Old cottage's preservation future in danger


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The Iowa City City Council could soon settle a battle between property-owner rights and the preservation of historic buildings.

The City Council on Tuesday scheduled a special meeting that will occur in the next week to decide the fate of three cottages on South Dubuque Street.

At the special meeting, the council will decide whether to hold a public hearing that would put a moratorium on demolition of the cottages.

The cottages currently house the Book Shop, 608 S. Dubuque St., Suzy’s Antiques & Gifts, 610 S. Dubuque St., and Moy Yat Ving Tsun Kung Fu Academy, 614 S. Dubuque St.

Councilor Michelle Payne said holding the special meeting is the proper thing to do.

“It’s the fair thing to do,” she said. “To hear both sides.”

Mayor Matt Hayek said the biggest reason to schedule the special meeting was the timing of the problem.

“I do not like the last-minute nature of this, the 11th-hour approach,” he said. “But there is so much communication, and I fear the applicants and property owner’s voice hasn’t been heard throughout this, either.”

According to a structural report in November from VJ Engineering, the buildings are not safe.

The city received a report on Tuesday before the meeting from a separate engineering firm, Morningside Engineering, that concluded “overall, the buildings are structurally sound.”

John Yapp, the city director of transportation, said the second report doesn’t change the fact that the city has asked the owner to abate the buildings, because officials want to take a conservative approach.

Yapp presented to the council during its work session the situation that has evolved from the original engineering report.

He said the owner of the building had been notified the structural issues must be either demolished or repaired.

Ted Pacha, the owner of the building, has since applied for a permit for the buildings to be demolished.

Demolition could be delayed by 60 days if a public hearing is set, which would be enough time for the city to decide whether the buildings are historic landmarks.

Late Tuesday afternoon, the city received a historic-landmark application for the property, which will now be looked at by the Historic Preservation Committee and the Planning and Zoning Commission before coming before the City Council.

In addition, the city will have to receive comment from the state.

The city received a large amount of email correspondence related to the demolition, which Hayek said was another reason for holding a special meeting, and he encouraged community members to hold their comments until that meeting.

Part of the correspondence was a Change.org petition that at the time of the council meeting Tuesday had 596 supporters to set a public hearing related to the historic preservation of 608, 610, and 614 S. Dubuque St.

Mayor Pro Tem Susan Mims compared the relatively quick nature of events in this case to an avalanche.

“[Citizens] don’t necessarily take any interest or action to avoid having [demolition] happen as long as the current property owner doesn’t upset them,” she said. “Then you get a groundswell of people.”

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