Iowa City Council waits on rezoning for mental health facility

Vote delayed to November for new Behavioral Health Urgent Care Center

People walk by the Iowa City City Hall which includes the Police Department in Iowa City on Wednesday, November 5, 2014. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
People walk by the Iowa City City Hall which includes the Police Department in Iowa City on Wednesday, November 5, 2014. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — The Iowa City Council is going to wait a few weeks before voting on the rezoning for a new Behavioral Health Urgent Care Center.

Portions of the proposed 5.82-acre site, at Waterfront Drive and Southgate Avenue, is in the 100-year or 500-year flood plain, causing some concerns.

The City Council on Tuesday night pushed a vote and public hearing on the rezoning to its Nov. 6 meeting to allow time to get a conditional zoning agreement signed.

Johnson County wants to build the center to give law enforcement a better place to take those in a mental health crisis, rather than to jail or a hospital emergency room.

The center will have services such as sobering and detox units, a low-barrier winter shelter and mobile crisis outreach.

Iowa City’s flood plain management ordinance does not allow facilities to be built in flood hazard areas if they are the “base of operations for emergency responders, are particularly difficult to evacuate during a flood event, or provide services essential to the life, health, and safety of the community.”

To comply with the city’s flood plain plan — and presumably to gain zoning approval — the facility would have to meet certain conditions:

• Be graded to the 500-year flood elevation.

• Have one access road passable at that level as well.

The conditions also require approval from the state archaeologist.


In a 5-0 vote, the Iowa City Planning and Zoning Commission recommended the rezoning, from commercial to public use, with those conditions.

Johnson County Supervisor Janelle Rettig was the only supervisor to vote against buying the property, citing flood plain concerns.

The site appealed to the other supervisors because of its proximity to other social service providers, law enforcement facilities and hospitals. In particular, the new center would be close to Shelter House’s 70-bed shelter and Prelude Behavioral Services.

“It just seems to be a prime location for all of those entities that we plan to work with,” Matt Miller, the Johnson County project manager for the center, previously told The Gazette. “It’s fairly easy for anyone to get to, friends and family, if they’re dropping somebody off there.”

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