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Future of The Red Avocado Uncertain

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IOWA CITY, Iowa - City officials say they regret there is little that can be done to keep two small businesses from closing to make way for a new commercial and residential complex in Iowa City.

"There's no denying there's real pressure from the student rental market that's Iowa City," said Sarah Walz, the city's urban planner.

The property in the 500 block of E. Washington Street was purchased in October by Allen Homes, a rental and single-family subdivision developer, for a four-story multipurpose structure, according to a city news release.

Complete redevelopment would displace The Red Avocado organic vegetarian restaurant and Defunct Books, a used bookstore located upstairs.

Dave Burt, one of The Red Avocado's three owners, said he was served a 30-day notice on Dec. 30, just before a three-day holiday closing. The reality of relocating by February is "very unlikely. There's no time, and there's some debt."

Adrian White, a co-farmer at Echollective Farm, posted on the farm's blog that it is losing a major client.

"Red Avocado has been our steady customer for many of the years that Echollective Farm has been in business. We ourselves are also affected by this blow, as well as several other local, organic farms that are vital to the organic and local foods scene burgeoning here in Iowa City," she wrote.

Walz noted the city attempted a rezoning of the entire block to a lower density in 2006, but that was opposed by the property owners. It would not have allowed redevelopment to the height and density that the current zone permits.

In 2002, the division's historic preservation group tried to consider the area as part of a conservation district, but the property owners objected because they didn't think it would be beneficial to the space's property value, she said.

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