116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
There is a big empty field on the north side of Iowa City.
There is no park infrastructure — trails, benches, play equipment. It has some trees around the edges but it’s frequently mowed so it’s not much of a wildlife habitat. For many years it was the Hawkeye Marching Band practice field, but the band moved to another location seven years ago.
Sometimes people use the field to play with dogs or hold practice for youth sports, but it’s usually empty. It just sits there, a giant swath of neatly trimmed grass. Some neighbors want to keep it that way.
Not everyone in the neighborhood is resistant to development, but there is a vocal bunch who are. They use the usual list of not-in-my-backyard talking points.
The University of Iowa recently informed neighbors in the area of preliminary plans to develop the old band field along Park Road and Ferson Avenue. It could include a mix of apartments and commercial space, maybe a coffee shop.
If this were in any other neighborhood, it probably would not rise to the level of a public debate. But this is Manville Heights, home to at least a few well-to-do fuddy duddies. They’re the kind of people with the time to track government proceedings and the status to influence them.
Not everyone in the neighborhood is resistant to development, but there is a vocal bunch who are. They use the usual list of not-in-my-backyard talking points — traffic, property values, neighborhood character, whatever that means — but the big concern seems to be “green space.”
It is indeed a lot of green space. It also happens to be near a bunch of other green spaces.
Within about a 1-mile walk from the empty field, you can access all of City Park, including open fields, a pool, picnic shelters, ball fields and tennis courts; Lincoln Elementary School, which got a new playground a few years ago; Black Springs Circle Park to the west and Terrell Mill Park with a skate park to the north; the Iowa River Corridor Trail and another trail along the river on the UI campus; and the “Mosquito Flats” neighborhood where a large share of flood-prone homes have been replaced with green space.
Most of the homes in the neighborhood also have their own yards. And they have garages, where they store the cars they can use to go to any green space within driving distance.
The point is, residents in the area have better access to nature and recreation than most other city dwellers. But they still want to keep their big empty field. Maybe it’s because they don’t want to live near people who live in apartments.
The prospect of development has also given rise to conspiracy theories — that government planners might use eminent domain to take over nearby properties and build some kind of megaplex.
But university officials have only shown an interest in using the unused space they already have, not in growing their footprint there. They also probably don’t have the authority to snatch up homes for this kind of development.
“We are not, at all, looking to ‘expand,’ as eminent domain would suggest. … We have not included eminent domain in any of our planning or conversations,” Rod Lehnertz, UI vice president for finance and operations, wrote to me in an email.
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