Iowa City Reduces Number of Projects Considered for Downtown Corner

By Gregg Hennigan, Reporter

IOWA CITY, Iowa – The Iowa City Council clearly is thinking big and different when it comes to picking a developer to build on the corner of College and Gilbert streets.

The city for weeks has been scrutinizing proposals to build on the city-owned land on the northeast corner of the intersection, which is on the edge of downtown and is mostly vacant except for an electrical substation and old building.

On Tuesday night, the council whittled a list of five proposals down to three. Eliminated were the smallest project, a five-story building from Ryan Companies/Iceberg Development, and a 13-story building from Sherman Associates that included 11 floors of rental units.

Council members said the five-story building was too small and the other lacked owner-occupied housing. With downtown near the University of Iowa campus, the city is trying to get away from housing aimed at students.

The council wants to "think outside the box, bring something new to downtown," council member Susan Mims said.

The three projects that remain are:

Chauncey Gardens: A $47 million, 18-story building including the New Pioneer Co-op on the first floor, one floor of retail, two floors of office space, one floor of resident amenities and 13 floors of residential units.

The Chauncey: A $53.8 million, 20-story building with two movie theaters, a bowling alley and cafe on the first floor, two floors of office space, a 35-room hotel and 12 floors of residential units.

4 Zero 4 Development: A $29 million, eight-story building including New Pioneer Co-op and the Bike Library on the first floor, two floors of office space and five floors of apartments.

All of the developers say they will ask for financial assistance from the city, likely in the form of tax increment financing. 4 Zero 4 has indicated it will seek $5.5 million, Chauncey Gardens $12 million and The Chauncey $13.45 million.

The city and the National Development Council, a New York City-based nonprofit organization the city consults with, will perform an analysis to determine what they consider to be the appropriate amount of city assistance.

The council will again take up the matter at its Jan. 8 meeting. In the meantime, city staff is to develop a model to help the council pick a preferred developer with whom to enter into negotiations.

The City Council Tuesday night approved the first consideration of an ordinance that would offer greater protection to a historic district north of downtown.

With two more affirmative votes, the Jefferson Street Historic District would be designated a local historic district.

The four-block area is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but that does not provide the protection from demolition or building renovations that a local designation does.

Supporters cite the preservation of buildings that date to the 1800s and neighborhood stabilization as reasons for the local designation. Opponents, many of them property owners in the area, said it would place undue burdens on them by having to get permission from a city commission to make significant exterior changes to buildings.

Enough property owners in the district objected to the ordinance that it needed supermajority support from six of the seven council members to pass. It got seven votes.

Iowa City will join the growing ranks of area towns that allow people to keep chickens in city limits.

The City Council Tuesday night adopted an ordinance that sets a permit process for so-called urban or backyard chickens and , in a separate vote, approved a policy establishing rules for keeping chickens.

The policy includes a provision that gives someone the power to veto a neighbor's request for a chicken permit.

That veto was the subject of much debate, but it also led to an unexpected unanimous vote in favor of the policy. A couple of council members spoke against the veto power but agreed to it to get backyard chickens in Iowa City. Opponents of chickens also voted "yes" because they felt the policy protected the interests of people who don't want chickens next to them.

The permit was approved 5-2, with Michelle Payne and Terry Dickens voting against.

The policy allows people to have up to four hens at single-family homes only. There could be no roosters, slaughtering or selling of eggs, and chickens must be kept in a coop from desk to dawn.

Cedar Rapids, Mount Vernon, Hills, Palo and towns across Iowa and the nation have similar laws.
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