IOWA CITY — Iowa City planning staffers are recommending denial of a proposal to build what they say would essentially be a large apartment complex in southeast Iowa City.
While such a project could have implications on the city’s and the Iowa City school district’s efforts to address issues related to the concentration of low-income housing on that side of town, the lack of an adequate street network played a bigger factor in the city’s stance.
“I can honestly tell you it (affordable housing) is actually not a motivation with this project for us,” said Jeff Davidson, Iowa City’s director of planning and community development. “We’re focused on the infrastructure with this one.”
It does play a role in the developer’s pitch, however, with Steve Gordon writing in his application to the city that the 154 units he wants to build would bring “much needed new rental units for working individuals and their families.”
Gordon is requesting a rezoning to amend the plan for nearly 20 acres in the Saddlebrook subdivision near Heinz Road south of Highway 6. The land is platted to allow for 73 manufactured housing units, but Gordon instead wants to put up 19 buildings with 154 total units.
The Planning and Zoning Commission will consider the application at its Sept. 5 meeting.
The area under discussion, south of Paddock Circle, has no direct access to public streets or bus service. Instead, there would be one private street, which goes through a manufactured housing park and that the city says is narrow and raised public safety concerns from the Fire Department.
The current plan also calls for a single block more than 1,200 feet long east to west and 800 feet long north to south.
The city estimates traffic would be high enough to trigger a city rule that secondary access be required.
The city eventually plans to extend Heinz Road to the south and McCollister Boulevard to the east and they could serve the development, but that will not occur in the foreseeable future.
“If there were better street access to this property, we would look at it more seriously,” said Bob Miklo, Iowa City’s senior planner.
His department’s recommendation to deny also says the project runs counter to the affordable housing section of the city’s comprehensive plan, which calls for a mix of housing with small multi-family buildings on corners next to arterial streets.
The Saddlebrook proposal “essentially would allow a large apartment complex in an area of the city that already has large concentrations of multi-family housing,” associate planner Sarah Walz wrote in her report to the Planning and Zoning Commission.
Affordable housing in southeast Iowa City has been a hot topic among city, neighborhood and school district representatives in recent years. Some people argue there is too high a concentration of low-income housing in the area and that has negative consequences on the neighborhoods there and the schools.
The Iowa City Council two years ago adopted a model that prevents city-controlled money from going to rental housing projects that include new construction or property acquisition in areas where there already is a concentration of low-income housing.
Most of southeast Iowa City is closed to that funding, but the policy does not apply to privately funded housing like the current Saddlebrook plan, and that land is just outside a restricted area anyway.
The housing issue also has an effect on the Iowa City school district, which has developed a diversity policy to achieve greater socio-economic balance across its schools. The two elementary schools in southeast Iowa City had the highest poverty rates in the district last school year.
The district also has many schools that are overcrowded and plans to build two new elementary schools in southeastern and eastern Iowa City.
Schools Superintendent Stephen Murley said the Saddlebrook project would not be a great concern even if it went forward. The new schools will ease overcrowding and the redrawing of boundaries when the buildings open will provide a way to balance student demographics, he said.
Gordon did not immediately return phone messages Tuesday. His is the sole name listed the application, but he used the word “we” in the material and provided the Heinz Road address of AM Management Inc., where he works. The land is owned by Paddock LLC, which is registered with the Iowa Secretary of State with that same address.
In his application, Gordon wrote that his project will meet a need for rental housing and would add $11 million to the city’s tax base and generate $215,000 a year in property taxes, at current tax rates.
It is rare for staff to recommend denial of a request to the Planning and Zoning Commission. Typically, developers will modify a project in response to staff concerns or drop it before it gets to the commission, Davidson and Miklo said.