Two historic Iowa City homes saved from demolition

BY ALY BROWN | JUNE 15, 2012 6:30 AM

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The Iowa City Historic Preservation Commission turned down a proposal to demolish two houses on Governor St. in order to make way for a fraternity Thursday night.

The 111 S. Governor house was constructed in 1922, according to the Iowa City assessor, and 115 S. Governor was built in 1927.

Justin Mulford, a Coralville resident, and Kevin Watts, the property owner, proposed to demolish the properties to build a new Sigma Nu fraternity house. The fraternity lost its house approximately five years ago and has been renting since, according to the commission's April 12 minutes.

Historical Preservation Commission member William Downing said the group has seen many buildings in similar repair and did not allow demolition in those cases.

"There is a large percentage of houses in this neighborhood with clay tiles," he said, noting the foundation of the two houses. "I don't expect any great number of them will collapse in the next five years."

Mulford wrote to the commission in his application for demolition that he believed the fraternity would offer a more "stable environment" than the previous occupants of both homes. Neighbors have had issues with tenants for years, he said.

There are four sororities in the immediate area, and this building would contribute to the neighborhood in a similar way, he said.

"The neighborhood is there to preserve the greek society," he said at Thursday's meeting. "It would be basically adding to the neighborhood by contributing to the greek society."

He wrote in the application that the fraternity would be a more permanent piece of the neighborhood than the current buildings.

"The structure of the house will be one that, with the help of the Historical Preservation Committee, will contribute to the neighborhood and will be a part of that district for many years to come," he said.

Mulford said after the meeting that he has no plans to appeal or move ahead with the project.

Mike Wright, a former Iowa City City Councilor, said the fraternity would not be a positive contribution to the neighborhood.

"His plan would be absolutely detrimental to the neighborhood," he said. "Nothing positive would come from the demolition."

Wright said the houses are "key to the neighborhood" because of their large stature and prominence in the area.

"The only obvious reason to demolish these houses is if they were beyond reclamation," he said. "It's a pretty clear decision [to not approve the demolition.]"

Mulford said he had an engineer review the properties, and they were found to be in need of repair.

The foundations on both houses are cracked, and they are expected to deteriorate within the next five years, he said.

Commission member Esther Baker said the buildings will need maintenance in the near future, but do not merit demolition.

The commission unanimously voted 11-0 to disallow demolition, and Baker moved for city inspection to prevent demolition by neglect.

"They clearly need repair," she said. "But we have disallowed demolition of similar houses in similar condition."

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