City zoning proposals could affect student housing


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A new Iowa City proposal is targeting big student-housing developments.

The Iowa City City Council plans next week to discuss a new rule that would limit the size of housing units developers can build. Currently, the city allows four- and five-bedroom units, but the new rule would cap the limit at three bedrooms in certain areas.

Jeff Davidson, the city director of Planning and Community Development, said passing the proposals would improve housing options for Iowa City residents. The new zoning-code amendment would, among other things, reduce the number of unrelated persons living in one housing unit to a maximum of three.

According to city documents, the proposals would control some of the problems caused by high densities of large apartments — which Davidson said are often used by students.

"I think that [the three-bedroom units] don't have the vandalism and party atmosphere associated with them that the four- and five-bedroom units have associated with them," he said.

Though he hasn't seen the written proposals yet, City Councilor Jim Throgmorton said large student-housing areas can have a negative impact on the community.

"The combination of large, unsupervised, and poorly managed structures and large numbers of students out on their own is a recipe for trouble," said Throgmorton, a UI professor emeritus of urban planning. "It's a shared problem that students and the owners of buildings have. We need to figure out how to deal with the problem together."

The zoning-code amendment also calls for increasing the number of parking spaces for three-bedroom units, providing incentives for one-bedroom apartments, and encouraging a mix of apartment types. The proposals would affect an area now defined as the University Impact Area, which includes sections of eight different neighborhoods near or somewhat near the University of Iowa campus.

Davidson said at least three large-scale redevelopment projects have been proposed in the last several months. Though they were all either turned down or withdrawn, he said the city faced extensive opposition from the neighborhoods that would have been affected.

"They were very controversial," he said. "Those projects involved taking out older buildings and replacing them with large student-apartment buildings."

Following the failure of those three projects, Davidson said the City Council wanted city planning officials to look at zoning provisions and the city's ability to develop four- and five-bedroom housing options.

Though she doesn't have a stance on the proposals yet, City Councilor Susan Mims said, she and other councilors should examine the specifics of the proposals.

"This has to be looked at within the context of the entire neighborhood of where it's being proposed, and how much high density housing we already have."

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