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Locals wary of development after synagogue relocation

BY ERIC LIGHTNER | JULY 13, 2012 6:30 AM

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Local residents say the loss of Agudas Achim synagogue will remove valuable green space from the city and make way for unwanted development.

The Iowa City Historic Preservation Commission met Thursday night to decide if the structure of a proposed building where Agudas Achim stands would fit in with the neighborhood. The buildings would be constructed at 602 E. Washington St. across from College Green Park, and the proposed structure would include 12 new townhouses. The Historical Preservation Commission voted to allow the construction of the townhouses and approved the demolition of the existing synagogue.

Synagogue staff members were unavailable for comment Thursday evening. The group purchased the former site of Gold's Gym in Coralville in December 2011, and it expects renovations to be completed by early fall, according to the synagogue's website.

Johnson County Supervisor Terrence Neuzil said it's common for there to be some controversy surrounding the building of new housing complex over an existing site in any community.

"Obviously, whenever you have some kind of new kind of development taking place, you're going to have some attention drawn to whether it's good for the community," he said.

Iowa City resident Jeff Cox, who attended the meeting, said he was disappointed with the Historical Commission's apparent lack of authority involving the green space around the houses to be built.

"I am disappointed that the commission didn't sort of raise some of these issues with preserving the green space with the developer," he said. "I assume it is not something they care about."

The building would be in a residential area with easy access to the park and is zoned for low-density multifamily housing, which allows the building of this number of units.

Senior city planner Robert Miklo said the commission's role in this meeting was not to determine whether the building would be built there but to discuss the design of the building.

Alicia Trimble, the executive director of Friends of Historic Preservation, said the best thing for the neighborhood is long-term tenants rather than college housing.

"It's a lovely neighborhood now, and I think that people don't want it to become more of the apartments that just keep spreading over Iowa City," she said.

Local business owners expressed their regret and concern with losing more of the city to apartment structures.

Michael Burt, Iowa City resident and owner of Fired Up, 520 E. Washington St., said he worries there will be more students moving into the new housing area and those students will use the space as a party area.

"The builders in town are hell-bent on building the most modern new buildings and want to make it look like Chicago," he said. "My opinion is if you want to build a giant building that looks like Chicago, you should build it in Chicago."

Jenifer Angerer, marketing manager of the New Pioneer Co-Op, 22 S. Van Buren St., said she is frustrated by the number of buildings being torn down for apartment complexes in Iowa City.

"From a historical perspective, it's a shame to see a structure torn down and replaced with more apartment complexes," she said.


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