Iowa City cohousing community presents revised proposal

Members hoping to take next steps toward approval

A preliminary design for a common house at the Prairie Hill cohousing development in Iowa City. (design by architect John Shaw)
A preliminary design for a common house at the Prairie Hill cohousing development in Iowa City. (design by architect John Shaw)

IOWA CITY — The board of managers for Iowa City Cohousing will present a new zoning plan to city officials today in an effort to overcome several obstacles to the alternative housing project.

Prairie Hill, Iowa City’s first potential cohousing community, is an idea that has been building since 2009. Originally the project, which will include 33 eco-friendly homes in a close-knit community, wanted to build on top of a hill to the west of the Iowa River, about a mile from the University of Iowa campus and downtown. However, after realizing it would cost over $500,000 more to build on top of the hill, project managers are seeking a rezoning so they can build homes at the bottom, closer to Miller Avenue.

Del Holland, a member of the project’s board of managers, said the hill will be used for orchards and gardens. Having the housing units closer to the street also will allow for a shorter road.

“We’re saving the cost of a longer lane into the community,” he said. “And we’re saving the environmental impact as well.”

If the Planning and Zoning Commission approves the proposal today, it will go next to the Iowa City Council. If the council signs off, the group will be in the final stages of creating its environmentally friendly and community-oriented neighborhood.

Iowa City senior planner Bob Miklo said there is one issue still to be resolved — water management. Miklo said the group is working with the city engineer to find a solution to managing the property’s water. But if a solution is not found, the commission will defer its decision.

Holland said the cohousing board is confident the issue will be resolved before the meeting.

The change in plans is welcomed by neighbors such as Mary Knudson, who lives in the Miller-Orchard neighborhood. Knudson said she initially was worried about the cohousing project’s location, but she is pleased with the planned revisions.


“It’s probably safer,” she said. “I think as a group they will be a great addition to the neighborhood because they’re very interested in community.”

The plan eventually is to provide 33 homes, Holland said, and there are 12 committed cohousing members so far. The members all would own small homes on the larger property, sharing a common house that would have a washer and dryer, large kitchen and dining room, and event space.

The system offers a housing alternative that Holland says helps people reduce their carbon footprint while also benefiting from strong community support.

“The thing that attracted me to this whole thing in the first place was the environmental stuff,” he said. “As I spend more time … I’m recognizing the importance of that community component too and that it can be a really good benefit.”



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