Iowa City City Council sets dangerous precedent


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A group of Iowa City residents met Monday night to discuss ways to stop the construction of the Chauncey, a proposed 20-story mixed-use building submitted by the prolific local developer Marc Moen and others that was approved by the City Council in January.

The group, the Iowa Coalition Against the Shadow, opposes the development for myriad reasons, including its efect on downtown zoning regulations, its potential height — the concern that inspires the group’s rather mysterious name — and the proposed use of local tax money to partially fund the project.

During the debate in the City Council, many opponents of the Chauncey spoke out in favor of other proposals they believed to be more cost effective, more environmentally friendly, and more in tune with the needs of the Iowa City community.

Many believe that the council’s 5-1 decision to approve the Chauncey project on Jan. 8 was made without meaningful consideration of the public’s concern.

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

While the Daily Iowan Editorial Board does not necessarily share all of the concerns raised by opponents of the project, we do believe that the City Council has consistently failed to act with interests of all parties in mind, particularly on issues that include large public expenditures.

The city will likely kick in $13.4 million in tax-increment financing — future tax revenues set aside for investment in development and infrastructure — for the construction of the Chauncey. The project was the only proposal to specifically request financial aid from the city, City Councilor Terry Dickens said in a previous interview with the DI.

The Chauncey is just the latest in a series of controversial development projects with steep public price tags. In July 2012, the city moved forward with a TIF plan for another Moen project — the Park@201 building in downtown Iowa City — despite a local petition with more than 800 signatures that sought to bring the allocation of TIF funds to a vote.

In the end, there was no vote, and the city pitched in more than $2 million for the construction of Park@201, which is scheduled to be finished late this year.

Given its recent history, we believe that the City Council is setting a dangerous precedent by investing tax money in development projects without serious considering the will of Iowa City’s residents. There are many potential benefits that can be reaped from TIF funds, but it should be the people, not the council, who have the ultimate say in how their tax dollars are used.

We are all for public investment in development — too often it seems that the resistance to major development projects can be reduced to little more than pathological opposition to change. That being said, when groups raise legitimate concerns about the cost and quality of such projects, the city has a responsibility to go beyond simply hearing the concerns. The city needs to act with the will of its citizens in mind.

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