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Environmentally safe housing project discussed at meeting

BY RACHEL GREEN | SEPTEMBER 19, 2014 5:00 AM

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The Prairie Hills cohousing community Board of Managers unveiled its next step in a plan to create the first cohousing community in Iowa City.

On Thursday evening, the board asked the Iowa City Planning and Zoning Commission for an increase in the amount of land.

Five Iowa City residents, who now make up the Board of Managers for Iowa City Cohousing, started meeting in 2009 to discuss the various alternatives to traditional housing and found all the qualities they were looking for in the Danish model of cohousing.

The cohousing neighborhood was originally going to be built on 7.8 acres of land, but at the meeting last night, board members asked for an increase to 9.65 acres.

The proposal of adding more land to Prairie Hills has been deferred until the Planning and Zoning Commission’s first October meeting.

Some of the qualities found in cohousing include a lower carbon footprint, shared resources, and an emphasis on alternative forms of transportation.

“The main focus is that the homeowners will share facilities to foster interaction among neighbors for social and environmental benefits,” said Del Holland, a member of the Iowa City cohousing Board of Managers and a future resident of Prairie Hill. “One basic aspect of the Iowa City Cohousing project that I really appreciate is allowing me to live in a way that will allow me to lower my impact on the environment without having to sacrifice my quality of life.”

It will include private homes for residents and a large common house, complete with a large dining room, kitchen, workshop, several apartments, and a workout space.

The land that was purchased for the site of Prairie Hill is within walking distance of the University of Iowa, near Benton and Miller Streets.

Construction on the community is projected to be finished and the houses will be livable by the spring of 2015.

Many residents of the surrounding neighborhood addressed their concerns about the project at the meeting, specifically about the dangers of having the Prairie Hills entrance lead onto Benton Street.

Some expressed concern that having a driveway lead onto such a busy street would increase the possibility of accidents.

Mary Knudson, who lives off the street, brought forth a study stating the average accident rate on the street is two-and-a-half times more than the state average.“Other proposals like this were denied or discouraged because of the [angle] that’s 10 to 12 degrees on Benton,” she said. “It’s even more prevalent now, because of a new study that shows the high traffic on the street.”

Many residents of the area also expressed concern over the additions to Benton Hill Park that Iowa City Cohousing plans to add if the increase of land is approved.

Knudson said she wants the existing park to remain unchanged.

“When we had Roosevelt Elementary close, the entire community worked to make this park happen,” Knudson said. “We managed to get everything we wanted.”

Despite some negativity about the project, many of those who spoke out against the entrance and the park are still in favor of having a cohousing unit on the Prairie Hill property.

Ruth Baker, a neighbor in the area, said although she doesn’t want the driveway to be on Benton Street, she still supports the project.

“I would love to see the site develop here,” she said.


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