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Local group speaks out against The Chauncey

BY NICK HASSETT | JANUARY 29, 2013 5:00 AM

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After a 6-1 Iowa City City Council vote to approve building a 20-story building at the intersection of College and Gilbert Streets, many thought the matter had been settled.

But one local group is still fighting for alternatives.

The Iowa Coalition Against the Shadow, a group headed by Iowa City residents Jon Fogarty and Rockne Cole, met at the Iowa City Public Library, 123 S. Linn St., on Monday night to discuss ways to stop the development, The Chauncey.

“We want citizens’ voices to be heard, and the decision that’s made reflect community values,” Cole said. “This is our park, our commons, and we all want input into this.”

The Chauncey proposal included residential and office space as well as entertainment venues, with a focus on the latter. The 20-story building would also include two FilmScene theaters.

With all the chairs in the meeting room taken, people lined the back of the room, and though their name suggests opposition to the height of the building, their grievances with the Chauncey were as varied as they were numbered.

The first plan of action for the group is to push for certain zoning for the planned area for the Chauncey, which would limit the height.

Local real-estate agent Mark McCallum described the reasoning behind the plan.

“[For the building to be built], the area has to be rezoned to CB10 zoning,” he said. “This neighborhood has been a low-density commercial district for years.”

The group will push for the area to be zoned as CB5, which would allow for 75-foot buildings, far lower than the 20-story proposal. The group plans to speak at the Iowa City Planning and Zoning Commission meeting on Feb. 7.

For many, the finances behind the project were important. The city plans to invest $13.4 million of tax-increment financing in the Chauncey, which Fogarty thinks won’t deliver as much to the city as other proposals.

“A healthy process is to take all the ideas, toss them out, and start over,” he said. “I find something I liked about all nine proposals, and we’ll get one-eigth of them if we’re lucky. This is a 100-year mistake in the making.”

Cole thought the Chauncey was a gamble.

“There are too many unknowns,” he said. “We just want to go for a lay-up, not a half-court lob.”
Rohrbach Associates, the development firm behind the Chauncey proposal, did not respond to requests for comment Monday evening, but it has previously defended its plans for the building.

“We see it being a lively building at all times of the day,” project leader Steve Rohrbach previously told The Daily Iowan in a Nov. 27 article.

At the City Council meeting on Jan. 22, some councilors expressed doubts about the building.
Councilor Jim Throgmorton was concerned about the height of the building, while others spoke about the use of tax dollars on the project.

“I’m against using TIF funding for this,” City Councilor Terry Dickens said. “Other proposals did not ask for assistance.”

TIF uses tax dollars to subsidize development and infrastructure.

However, one Iowa City resident thought the financial aspects of the proposal were not as important as others.

“The financial effect of the project, while enormous, should not be as great a consideration as what effect the project will have on creating a communal space that nurtures a web of social relationships, precious public space, and our identity,” Jan Palmer said.

Iowa City resident Dana Thomann thought the Chauncey doesn’t fit the city.

“Iowa City is known for space, and we’re crowding it too much,” she said. “This building should be built to not have a shadow.”

Ultimately, Fogarty doesn’t want the coalition to be seen as negative but about trying to find solutions.

“We don’t want to push against something; we want to be for something,” he said. “Let’s keep it positive.”


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