certified green business park, the commercial development must adhere to certain criteria including creating an environmental buffer, which will protect the farm's two existing creek beds and various ecosystems. It also will keep a buyer from removing the hilly terrain. Green parks also require other eco-friendly specifications including building to LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards, constructing trails for bike and pedestrians as well as exterior lighting standards.
The state's first green business park certification was awarded to the Woodward Eco Business Park last August. The green certification — a program Iowa launched in 2015 — will tell any prospects that the site is shovel-ready, meaning there won't be much red tape for a company ready to build.
"We're not waiting (to market it.) We never have been waiting," Anderson said.
The site already is listed through the Quad-City First website on LOIS, a national online location-analysis tool. Once it is certified, the state will begin marketing it. Dan Schneckloth, a Realtor with Mel Foster Co., also is marketing the site for the Andersons.
"My vision has always been for one buyer, one corporation," Anderson said, adding she plans to aggressively market it to Fortune 500 companies. However, among the planning documents is a site proposal for multiple buyers and developments.
To earn the designation, the Andersons have worked diligently with their architecture engineering firm Shive-Hattery, which provided the expertise and skill set to complete dozens of required studies to create a certification manual. The 62-pound document — large enough to fill a two-volume binder that Anderson carries along in her travels — includes topographical maps, property assessments, land surveys, various agencies' approvals and letters, as well as other site documentation.
"Any time you get a green site there's a lot of studies you have to do," said Marti Ahlgren, a project manager with Shive-Hattery.
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She said the certification process required everything from archaeological and historical studies to a wetlands inventory, soil surveys, endangered species reports, other environmental studies, land covenants and more.
"The Andersons have just done so much of the due diligence," Ahlgren said. "The idea is to eliminate the surprises for the buyer."
Marijo Anderson said the work "probably saved two years of studies and expense for a potential buyer."
The process took the Andersons deep into the history of their property, a timberland 120 years ago. The review also revealed a historical significance to an old red clay tile hog house built circa 1915. The architecture is an example of German carpentry and concrete construction.
"When it was full of hogs, Paul was not thinking it was so unique," Anderson joked of her husband, who farmed the ground nearly 20 years with his father until he and Marjio Anderson moved to Ohio.
Algren said there is no requirement to keep the building, but the Andersons have decided to spare it from demolition in case the new buyer wants to incorporate it in the business park. All the other buildings will be demolished, including a building found to have begun life as a house built by a LeClaire riverboat captain for his daughter.
For the six Anderson siblings, the memories are strong of growing up on the farm with their parents, Harold and Margaret Anderson, who died in November 2014 and March 2013, respectively.
Today, the front 50 acres of the Anderson 400 are owned by Paul and Marijo Anderson, of Solon, Iowa. He now is a homebuilder and developer. She was a project management consultant in the health care field for 30 years. The remaining 350 acres are owned by the Anderson Family Trust, which represents Paul Anderson and his five sisters.
One of the sisters, Krista Anderson Link, of Minneapolis, recalls how all six kids "each had our jobs on the farm.
"We had to bail hay, walk the bean fields pulling weeds. We trucked all over the hills growing up. We'd get on our horses in the morning and not come back until supper time."
Link, now a nurse, is thrilled that others will see the farm's beauty. "It will be wonderful if the dream comes true and we're able to restore it and sustain it," she said, crediting her sister-in-law's hard work.
Marijo Anderson said the site could have easily been converted into a housing development with high-end houses. "But then only 30 people would get to enjoy these vistas."
The project drew inspiration from other business parks elsewhere in the country, including Ohio and Texas. She recalled how when she and her husband lived in Dublin, Ohio, they regularly would attend concerts under the stars, days in the park and other activities on the Chemical Abstracts Services' world headquarters in Columbus, north of the Ohio State campus.
"I truly can see that (land) someday being used as a business park, but on the weekends people could come out and bring their bikes and go on the trails and enjoy the beauty the farm always had," said Link, her sister-in-law. "I know my Mom and Dad would be very proud and happy to see this."