University Heights residents call for vote on development


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Development controversy in University Heights continued to broil Tuesday night over development issues with One University Place and the Tax Increment Financing plan Maxwell Construction wants to fund the development.

Residents planned to ask city councilors during the University Heights City Council meeting Tuesday, some passing around signs emblazoned with “Let UH Voters Decide.”

The public concern follows the council approving rezoning last year, allowing a large-scale development project to move into what was a mostly residential community.

“There are three councilors and the mayor who want to put this through against the will of the people,” University Heights resident Mary Mathew Wilson said. “The property hasn’t even been purchased by the developer yet; obviously, they’re trying to get as much done before the election in November.”

In order to go through with the development, Maxwell Construction is asking for a TIF plan.

“This is an irresponsible use of TIF, which is generally used for areas you want to promote for development, bringing in community services or jobs, and this would do none of that,” Councilor Rosanne Hopson said. “This would strictly be for a private developer’s profit, a misuse of tax dollars.”

Councilor Pat Yeggy disagreed, contending that the development would provide tax dollars University Heights wouldn’t have had after the 10 to 20 years of the TIF.

“We want a community space, and we’ll have one now; we don’t have an uptown or a downtown, but this will help,” Yeggy said.

The Johnson County assessor, an independent law firm, and an independent financial firm presented new information to the council.

“[The development is] extremely different from the old residential area, and I’m quite opposed to the development and TIF,” University Heights resident Alice Haugen said.

Hopson said Maxwell Construction asked for a $6.5 million TIF, which would exceed the city’s debt capacity of $5 million; however, the city plans on giving $4 million up front and appropriating $2.5 million over the period of 10 to 20 years.

“Without the TIF, the developer would only get 5 percent profit; with the TIF, it would get 10 percent,” Hopson said. “This is just using public money for private profit.”

Hopson and Councilor Brennan McGrath agree this decision should not be taken lightly and requires more work sessions on behalf of the council.

“By far, this is the biggest decision ever for this great, little small town in Iowa City that usually deals with such problems as game-day trash and the occasional mountain lion,” McGrath said. “This will affect the community for at least 20 years, and we must be mindful of the risks.”

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