Local Government

Chauncey's legal saga concludes, development planned for this fall

The building received its first nod of approval from the city more than three years ago

The newest rendering of the proposed Chauncey high-rise development in downtown Iowa City. The plan has now been scaled back to 15 stories, from an original 20-story proposal. (image via City of Iowa City)
The newest rendering of the proposed Chauncey high-rise development in downtown Iowa City. The plan has now been scaled back to 15 stories, from an original 20-story proposal. (image via City of Iowa City)

IOWA CITY — With a request for further review denied, it appears Iowa City’s Chauncey has cleared the final legal hurdle preventing the 15-story building from breaking ground.

Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady on Thursday ruled that Iowa Coalition Against the Shadow’s legal appeal — filed in 2013 by now-Iowa City Council member Rockne Cole — against the Iowa City Council over a Chauncey-related rezoning had been denied.

Chauncey developer Marc Moen said he was pleased with the ruling, but remains frustrated over delays and added costs to the project caused by the legal appeal. The Chauncey received its first nod of approval from the city more than three years ago.

“It’s great to have this done,” Moen said. “It caused enormous damage and a lot of frustration.”

Cole’s petition challenged the city’s denial of a rezoning request to limit building height on the city-owned plot of land eyed for the multiuse Chauncey building to just 75 feet.

The lawsuit was dismissed about a year ago, with a judge ruling that the rezoning applicants had no standing in the lawsuit because the city owned the land, had already been working toward the Chauncey and none of the applicants owned nearby property or had any intention of purchasing the land.

Now that Cole’s appeal — and a second lawsuit against Chauncey-related rezonings filed last year by Trinity Episcopal Church, which was settled earlier this year — have both reached conclusions, Moen said ground could finally break on the Chauncey by November.

Residential units could open February 2019 and the commercial space in the building should be finished later that summer, Moen said.

While Moen was pleased to see this chapter in the Chauncey saga close, he estimated delays to increase the $49 million project’s cost by 5 to 7 percent due largely to increasing cost of materials and construction.

Delays also forced Moen to request — and the city to amend — changes to the project development agreement to push the start date back.

Moen pointed to the coalition’s appeal, which was filed by local attorney Rockne Cole, as one of the biggest factors behind project delays.

“Everyone thought that when he was running for — and elected to — city council, that he would no longer try to continue a lawsuit against the city council, it was really strange,” Moen said. “We’ve done everything we can to mitigate the damages he’s caused.”

Cole, who was elected to the council in November, has maintained that his appeal was focused more on citizen access to the courts and less on the project itself.

“I think where anything is improper is where you have a potential financial interest,” Cole said Friday. “In this particular case my only interest was the well-being of the taxpayers and the community as a whole and I will not apologize for a second for standing up for those two principles.”

Moen said pending lawsuits, regardless of their merit, repelled investors and forced him to scale back design work until both appeals concluded. He also said some prospective commercial tenants were lost due to the delays.

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As Moen plans to restart further design work on the building, Cole said he is ready to move on from the nearly three-year legal effort.

“I am willing to sort of move on and focus on new issues,” Cole said. “At this point, the building is going up, we’re going to have a 15 story building in downtown Iowa City.”

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