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Iowa City looks beyond fight over Kinnick house

Council talks of ways to avoid 'painful' neighborhood projects

Builders continue Wednesday constructing a home that will resemble Kinnick Stadium on Iowa City's Lusk Avenue, adjacent
Builders continue Wednesday constructing a home that will resemble Kinnick Stadium on Iowa City’s Lusk Avenue, adjacent to Bill Ackerman’s backyard. Ackerman and others in the area have voiced their unhappiness with the project over the past year, and have complained that the home doesn’t fit in with the architectural style of the neighborhood. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY — As the large house designed to resemble Kinnick Stadium takes shape in the Manville Heights neighborhood, upset neighbors as well as city officials are turning their attention to the future.

A scaled-down version of the University of Iowa football stadium, an outline of the roughly 7,500-square-foot home at 101 Lusk Ave. is emerging as work continues.

Now that the project is well underway on the dead-end street and the Neighbors of Manville Heights Association has long since dropped a legal battle to halt its construction, the Iowa City Council has begun discussing potential regulations on projects that, like the Kinnick-style house, neighbors assert are more entertainment than residence.

“Councilors have been very empathic with neighbors. I am pleased that council is beginning to look at what went wrong with the process,” wrote Karin Southard, president of the association, in an email.

Neighbors believe some city codes were “chronically misinterpreted or chronically not applied” by the city, she said, when it issued a building permit.

Frederic Reed Carlson, of Decorah, who owns the Lusk Avenue home, declined to comment.

He previously told The Gazette he and his wife, Sandy, intend to use it as a family gathering space and that it would be vacant much of the year.

The Kinnick-style house, designed with an exterior to mimic the stadium and its iconic arches, is planned to include a court yard, a commercial kitchen and a sport court, among other amenities.

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Earlier this year, a District Court judge issued a ruling that supported the city issuing Carlson a building permit, The case brought before the court was an appeal of the city’s Board of Adjustment decision to uphold staff’s classification of the structure as a single-family home.

CHANGES TO CODE?

Late last month, the council discussed in a work session potential zoning code changes to prevent another similar situation. Before the session, Mayor Jim Throgmorton sent a memo to council members.

“The events have been painful for many members of the Iowa City community, and costly for some. Moreover, the experience has led some members of the community to lose trust in the City Council and staff,” his memo said in part. “ ... We need to discuss the events in public so that the community can see we are exercising our responsibility to learn from experience, to consider the views of the public and to initiate changes in the City Code or practices if appropriate.”

Additionally, City Manager Geoff Fruin outlined staff responses to specific assertions made by the neighbors throughout the Kinnick-style house approval and appeal processes. He also outlined various options for zoning code changes — such as implementing a historic district overlay in Manville Heights that would have given the project a “heightened level of public scrutiny.”

If the residents of Manville Heights have “significant neighborhood interest” in creating a historic district, the Historic Preservation Commission would then consider establishing one in the neighborhood.

“I think you probably have mixed attitudes here that range from my attitude of ‘It’s too late. You know, nothing can be done,’ to ‘yeah, there’s hope for the future,’” said Bill Ackerman, who owns one of the homes by 101 Lusk Ave.

Throgmorton directed city staff to involve the Manville Heights neighbors in a discussion about if or how they’d now like the city to act.

“This is important for every neighborhood in the city,” council member Susan Mims said during the work session. “If people want to make sure it doesn’t happen in their neighborhood, they need to get involved. They need to start talking with each other, start talking with us. What would they want in their neighborhood or what would they want to see as zoning changes that might be citywide as well?”

GAWKERS ARRIVE

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One major issue discussed throughout the neighbors’ battle to stop the project was the question over how it would connect to the sewer system. The house previously there connected to a private sewer along with two other houses.

Ron Knocke, public works director, said a new public sewer extension to the house is being paid for by Carlson.

Southard said neighbors have noticed an increased amount of parking and traffic around the area, which has two narrow dead-end streets.

“Neighbors report an increase in traffic, gawking, and parking congestion,” Southard wrote.

Despite having dropped its fight against the Kinnick-style house, the Neighbors of Manville Heights Association still is going strong.

Southard said the group is working to prevent something like it from happening again in their neighborhood, or in any other in Iowa City.

“It’s too late for this one,” Ackerman said. “Will it do any good for the damage that’s already been done? Of course not. ... For future abominations like this, yeah, it’ll do some good, but it’s too late.”

l Comments: (319) 339-3172; maddy.arnold@thegazette.com

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