IOWA CITY — What could be Iowa City’s largest residential development cleared its first major hurdle Tuesday night after months of postponement.
The Iowa City Council voted 6-0 during its formal meeting Tuesday night to approve the first of three readings to rezone 12 E. Court St., currently Pentacrest Garden Apartments, and the first step in building four 15-story buildings approved for the site. The vote had been deferred multiple times, with the most recent coming earlier this month at the request of council so city staff had time to negotiate a number of conditions with the developer to ensure the project conformed with the city’s master plan for the district.
“I am going to be supportive of 15,” council member Rockne Cole said of the potential building height, adding the project will significantly add to the city’s tax base. “We do have a lot of budgetary needs going into the future, and we can’t afford to just sort of turn away this sort of development or impede it to the level that we could scare off that sort of investment.”
City staff recommended condensing the second and third readings of the rezoning approval during the next council meeting to enable it to pass more quickly.
The developer, the Clark family of companies like Apartments Downtown and Apartments at Iowa, is requesting the nearly 3.5-acre student-targeted property be rezoned from a high-density multifamily zone to a Riverfront Crossings District zone. The new classification would allow for additional height.
If ultimately approved, the rezoning would allow up to eight stories, with an additional seven bonus stories if the project contains features that “provide public benefit or furthers goals and objectives” of the city’s master plan, according to a staff memo sent to council earlier this summer.
“We have spent a lot of time talking about situations for a 15-story building when what we’re voting on for tonight for the first reading is only for buildings that can be up to eight stories. There is certainly a lot of negotiation to be done between now and the potential approval of stories above the eight that will be their right by rezoning,” council member Susan Mims said. “I think a three-month delay was unnecessary.”
The decision on additional stories will come later in the approval process.
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The proposed conditions include the structures must “substantially conform” to the building footprints shown in the Downtown and Riverfront Crossings Master Plan — otherwise, changes much be approved by council. The property must also have a landscaped, interior courtyard between the two eastern buildings near the Voxman Music Building.
The city is also requiring the project’s architects to have experience with “high-quality urban design” for the exterior and “large-scale student housing and/or residence halls” for the interior to best support university students.
“In my view it’s really crucial to make sure the ensemble of buildings is really well designed so that it enhances the quality of that part of our city,” said Mayor Jim Throgmorton about the requirement for experienced architects.
Any requested additional building height must also conform with the district’s Riverfront Crossings form-based code, which requires an excellence in design, high-quality materials and “contributes to the quality and character of the neighborhood,” according to a memo from City Manager Geoff Fruin.
Improvements to the portion of Capitol Street currently on the property, and dedication of the right of way back to the city, are also planned as part of the project. The developer requested a more flexible timeline to accommodate construction as part of the conditions.
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