Friday, March 13, 2009

A Grocery Store!

Well that's what I heard when I went to a public meeting to listen to a development proposal being made for the St. Andrew's church site two blocks from us.

Here is the media's write up complete with snarky comments that so drearily seem to define our dialogues:

Residents discuss condo idea

A little backgrond: University Heights (our fair city) is 1000 souls surrounded by Iowa City. Immediately to our east outside city limits is the UI football stadium:

and the largest teaching hospital in the known universe:

(I am not exaggerating either)The picture above is a tiny bit of the original structure which is now nearly invisible due to building around it.

At our far western border was a private club named "The University Athletic Club" which was created 50 years ago, in an era of restricted alcohol sales, some would say as a way for wealthy alumni to have a stiff belt before/during/after football.

The "Athletic Club" has been University Heights ONLY major commercial entity since it's inception. Last fall the University of Iowa BOUGHT said private club in order to have a catering/banquet hall facility to replace the flooded Iowa Memorial Union. This will likely reduce our city budget by at least 10% due to the loss of commercial property tax revenue since the UI is tax exempt.

Connecting the hospital and the Athletic club to areas to the west and east is Melrose Ave, which is four lanes wide from I-380 up to the University Heights city limit where it narrows to two lanes, and then immediately after crossing the railroad bridge back into Iowa City again goes to four lanes. This road neatly splits our small community in two. It is a major arterial road for the greater metropolitan area.

Prior to UI's purchase of the athletic club quiet negotiations were underway for a developer to buy St. Andrew's Church which is adjacent to the Athletic Club. UI had a right of first refusal and passed, in 2007, on the property for 4.3 million, according to the developer. The congregation has now bought land for a new church and the developer has made preliminary plans for this project. Lots of things need to happen including changing Sunset/Melrose intersection by filling in a steep ravine and re-routing Sunset.

I give the developer credit for having public meetings, I am delighted at the thought of a walkable grocerty store, that is the thing we gave up in moving here that I miss the most. Here is our old grocery store, which was half a block away through the back alley from our previous house:

Go HERE: Dirty John's to read about this Iowa City institution

Here is the developer's proposal(a bad PDF)Of course what is driving many people crazy is that there will be 36 condo units above the commercial property to the front of the lot and the NINE STORY residential condo building to the rear. It must be said that this developer was part of a plan to build a similar residential structure on the Athletic Club property 3 years ago which was defeated by community opposition. So those folks were out again in full force last night. I'm not opposed to the project.

I think the project as a whole would be beneficial to the community, and I'm guessing that if developed to the scale proposed, it would likely double our city property tax revenue. My suggestion would be to take whatever increase we get in revenues and put it into a fund to buy the wooded ravine to the north of town and get us some protected green park space. If projects like this would stop further regional sprawl by building denser near the center of the greater metropolitan area I say more power to them.

The kicker in all this is that the congregation has yet to vote on moving, and at even the most optimistic scenario, phase I, moving the road, wouldn't begin until fall 2010, with construction perhaps not starting until 2012.


StuccoHouse said...

I hope the two sides can work something out. It's weird to see how fast people become entrenched these days. When I first moved into this side of town, a stretch of land that had been an empty eyesore for years was being developed. The developer worked w/ the community and scaled down his building (restaurant, coffeeshop, pizza, gift shop & condos above)- although there were many people that wanted nothing to go in. Half way through the building, there was a suspicious fire that burned everything to the ground. The builder rebuilt. Now, 5 yrs later, that place looks great...& is hopping w/ people. Outdoor dining space is a hit. It's brought life back to a street that was getting very sketchy. Keep in mind I am generally not a fan of new development in old neighborhoods when I tell this story.

Now if we could only convince another little convenience store to move back into the building a block away from me, my life would be perfect.

Mike said...

Hey Stucco,

I hear you, and agree completely. What's unfortunate is that some people are so set that they will not see options.

The chi chi restaurant at the end of our street (in the only other commercial property in town, a single building with a restaurant, dental office, and 12 x 20 foot "City Hall/Police Station" was a grocery store into the 1980's. (Rumor was that they made as much selling beer on six home football game weekends as they did the rest of the year put together)

That being said it is also unfortunate that the only major apartment complex in our town, which was built in the forties, is in the process of being turned into condominiums. We destroyed the last affordable place for working class families with children to live anywhere near here. The complex had a playground with equipment and green fields. There was enough room for tenant gardens too! That open space has been built over, and parents of university students are buying these former apartments for their undergraduate children. I know there is a great deal of frustration over this among those who now oppose all building!

Sensitive infill is no easy matter.

Anonymous said...

Comment only tangetially related: I went to grad school at Iowa at the turn of the century (never thought I'd get to say that! - 1999 to 2001) and visited John's grocery on a regular basis since it was a very short jaunt from the Psych building.