U Heights defers vote on controversial ordinance


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University Heights city councilors tabled a controversial development plan until the council's December meeting after nearly three hours of presentation, public comment, and discussion on Tuesday.

If the council approves the plan, what is now St. Andrew Presbyterian Church, 1300 Melrose Ave., may become a six-story, two-building complex with 80 apartments and 20,000 square feet of commercial space.

The structure, called One University Place, would be built by Maxwell Construction Co. in an area that was previously limited to only single-family homes.

Roughly 20 residents filled the Horn Elementary library Tuesday for the council's meeting; their major concerns focused on what types of businesses would occupy the space, the development's effect on traffic and property values, and its environmental impact.

Larry Wilson, a University Heights resident who has lived across from the development site for the past 18 years, said at the meeting he is against the ordinance.

"The council is not listening to the will of the University Heights community as a whole," he said.

Councilor Brennan McGrath moved to defer the third consideration of the ordinance to the council's February meeting. That move was shot down, and Councilor Mike Haverkamp suggested the vote be tabled until the council's December meeting.

But Councilors Jim Lane, Pat Yeggy, and Stan Laverman said their votes of approval for the ordinance will not change.

In a survey of more than 300 University Heights residents released this week, fifty percent said they strongly disagree with the Maxwell plan, and 6 percent disagree. Nearly 28 percent strongly agreed with the proposal, and 12 percent agreed.

"I was not moved a great deal by the survey," Lane said. "I have sufficient data to make my vote."

University Heights resident and University of Iowa journalism Professor Julie Andsager administered the community survey.

While the vast majority of residents spoke passionately against the ordinance, a few community members came forward with their approval. University Heights resident Lori Marshall said she is for the rezoning.

"I think Melrose Avenue is an appropriate space for high density housing," she said, and more retail space could "update our revenue base."

Traffic engineer Brian Willham also presented a traffic simulation to demonstrate how the structure would change traffic patterns in the area. The new development will require changes to the intersection at Melrose Avenue and Sunset Street.

"Development or no development … if we could change some of the things in the intersection, that would be a positive impact," Willham said.

At the meeting, Yeggy said she wasn't swayed by results of the survey because not every house was reached. Around 200 homes did not receive the voluntary questionnaire.

"In less than a month, I don't know how to do it any differently from this unless we had an army," Andsager said.

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