Major student-housing rezoning project still in limbo after city - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Major student-housing rezoning project still in limbo after city council meeting

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What could be the largest residential housing project in one city's history is still in the hands of its city council.

The Iowa City City Council voted to once again defer a vote on rezoning proposal of the Pentacrest Garden Apartments along 12 E. Court Street and Burlington Street. The owner, Jeff Clark, requested a rezoning of the area from a high-density multifamily residential zone to the Riverfront Crossings - South Downtown Subdistrict zone. 

That rezoning would make way for the possibility of a major redevelopment of the existing apartments which were built in the 1970s. The proposed plan features four, 15-story, buildings at the site. However, a rezone of the area would only permit for eight stories but "height bonuses" are provided under the city code such as proximity to the University of Iowa campus.

The topic was highly debated by the council that despite it being a rezoning request, Mayor Jim Throgmorton and council members Pauline Taylor and John Thomas were in favor of adding conditions to the project before moving forward with the vote. Council members Susan Mims, Rockne Cole, and Mazahir Salih deferred that request saying the negotiations should follow the rezone vote. Those negotiations would include how tall the building would be able to go to based on available height bonuses.

Previous councilman Kingsley Botchway recently stepped down due to a job opportunity meaning the decision was split.

City Manager Geoff Fruin stepped in to say he felt confident he could work with the developers to get a new terms of agreement in time for the next meeting.

Rob Decker, of Axiom Consultants, said despite the debate over the proposed size, they know what they have planned for the space.

"To provide a newer, more modern, high quality student-housing project with better amenities," Decker said. "Obviously, this project is extremely unique in its proximity to campus."

The site sits right across the street from the University of Iowa campus.

Decker stressed that the current plan isn't a final look but only an idea of what they want to put there but it has the potential to run from 1,000 units to upwards of 4,000 units compared to the mere 98 that sit at the current property.

"How that will finally flush out will depend on what we're allowed on height and what we're allowed to do in this area," Decker said.

He also said the size of the buildings could give way to creating higher quality apartments on the higher floors for working young and older professionals.

The city of Iowa City requires that 10% of the units in new buildings meet affordable housing standards. Decker said that would guarantee at least 100 affordable apartments.

Sara Barron, the Executive Director of the Johnson County Affordable Housing Coalition, spoke to the city council in favor of the development.

"100 affordable units is outstanding," Barron said. "We know the need far extends this but this is great step."

The plan would require that Capitol Street would connect through the property.

"There's a real incredible opportunity for the city to pick up something of great value for them while working with the developer to provide a really good amenity to the sight. To me that's a win-win," Decker said.

Bill Gerhard, President of the Iowa City Building Trades Council, also spoke in favor of the project. He said the city has an obligation to build up -- and not out. He believed the addition of the apartments could drive down prices to help with affordability and that he welcomed the idea of Capital Street reopening.

The plan also garnered support from the Iowa City Downtown District, it's Executive Director, Nancy Bird, stated to the council.

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