Local activists join Chauncey opposition


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Iowa City resident Gary Sanders and local attorney Wally Taylor fought tooth and nail to halt the construction of a new Iowa City location for America’s largest retailer six years ago on 23 acres of city-owned land.

In July 2006, Walmart, seeking to build a new supercenter near the Iowa City Airport, backed out of the initial plans before opening a smaller store on Highway 1 that today remains in operation.

But for the pair, that backing out and lawsuit signaled a win. And now they’re hoping to usher in another victory, this time setting their sights on a controversial 20-story high-rise to be built on the edge of downtown.

The two are jumping on alongside the Iowa Coalition Against the Shadow, a local activist group that’s fighting the construction of Moen Group’s $53 million new tower, the Chauncey, after filing a petition on Tuesday at the Johnson County Courthouse.

The group, headed by Rockne Cole, Jon Fogarty, and Mark McCallum, filed a petition in the 6th District Court on June 10 appealing the City Council’s denial of the group’s rezoning request on city-owned land.

The rezoning application was an attempt to stop the city and developer Marc Moen from moving forward with the project, which they say would be built in a transitional area between downtown and the College Green neighborhood. The petition was denied on a 5-2 measure.

The building, which is being negotiated with the city and Moen, is to be built at the intersection of College and Gilbert Streets at a yet-to-be-announced date. If built, it would include 12 bowling lanes, a café, art gallery, two FilmScene theaters, a 35-unit boutique hotel, residential units, an outdoor movie screen, and parking.

While the two lawsuits involve two very different proposals, Sanders and Taylor said, similarities are evident and the lawsuit against the city in what he said violates the city’s current comprehensive plan is a last-ditch effort to stop the development. Sanders said in addition to being listed on the suit as an intervener, he is forming a new group called Citizens to Preserve the Comprehensive Plan, and a bank account that’s seeking donations has been opened.

“They’re both examples of rezoning land that is not in the public interest,” Sanders said, calling the City Council’s decision to grant Moen and his project the go-ahead “arbitrary and capricious.”  “The private [sector] makes the profit, and the public pays,” he said.

Mayor Matt Hayek, a proponent of the project, and several city councilors did not return requests for comment as of Tuesday evening.

Both Sanders and Taylor said that if necessary, they would take their action to the Iowa Supreme Court.

“Without a comprehensive plan that is followed, a city is just a mishmash of buildings,” Taylor said. “There’s some movement going on now, and we’re changing the conversation.”

But for Moen, the Chauncey is not about actively trying to destroy the integrity of the traditional Iowa City landscape, but rather a chance to meet continued demand for quality downtown housing and commercial and office space in a time in which large student apartment complexes are being built, adding hundreds of living units.

Moen noted that just five of his 26 new condominium units remain available in the company’s new Park@201 high-rise building, 114 S. Dubuque St., as evidence of support.

“Some people just don’t like it, and I understand that and I respect that,” he said. “I understand the debate about the size and design, but I don’t understand why we are ostracizing a group of people that want to be here … [Opponents] want Iowa City to be all inclusive, but if you try to bring quality housing for adults downtown, they scream foul.”

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