Protest Petition Filed Against Iowa City Zoning Proposal

By Gregg Henningan, Reporter

A demolition crew cleans up of what is left of the Red Avocado, in Iowa City Iowa, on Tuesday, January 31, 2012. (Nikole Hanna/SourceMedia Group News)

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By Eric Stidman

IOWA CITY, Iowa - A proposal primarily aimed at reducing the number of large student-occupied apartments in Iowa City may face a tougher path to approval.

A protest petition has been filed with the city objecting to an ordinance that would prohibit more than three unrelated people from living in a dwelling in neighborhoods near downtown and the University of Iowa campus. That standard is already in effect everywhere else in the city.

The City Council is scheduled to hold a public hearing and first consideration of the ordinance on March 20. If the petition collects enough signatures, it would take a super-majority vote of the council – or six of the seven council members – to adopt the ordinance, rather than the typical simple majority of four.

Signatures can be submitted until the close of the public hearing, and city staff will wait until after that to count and verify the petitions, said Jeff Davidson, Iowa City’s planning and community development director. Staff are recommending that the first consideration be deferred.

Full-time residents of the neighborhoods and some city officials say the larger apartments lead to excessive parties, noise and crime. Something needs to be done to protect the long-term health of those areas, they argue.

Developers and landlords have been the most outspoken critics of the effort to change the zoning code, which would limit their ability to maximize the number of units that can fit on a property.

The city also is considering an ordinance preventing the construction of multifamily dwellings with more than three bedrooms per unit and limiting the number of three-bedroom units allowed. Another proposal would require more parking spaces for larger apartments. Those items are not yet before the City Council and are not on the March 20th agenda.

Existing properties would be grandfathered in if the new rules are adopted.

At a February meeting, City Council members Michelle Payne, Rick Dobyns and Terry Dickens objected to setting the March 20 hearing on the item concerning the number of unrelated people living together.

Their opposition, however, was more about the city bypassing its usual process of sending zoning matters to the Planning and Zoning Commission before the City Council.

On Thursday, Payne said she needed more time to review the proposal, although she said she wanted something done about the apartment buildings with large numbers of bedrooms.

“I definitely believe that we do need to do something to stabilize the neighborhoods,” she said.

Dickens also needed more time to consider the issue but said he’d prefer the ordinance called for no more than three bedrooms per unit rather than three unrelated people.

Dobyns said he supports the change but is concerned it would apply to too large an area, an issue he’ll bring up at the meeting.

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