CEDAR RAPIDS — New affordable housing for seniors has lost out to historic preservation and neighborhood rebuilding.
It wasn’t a close call.
The City Planning Commission Thursday night voted 9-0 to deny a request by an Illinois developer to build a three-story, 48-unit apartment complex in the 1400 block of Third Avenue SE.
Construction of the complex almost surely would have resulted in the demolition of five homes, four of which sit in one of only two special historic districts in the city.
The developer, Richard Sova of the Landover Corp., Lake Barrington, Ill., can take his case to the City Council and ask it to change the future land use map and rezone property.
However, council member Pat Shey, whose district is home to the site of Sova’s proposed project, on Thursday expressed skepticism.
“The merit of the project is so closely linked to the fate of those homes (that face demolition),” Shey said. “… Either those historic districts mean something or they mean nothing. And that’s the big issue here.”
At the heart of the Landover proposal is a property swap with St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, 1340 Third Ave. SE. A 48-unit affordable apartment complex, for those 55 years of age and older, would go up on what mostly is a parking lot across 14th Street SE from the church.
In the proposed property swap, the church would make the property available to Landover. Landover would buy three homes on the other side of the church and provide those St. Paul’s. The church owns a fourth home next to the three others.
Shey, who attended a neighborhood meeting on Oct. 30 with representatives of the Landover Corp. and the church as well as some neighborhood residents, the City Planning Commission and the Historic Preservation Commission, said Thursday that he was not able to get a straight answer from Landover or the church about whether the property swap was conditioned on the company first demolishing the houses. After Thursday night’s meeting, Sova said the company and the church had not finalized such a detail.
An assortment of preservationists, including Maura Pilcher, former chairwoman of the city’s Historic Preservation Commission and now a member of Save CR Heritage, and Amanda McKnight Grafton, current commission chairwoman, emphasized the hard work that neighborhood leaders and City Council members had gone through to establish the city’s two historic districts, the Second and Third Avenue Historic District and the Redmond Park-Grande Avenue Historic District.
Mark Stoffer Hunter, a Cedar Rapids historian and a past chairman of the Historic Preservation Commission, said that the move to establish the two southeast Cedar Rapids historic districts came two decades ago in the wake of home demolitions along Second and Third avenues SE.
Stoffer Hunter and others said the Landover proposal for affordable senior housing made sense, but it needed to go in a more suitable spot.
In voting to reject the housing proposal, commission member Laura Seaton said she wanted to “affirm” the significant investment that people had made to keep the districts historic. She added the size and height of the proposed apartment building “makes no sense” amid the homes that would be on three sides.
After the commission vote, Sova said he was “shocked” at the decision. He said most communities embrace proposals to build affordable senior housing.