Fairfax Residents in Land Fight

A major road construction project starting next year along Highway 151 in Fairfax is angering at least one owner along the route. The problem isn’t providing land the Iowa DOT needs for the highway itself. Rather, it’s the extra right-of-way land the city wants for a future trail.

Highway 151 in the background as seen from Barb Conner's property. Property is fighting the city over plans for a future trail because the DOT is taking extra land not need for road reconstruction.

The potential trail, which the mayor confirms is years away, would run along the west side of a reconstructed Highway 151 from the northern part of the city to the south.

Barbara Conner has fought the trail project every inch of the way. She’s no stranger to losing part of her property to highway improvements. The DOT purchased some of her land 20 years ago in anticipation of future widening and other work.

But it’s the extra land the city wants for the route of a future trail that motivates her to keep fighting.

“It’s going to impact us because we’re going to lose all of the trees here (near the house) and they’ll be about 15 feet from our door,” she said.

Conner doesn’t think many would use a trail right next to a busy highway so she questions why she has to give up so much land. And she points out there’s already an existing trail across the highway that leads into the heart of Fairfax.

Mayor Bernie Frieden says a future trailing running parallel to Highway 151 might be 10-15 or even 20 years in the future. But the city asked the DOT to make room in the plans now for financial reasons and to keep options open.

“At this time, it’s much more financially responsible and much easier for us to have the DOT just widen it out another 10 feet while they are doing it,” the mayor said.

Frieden says the new bridges and overpasses going in will have extra room for a pedestrian walkway.

David McNamara, another landowner, will lose a bit of his property for the future trail.

“It’s useless for me to fight because I’ve already settled. But it does bother me because I don’t see the necessity of a trail running through,” McNamara said.

But the mayor says the trail might make more sense to residents in the future.

The owners of 200 acres of farmland to the west of Highway 151, near Church Street, plan to gift the land to the city after they die for a large development that would include green space and senior housing.

The mayor says the trail would connect that development to other parts of the city.

Conner says it’s tough to fight city hall but she plans to keep doing it.

The Iowa DOT confirms that Conner is not a willing seller and will be taking her to condemnation court to acquire the property including the extra bit needed for a future trail.