High-rise project sparks debate

BY PAUL OSGERBY | JULY 16, 2014 5:00 AM

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Even after adjustments were made to the contro- versial high-rise project the Chauncey, some com- munity members still feel the project doesn’t fit down- town’s design.

On Tuesday, the Iowa City City Council vot- ed 7-0 to make initial amendments to its ur- ban-renewal plan. A consultation date is set for July 25, and a public hearing has been scheduled for Aug. 29.

Amendments to the plan will address needs to implement funding strate- gies, such as tax-increment options, for projects such as the Chauncey, which now will be 15 stories high, townhomes proposed for Harrison Street in the Riv- erfront Crossings District, as well as streetscape im- provements.

However, public com- mentary was solely focused on negative consequences citizens believed the new high-rise would create. “These actions are becom- ing what I would define as ‘sweetheart deals’ where the intention is to provide [developer Marc] Moen with more funds for building monstrosities,” said Iowa City resident James Knapp during the public hearing.

Behind closed-door meetings with the Moen development group, city officials agreed to adjust the height of the new Chauncey Tower from 20 to 15 stories last week. The high-rise will still retain many proposed fea- tures, including a bowling alley, art gallery, and local cinema. It will also fea- ture hotel facilities and more than 60 units for permanent residence.

Developers have also proposed to house four or five affordable hous- ing units. However, total costs of the affordable units are estimated at $1 million. The estimated con- struction cost of the en- tire project is approxi- mately $49 million. The developer has requested tax-increment support in the region of $13 million. Moen purchased the property from the city for $2.1 million. He has also agreed to fund up to $500,000 for en- hancements of Chauncey Swan Park.

Public commenters were focused on the burden that they said tax-increment funding would create. Rockne Cole, a co-head of the Coalition Against the Shadow, said the coun- cil should not make these funding decisions or in- clude tax-increment fund- ing for the project.

Other members from the community in audience voiced concerns about the city speaking privately with the Moen group, building aesthetics, and the byprod- ucts another high-density residential building would bring to the historic College Green neighborhood.

Several other people al- so said they did not find the location suitable for the comprehensive plan Iowa City adopted. With the urban-renewal plan geared to head into further adjustments, fund- ing options will be reallo- cated among such projects as the Harrison Street townhomes, streetscape improvements, as well as the Chauncey high-rise.

Mayor Matt Hayek noted that a consulta- tion date is set later this month on July 25. A public hearing is also scheduled for Aug. 19 for residents to voice their concerns.

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