From housing developments to corporate expansions to a new city manager to portable speed cameras, there are several new things happening in Norwalk.
Norwalk City Council members this summer hired Marketa George Oliver as Norwalk’s first city manager. Previously, Mark Miller had served as the city administrator until he retired in June.
Council members earlier this year changed the city management structure from a city administrator position to a city manager position, which operates more independently from the council.
Oliver started her new job on July 23. She says she’s trying to sell her house in Windsor Heights, where she served as the city administrator, so she can move to Norwalk.
Oliver says she was drawn to the Norwalk position because of its structure as a city manager role, and because of the growth in Norwalk and its location within the Des Moines metro area.
“When I met with the council members, I liked them in that they have a great vision for the city,” she says. “That’s exciting in working on projects and with big-picture thinkers. Even before I applied to the job, I went down to Norwalk to just drive around and talk to people and see what the community was like.”
Oliver says every person she talked to in the community told her that Norwalk was a great community and place to live.
City Clerk Jeff Rosien says the city received about 90 applications for the city administrator position. City Council members hired Brimeyer Fursman LLC, an executive search and consulting firm, to narrow the field of applicants to 12. Council members then narrowed the field to five applicants who were interviewed. Oliver was among those who were interviewed.
Oliver had worked for the past 11 years as the Windsor Heights city administrator. Prior to that, she worked in a city management position for 10 years in Yakima, Wash. She has a bachelor’s degree and a master’s in public administration from Drake University.
Boosting economic development, city image
Oliver says one of the things she’s already working on is expanding economic development opportunities for the city. She’s learning who the key partners are in the community and what land is available for development opportunities. She plans to work with the council to strike a better balance between the amount of commercial and residential development that occurs within Norwalk.
Oliver acknowledges that some within the Des Moines area view Norwalk as a bedroom community. This is a perception she wants to change. She wants to bring more commercial businesses to Norwalk “so people don’t have to go outside of the community to purchase what they need.” Part of that will be to boost the image of Norwalk through marketing efforts and social media outreach.
“Sometimes you just have to put Norwalk in front of people and do a better job of marketing the community to them,” Oliver says. “I think there’s a misperception that Norwalk is far away, and my goal is to get rid of that misperception.”
Residential development returns
City Planner Mike Johnson says development is starting to pick up in Norwalk.
Grading is under way for 20 single-family lots in the Orchard Hill subdivision, located in the southwest area of Norwalk. The project is expected to be completed this fall.
This is developer Diligent Development’s first project in Norwalk, Johnson says. The company also has received City Council approval to begin work on another plat.
“There’s definitely a lot more activity,” Johnson says. “This is the first new residential plat we’ve opened up in four years with new streets and everything.”
Prior to Diligent Development’s project, he says developers mainly stuff with infill residential construction.
In addition, Johnson says city officials have received more “cold calls” inquiring about development opportunities, both residential and commercial, in Norwalk.
“A lot of developers are doing fact-finding,” he says. “They’re putting feelers out to see what kind of inventory is available, what’s platted, what’s zoned, what lots are available.”
City officials this year created Colonial Parkway east of Iowa Highway 28 across from Holmes Chevrolet as part of the new Capital City Fruit project. City officials received a $900,000 grant from the Iowa Department of Transportation to pay for the project, Johnson says.
Capital City Fruit, a family-owned regional produce distribution center, announced last year it would remain in Norwalk and build a larger warehouse instead of relocating elsewhere. The project is about 80 percent complete and is valued at $11.4 million, according to information provided by the city.
City, school officials continue collaboration efforts
Norwalk city and school officials recently became one of the only governments in the Des Moines metro area — if not the only — to build a joint facility and to share an employee in an effort to save money, metro area officials say.
Oliver says that’s one of the things she liked about the job in Norwalk: the collaboration between the school district, city hall and the chamber of commerce.
“It’s a really strong relationship and all of the things they’ve accomplished together,” she says.
Last year the city and school district opened a joint bus garage and public works building. This year, officials have begun collaboration in the area of technology.
The two have joined to have a fiber optic cable installed underground along the stretch of North Avenue between the high school and the city’s public safety building, which also serves as the district’s bus barn. The line also connects to the city library and City Hall and to the water tower located west of Norwalk. Additionally, the city will tap into some of the cable the district also has near the Public Safety building along Highway 28.
Tim Geyer, the district’s technology director, also is serving in the same capacity for the city of Norwalk. Geyer says he hopes this collaboration will create a joint city-wide technology system that will benefit both the district and the city and save taxpayers’ money.
The fiber optic project is being paid for by the city. Putting Geyer in charge of technology for both the district and the city will allow the two to “consolidate costs as time goes on,” he says.
For example, the district and city currently have independent Internet connections and servers. Through collaboration, they will join together to share IT costs and purchase a shared server and other equipment that will allow them to save money, Geyer says.
Oliver says the city, school and chamber officials meet each quarter to discuss ways to collaborate.
“I can see us building on this and possibly doing all different kinds of things,” she says. “Maybe we get better purchasing power by joint purchasing.”
She says there also could be opportunities to collaborate through recreation and after-school programs.
City police to consider speed cameras; department joins Westcom Dispatch
Police Chief Ed Kuhl says his department is currently working with the company Gatso to study whether to bring portable speed detection cameras to Norwalk.
The City Council previously turned down the idea of installing red light cameras along areas of Iowa Highway 28 but told Kuhl to bring them more data on speed cameras including traffic counts, the number of violations and when they mostly occur.
“From that we’ll determine the viability of mobile cameras,” Kuhl says.
The police department has previously done some monitoring and last year set up a camera and conducted a one-day traffic study on one lane of Highway 5. Of the 2,147 vehicles that traveled eastbound on the 65-mile-per-hour stretch, 1,123 were speeding by 11 miles or more over the limit.
In the second traffic study conducted on one lane of Highway 28 at Beardsley, 5,481 vehicles traveled northbound and southbound. Of those vehicles, 247 exceeded the 45 mph speed limit by 11 miles or more, and 50 violated the red stoplight.
Another area where drivers seem to speed is Parkhill Drive. Neighbors in the neighborhood contacted city and police officials about doing something to slow down drivers.
“We put cars out there as best as we could,” Kuhl says. “We wrote 45 citations” for speeding and running red lights during a four-month period.
He says the hope with the portable speed cameras is that they could be rotated in neighborhoods throughout the city as needed.
Should council members approve the speed camera concept, one of Kuhl’s ideas is to place one of the cameras in a marked police car that is no longer in use. He hopes the combination of the visible police car and the speed camera will slow down drivers.
The city’s police department also is in the process of updating its equipment in order to join the Westcom Dispatch Center, which currently includes West Des Moines, Clive and Urbandale, by 2013. The move will allow the department’s officers to use mobile data terminals in their police cars.
“We could actually use computers like the rest of the metro does to do record checks and write citations and check reports in real time,” Kuhl says.