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Iowa City to consider zoning changes in university neighborhoods

Gregg Hennigan, CR Gazette –

IOWA CITY – Iowa City is considering changes to its zoning code to limit the number of large apartment buildings cropping up in neighborhoods near the University of Iowa campus.

The move comes after a series of recent projects have been proposed that would include four- and five-bedroom units aimed at college students, including the recent high-profile demolition of the building that housed the Red Avocado restaurant.

Those larger buildings have been criticized by full-time residents of the neighborhoods, and some city officials, who say some of the accompanying students create noise, vandalism and parking problems.

Some residents feel “they’re basically unsupervised dorms,” said Jeff Davidson, Iowa City’s director of planning and community development.

The City Council on Feb. 21 will be asked to set a public hearing on proposed zoning changes in high-density areas near campus and downtown that would limit the number of bedrooms and the number of unrelated people who can live in a unit in a multifamily building like an apartment.

If approved, new multifamily buildings in the zones would not be allowed to include units with more than three bedrooms and the number of three-bedroom units would be limited, Davidson said.

Also, the number of unrelated occupants would be capped at three per unit. That same standard already exists in the rest of the city.

Developers also would be required to include more parking spaces in some of the larger buildings, Davidson said.

The rules would apply only to newly constructed multifamily buildings in select zones in the center of town that are popular with college students, Davidson said. Full-time residents also live in the neighborhoods, and there have been increasing complaints in recent years over larger apartment buildings.

A petition circulated last month was signed by nearly 5,000 people opposing a plan by Allen Homes to demolish three buildings on the 500 block of East Washington Street and put a four-story structure with commercial and residential space in their place. One building was home to the Red Avocado, a beloved organic vegan eatery, and bookstore Defunct Books.

City Council members and staff said they were powerless to stop the project because it complied with zoning regulations, and the buildings were recently torn down. Council members asked staff to look for ways to stabilize older neighborhoods, and a review of regulations in high-density neighborhoods was already underway.

Joan Tiemeyer, executive officer of the Greater Iowa City Area Home Builders Association, said Tuesday that the organization’s board would meet Wednesday and did not yet have a position on the proposals.

Starting Feb. 21, a 60-day moratorium will be in place prohibiting projects that would violate the proposed changes from moving forward. Davidson said this is standard when zoning changes are being considered.

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