University Heights set for final decision on controversial ordinance


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University Heights city councilors are set to hold a final vote tonight on a controversial rezoning ordinance which would allow a multi-level commercial development to be built within the small community.

Maxwell Construction Co. wants to construct a six-story, two-building complex with 80 apartments and 20,000 square feet of commercial space on what is now the site of St. Andrew Presbyterian Church, 1300 Melrose Ave.

The current ordinance limits construction to single-family homes.

While many residents have not been shy about expressing disapproval of the plan at the first two council votes — both of which passed — they say they now have a survey to back them up.

Survey results for the One University Place plans have shown a majority of members in the University Heights community — located near Kinnick Stadium — oppose several plans proposed for the property.

The results indicate 50 percent of the residents said they strongly disagree with the Maxwell plan, and 6.2 disagree. Nearly 28 percent strongly agreed with the proposal, and 12 percent agreed.

The survey was sent out to 504 residents who had voted in one of the past three city elections, of which 324 responded. It posed questions about three other development plans in addition to the Maxwell plan.

The survey was administered voluntarily by Julie Andsager, a University Heights resident and University of Iowa journalism professor. Representatives from both the pro- and anti-development sides helped with the survey.

Though Andsager said she is neutral on the topic, she has neighbors who strongly fight on either side of the issue.

Resident Mary Mathew-Wilson, who has lived in University Heights for 18 years, opposes the development plan. Despite the efforts of community members, she said, the City Council has served as nothing but a wall.

"It brings home once again the fact that the community is split," said Mathew-Wilson.

City Councilor Pat Yegge said it would take a large majority of disapproving citizens to sway the council's vote.

"If 90 percent didn't like it, then it would make a difference," she said.

Fellow University Heights City Councilor Brennan McGrath, who has opposed the rezoning ordinance, said she's pleased with the results.

"This development is not what the community wants," he said.

Despite the response, McGrath is concerned it may fall on deaf ears.

"Unfortunately, some of the councilors are so far gone that they've gone beyond what their duties are, which is to represent the community," he said.

So far, Mathew-Wilson said she is just happy with the community's dedication.

"I'm so proud of my neighbors," she said. "We've come forward with the initiative."

Either way the vote goes, McGrath said, community members will likely express their opinions long after the council makes its decision tonight — such as during the next election.

"A lot of people are taking a closer look at local politics," Mathew-Wilson said.

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