116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — A controversial rezoning that would expand Hickory Hill Park but allow a housing development and senior living center nearby is headed for its second consideration and vote Tuesday.
During a June 15 meeting, the Iowa City Council voted 6-1 in favor of the proposed rezoning of 48.75 acres of land northeast of Hickory Hill Park from interim development single-family to low-density single-family. The rezoning will allow for a housing development envisioned to have 41 lots and senior living facility.
After an hour of public input critical of the proposed development near the park, city councilors said they were beholden to city code and obligated to vote in favor.
“People in the public need to understand, our first and foremost responsibility is to follow the law and rules and regulations that we have in place,” said council member Susan Mims. “So while we’ve had dozens, if not hundreds, of people speak out against this project, we cannot vote against it because that is what the people want.”
The project — Hickory Trail Estates — has had a long road to get to this second vote. The first iteration of the project went before the city’s planning and zoning commission and failed to get adequate support. A second iteration also did not receive enough support. A third version of the proposal was approved by planning and zoning and then moved along to the council.
Ray Heitner, associate planner for the city, said the biggest change between the first and third versions of the proposed development is the amount of the street comprising the development that has single family homes on both sides. Responding to community concerns, the developers — Joe Clark and Nelson Development — made 72 percent of the street single-loaded, Heitner said — meaning that houses would be built on only one side of the street for most of it. Ten condo-style units also were removed from the proposal.
The proposed development will add 14-acres to Hickory Hill Park. Heitner said the development meets both the city’s comprehensive plan and the Northeast District plan.
“With public input and guidance on this, the plan has evolved in a good way throughout this process to something that staff is definitely viewing as favorable right now,” Heitner said. “The planning and zoning commission viewed it as favorable and now we’ll see how it gets through the City Council process.”
Members of the public and of the council expressed concerns over a green space buffer between the development and the park, as well as the lack of requirements for affordable housing options. That said, Clark reminded the council during its meeting that developers have to work with parameters established by the city.
“The parameter in this situation is the Northeast District plan and the comprehensive plan,” Clark said. “These items were used by city staff, the planning and zoning commission and my development team to pave the way for the rezoning request being presented. … Our concept and preliminary plat are in line with the requirements imposed upon us.”
In reluctantly voting to approve the rezoning, council member Janice Weiner said the council is required to work with the codes it has in place, not the codes it may want.
“I don’t love the project,” Weiner said. “These are the codes we have. I would really urge the council to urgently take up some of these issues.”
Weiner — who said she expects the rezoning to pass Tuesday — told The Gazette she hopes council members take this development as a “kick in the butt” needed to ensure they address zoning codes in the city. She wants to see more zoning codes that allow for a variety of housing types in single family zones, including duplexes and triplexes.
“This is something we absolutely have to focus on,” Weiner said. “I’m going to be that annoying person that raises it at every meeting.”
But council member John Thomas — the lone council member to vote against the rezoning — said he believes the council can vote against the rezoning and not face potential legal action from the developers.
Thomas said he doesn’t feel the current proposal is consistent with the district plan, particularly in terms of including an adequate buffer between the project and the park.
“It’s essentially a ridgetop development,” Thomas said. “The developable land has to follow the ridgeline. The ridgeline, as it moves south along the property line … it gets closer and closer to that property line, to the point where I felt what remained between the development and Hickory Hill Park was insufficient to create that green open space buffer.”
Like Weiner and other council members, Thomas said he’d also like to see a variety of housing types.
Thomas is proposing that the city use a planned development overlay to be more creative with how the site is developed. A planned development overlay would allow more flexibility, while still staying true to the qualities of a low-density, single-family zone. For instance, Thomas said he would like to see homes clustered closer to Scott Boulevard and away from the property line with Hickory Hill. He said Iowa City’s Peninsula Neighborhood is an example of where a planned development overlay was used to implement a variety of housing options.
“I’m hoping for a win-win,” he told The Gazette. “This city and City Council should be striving for win-win resolutions where everyone feels like their point of view has not only been heard, but is fulfilled with the outcome.”
With the council already once voting 6-1 in favor of the rezoning, Thomas knows he has an uphill battle this second time. When the council meets again Tuesday, Thomas said he plans to elaborate on his stance and try to avoid what he sees as a “win-lose” outcome.
“I’m not seeking perfection,” he said. “I am asking us to seek a better project. It’s not in anyway intended to be an anti-development stance. How can we develop this land in a way that results in a better outcome?”
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