Iowa City High-rise Opponents Seeking Rezoning to Block Project

By Gregg Hennigan, Reporter

IOWA CITY, Iowa - Opponents of a 20-story building proposed for the edge of downtown Iowa City are not giving up their fight.

Three critics of Marc Moen's "The Chauncey" project filed an application with the city this week seeking to have the land where the tower would go – on the northeast corner of College and Gilbert streets – rezoned to a classification that would not allow the building to go up.

The goal is to stop Moen's $53.8 million project from happening, said Rockne Cole, one of the applicants and an Iowa City attorney. They're fine with the site being redeveloped for a smaller commercial use.

"We would explicitly like to see a commercial site," he said. "We do not want to see a 20-story building."

Whether the rezoning request will do that remains to be seen. The City Council has the final say on zoning matters, and less than two months ago it voted 5-1 to enter into negotiations with Moen's team for the city-owned land.

The Planning and Zoning Commission may consider the rezoning request next month.

Moen was unruffled by the situation Friday.

"With all the criticism that we take, we have to just do our best," he said.

The criticism for this project has been substantial, with people speaking out against its size, the $13.45 million in city financial assistance Moen says it will need and that it does not include New Pioneer Co-op, like the other finalists for the site.

The property currently is zoned for public use. It would need to be rezoned to what is known as CB-10 to accommodate the height of the Chauncey. A 20-story building would be 233 feet high, and at 16 stories, an alternative being considered, it would be 191 feet, according to project architect Steve Rohrbach.

Cole and fellow applicants Jon Fogarty and Mark McCallum are seeking a CB-5 zoning, which allows buildings up to 75 feet in height. Cole and Fogarty are co-chairman of anti-Chauncey group Iowa Coalition Against the Shadow, and McCallum is a member.

Anyone can apply to rezone any property regardless of whether they have a personal stake in it, said John Yapp, Iowa City's transportation planner and the city staffer who has coordinated efforts for the redevelopment of the site.

In their application to rezone the property, the Chauncey opponents argue that the city's own planning documents say the site, which is just east of downtown Iowa City, is for less intense development and that downtown is intended to expand to the south.

McCallum, who is a property owner and real estate agent, said the College and Gilbert streets location is a transition area between downtown and the residential neighborhood to the east.

"It's not a place you build the tallest building in Iowa City," he said.

Yapp said the city still must apply to rezone the property to CB-10, but that is probably months away. He said Moen also could submit an application.

The site was not rezoned before the city requested proposals to develop it because it is still public property and a conveyance of the land must be in the near future for that process to occur, he said.

The request for proposals the city put out for the property contemplated the land being zoned CB-10.

Moen said the proposals developers put together for these types of projects cost several hundred thousand dollars each, and it's important they can rely on the information put out by a city.

He declined to say he was frustrated, however.

"I learned a long time ago to not get too worked up," he said.

All three of the projects that were finalists for the site were taller than 75 feet, so the CB-10 zoning would be needed for any of them, Yapp said.
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