IOWA CITY — The Iowa City Council on Tuesday night approved height bonuses for a proposed student housing project, paving the way for what is thought to be the largest private project in the city.
The City Council approved a resolution that will allow for the development at 12 E. Court St. to reach 15 stories. The height bonuses received a 5-2 vote, with council members Pauline Taylor and John Thomas voting against the resolution.
“It is the right project for the right site,” said Rob Decker, co-owner of Axiom Consultants and project manager for 12 E. Court St. “It’s an incredibly unique property in Iowa City.”
Axiom Consultants, an Iowa City design company, is leading the project.
Situated on the southern fringe of downtown and the University of Iowa campus, the two 15-story towers will bring 820 units and 1,575 beds to the property owned by the Clark family.
The development will feature a wellness center with a track, pool, basketball court and workout facilities; study areas and collaboration spaces; and a rooftop restaurant.
It also will extend Capitol Street from Burlington Street to Court Street for the first time since 1978.
Decker said the project has been in the works for two years. In 2018, the City Council rezoned the property — currently home to the Pentacrest Garden Apartments — from a high-density multifamily zone to a Riverfront Crossings District zone.
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That rezoning allowed the developers to build up to eight stories or 10 stories with staff approval. To get to 15 stories, however, the developers needed approval from the City Council.
The height bonuses were achieved through the developers transferring the right of way of Capitol Street to the city, transferring development rights from the historic Tate Arms property and providing student housing.
The City Council also amended the resolution to allow for balconies on some of the units and requiring environmental sustainability guidelines for the property.
During the public comment period, supporters of the project praised the plans for using Iowa City area companies — including Neumann Monson and McComas Lacina — to develop and construct the towers. Several members of the Carpenters union Local 1260 spoke in favor of the project.
“I want to see a building that is a local project, local labor and brings more jobs to the community,” Mayor Pro Tem Mazahir Salih said. “I love a project that is being built by unions.”
The developers also agreed to pay a $9 million fee to the Johnson County Affordable Housing Coalition in lieu of including affordable housing units in the facility. Sara Barron, executive director with the coalition, said the coalition’s board voted unanimously to support the project because of its “unprecedented, multimillion-dollar contribution to the affordable housing fund.”
Council member Laura Bergus said she found it “very persuasive” that the affordable housing coalition unanimously supported the development.
Detractors, however, said the project was too large, would negatively affect smaller landlords and could disrupt vacancy rates across the city.
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Austin Wu, UI Student Government’s city liaison, said he heard from other students concerned about the affordability of the units at 12 E. Court St.
“They don’t know who it’s aimed for because they don’t feel like it’s aimed toward them,” he said.
In voting against the proposed height bonuses, Taylor said she did not believe the project would add to the “charm and character of our beloved city.” It “distracts from the quality and character of the area,” she added.
“There are just too many uncertainties and concerns from the community about a project of this size,” Taylor said.
Council member Susan Mims supported the height bonuses, however. Mims said she was not bothered by 15 stories and was in favor of density over urban sprawl.
Other impacts simply can’t be predicted, she said.
“I don’t think anybody has the answers ... on how this is actually going to impact vacancy rates,” she said. “We don’t have any hard and fast numbers on what this is going to do.
“As we increase supply, that should help some in terms of the rents. I can’t tell you who is going to get hurt and who isn’t going to get hurt.”
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