Home Conversion Debate Set to Heat Up in Cedar Falls

By Dave Franzman, Reporter


By Dave Franzman

CEDAR FALLS, Iowa- The city of Cedar Falls is considering a ban on converting existing single-family homes to multi-family apartments. It’s the kind of issue that often arises near college campuses. And with the University of Northern Iowa nearby, it’s a question that both residents, landlords and developers may confront in more detail next month.

The proposed ordinance came up in discussions this week at the Cedar Falls Planning and Zoning commission meeting. But the proposal doesn’t get into the merits of owner occupied versus rental properties. The issue now is whether the city should control the conversion of existing single-family properties to multi-family as a way to keep neighborhoods stable.

Supporters of the concept point to the problems of parking when what was once a single family residence suddenly becomes home to multiple numbers of unrelated people. There’s also the issue of whether such conversions harm the appearance of an established neighborhood.

Marty Ryan, a city planner in Cedar Falls, said reason the conversion restriction issue surfaced now is several city council members listed it as a possible goal for the city in 2014.

But he said it’s important to make a distinction between the physical conversion of a property and the issue of owner-occupied versus rental properties.

“We’re not denying a home can be rented. So a home can be occupied by any person or family—we’re not debating that. The question is do we allow that existing single family home to be configured into multiple units,” Ryan said.

Ryan said such a “no conversion” rule is already the case in one part of the city. That’s the College Hills district near the UNI campus. Special “overlay” rules imposes more limits in that one area. The planning and zoning draft ordinance would expand the restriction citywide.

Ryan said the city expects some opposition from landlords and developers who would have to cope with more restrictions if the ordinance passes. He expects the commission to begin actual work, with debate by both developers and neighbors, sometime next month.

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