Controversial University Heights Project Back in the Spotlight

By Gregg Hennigan, Reporter

5.25 acres owned by St. Andrews Presbyterian church just off the intersection of Melrose and Sunset avenues is slated to be be the location of a new condominium complex Monday, Aug. 23, 2010 in University Heights. The church has entered into a $4.3 million purchase agreement with developer Jeff Maxwell contingent on the University Heights City Council approving the rezoning of the land for the project. (Brian Ray/ SourceMedia Group News)

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By Belinda Yeung

UNIVERSITY HEIGHTS, Iowa – A University Heights church will decide Sunday whether to sell its property to a developer whose desire to construct a condominium project has divided this small town.

The congregation of St. Andrew Presbyterian Church will vote on a resolution to sell the church property at 1300 Melrose Ave. The Presbytery of East Iowa also must give its approval.

If that happens, the property would be sold to local developer Jeff Maxwell, who already has a $4.3 million purchase offer with the church that is subject to those votes of approval.

Even with the church’s blessing, the project would still face an uncertain future with the University Heights City Council.

Maxwell wants to build a $44.9 million project known as One University Place with 69 condominiums and commercial space in two buildings. The 5.3-acre site is a half-mile west of Kinnick Stadium.

That’s a big project for a town of 1,000 residents that is made up almost entirely of single-family homes and is surrounded by Iowa City.

The proposal has drawn a lot of interest and strong reactions both for and against over the past few years.

Supporters say with the city unable to expand outward, the project is a rare chance to give a big boost to the property tax base.

Critics say it is too large and not in tune with the town’s character.

Maxwell had enjoyed 3-2 support from the five-member City Council until last year’s election, which saw that flip with three members now opposed to the project. He then chose to step back and wait until the church’s vote.

The Rev. Matt Paul of St. Andrew did not immediately respond to a phone message Monday. A news release said the congregation has already bought 40 acres of land on Camp Cardinal Road.

Church member Rod Sullivan of Iowa City, who also is a member of the Johnson County Board of Supervisors, said church elders have voted 15-1 to recommend the sale.

Such a strong consensus may not carry over to the whole congregation.

“There is some division, no question,” said Sullivan, adding he did not want to share how he’ll vote before Sunday.

Maxwell said if any of the votes of approval needed from the church are unsuccessful, the project is dead. But he’s hopeful.

“We have every intention of carrying on with the closing of that property and working with the council,” he said.

The property already has been rezoned, by a previous City Council, to allow for the project. The next step would be hammering out a document that would define the project's scope.

Council member Rosanne Hopson, who opposes the project as it is currently proposed, said the council majority could get behind a smaller development. But if the size remains unchanged, she thinks the council majority will remain against it.

Maxwell said his plans have been on hold awaiting the church vote, so the scope is the same it was a year ago.

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