Iowa City to review zoning rules in light of Red Avocado demolition

Council members reaffirm interest in protecting neighborhoods near downtown, UI campus

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The plight of the Red Avocado restaurant has led the City Council to look for ways to stabilize Iowa City’s older neighborhoods.

City staffers already are reviewing zoning regulations dealing with high-density neighborhoods popular with college students. The City Council added their input at a work session Tuesday night and made clear they want to protect the neighborhoods near downtown and the University of Iowa.

These neighborhoods have long been a concern of city officials because of the tension that comes with permanent residents and college students living in them.

The latest is the plan from a developer, 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 is home to the Red Avocado, a beloved organic vegan eatery, and bookstore Defunct Books.

The project complies with the zoning regulations for the neighborhood, and there’s nothing the city can do to stop it.

Paper and online petitions opposing the demolition had collected more than 4,600 signatures as of Tuesday night. Also, about a dozen people spoke against the project at the start of council’s formal meeting Tuesday night.

“I feel like we’re losing our sense of community,” said Jason Bradley, who owns a building on the same block as Red Avocado.

Several City Council members said they were opposed to the demolition and while they were powerless to stop it, they hope to be able to address the broader issue so they have more control in future situations.

Susan Mims said council members need to make sure they are comfortable with zoning regulations that are in place, since that’s where they have control. The zoning code governs what can be built where.

Mayor Matt Hayek said the issue comes down to ongoing pressure on the city’s older neighborhoods. The construction of apartment buildings geared toward college students  is of particular concern.

“What you see time and again is single-family structures being replaced by large structures,” he said.

The staff review will look at rules concerning the size of projects, architectural compatibility with the surrounding neighborhood, and party and noise issues.

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