IOWA CITY — Voters in Iowa City will now go to the polls twice to elect a new city council member after more than two candidates filed for a vacant seat, triggering a primary on Sept. 4.
The Iowa City Council voted last week to hold a special election Oct. 2 to fill the vacant at-large seat with a term lasting through 2021. Kingsley Botchway II resigned in July to take a position with Waterloo schools.
Five candidates — Ann Freerks, Christine Ralston, Bruce Teague, Brianna Wills and second-time candidate Ryan Hall — filed to run for the seat as of the filing deadline at 5 p.m. Friday. Because more than two candidates filed, the city must hold a primary election. Early voting begins Monday.
In the midst of the special election campaign, the Iowa City Council is considering the rezoning of a proposed 15-story $180 million project that would likely be the largest residential development in Iowa City history.
This week, the council again decided to defer the first reading of the rezoning of a property on 12 E. Court St. owned by the Clark family of Apartments Downtown, likely Iowa City’s biggest landlord. Both the developer and council have requested the vote to be delayed this summer, with the latest coming on Tuesday, to allow city staff time to work with the developer to ensure the project adheres to the city’s master plan for the Riverfront Crossings District.
Freerks, Hall, Ralston, Teague and Wills all said they’ve been following the project.
Wills, 41, an executive at nonprofit Old Brick, said she’s generally supportive of downtown development.
“I think it is something that has to be reviewed on a case-by-case basis, but I am for responsible tax-base development,” Wills said, adding that she’d like to use the new revenue for projects like supporting social services.
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Hall, 25, a University of Iowa undergraduate, said he’d support the project if the developer can improve the buildings’ sustainability, make homes accessible to multiple income levels and manage the property well.
“I would say that there is a big need for dense student and working-class housing in the downtown area,” Hall said.
Teague, 42, said he hopes to bring those involved into a conversation about the project.
“If you sit there long enough, it won’t be as it started,” Teague said. “I love downtown how it was, but the growth of downtown has been, in my opinion, a good thing to see. Now that there’s more growth requested, I do think we need to take a step back and look at it strategically.”
Freerks, 52, who works for the University of Iowa’s Office of Strategic Communication and previously served on the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission, said she’s not against height in the right places and the city should set up specific expectations for developers of similar projects.
“The city, with great community interest and input, has created an area where they would like to see height,” Freerks said, referring to the Riverfront Crossings District plan. “So we’ve created this district where developers have been given the green light to do this, and that is to prevent it from occurring in other areas.”
Ralston, 39, who works in the University of Iowa College of Law, applauded the city’s inclusionary housing requirement in the Riverfront Crossings District, which requires developers to provide 10 percent of their new units as affordable but said the city needs to do more to ensure developers don’t take the buyout instead.
“I support development that is dense and so long as it includes units that will be affordable for our lower income residents. And our new inclusionary zoning ordinance is a terrific start,” Ralston said. “That way we are not furthering the concentration of poverty in Iowa City.”
With the timing of the special election and primary just ahead of the November general election, polls will be open to Iowa City voters three times in just over 60 days.
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Chris Latimer, a professor of political science at the University of Northern Iowa, said that when it comes to voter fatigue, the people who plan to turnout for midterms in November will likely turnout despite a municipal special election being held a month before.
“That’s a really interesting case,” Latimer said about the election timeline in Iowa City. “Municipal elections generally turnout low. It’s going to be hard to get people to focus on local elections.”
Latimer said turnout usually drops even lower during a municipal runoff election. Although Iowa City is a bit different with a primary instead of a runoff, Latimer said unless there’s something unique or controversial about the candidates or reason for the vacancy that special municipal elections can expect lower turnout.
Polls for the primary will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Sept. 4. Voters will vote at their normal polling places.
Iowa City residents have until Aug. 31 to vote early, and mailed ballots must be requested by Aug. 24 and returned postmarked by Sept. 1.
Iowa City Council members earn a salary of $7,259.20. The elected council member will complete a seven-member board.
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