Chauncey to go forward


By Gage Miskimen

[email protected]

A new City Council won’t affect the controversial Chauncey Tower project.

The Chauncey Tower, when finished, will be a multiuse building for living, as well as office space. There are also plans for a bowling alley, a movie theater, and hotel rooms. The $49 million project will start construction in June.

The idea has already experienced some legal turbulence during planning, but now it appears the project is ready to take off.

Councilor-elect Rockne Cole, part of the progressive Core Four coalition, said the city is bound and obligated to fulfill all legal obligations that have already occurred.

“We of course are required to honor the promises that have been made to develop the community,” he said. “I don’t want a rug to be pulled out on a prior contract that has been made.”

Cole said the current council has already made the decisions and any changes that the future council makes would be prospective.

“I had some concerns about it, but one of the things we are responsible for as councilmen in the future is to assess how to move on with decisions that have already been made,” he said.

Cole mentioned there were some positive aspects to the project but he still had concerns.

“One thing I’m a fan of is the mixed use,” he said. “I was not a fan of the scale and the way that it was funded. There are elements I liked to it but my concerns outweighed the positive element of it.

City Manager Tom Markus said the property has been rezoned and the development agreement has been executed, though he is not aware of an effect the elections would have on this project.

Trinity Episcopal Church attempted to propose a petition, which other media have referred to as a lawsuit, contending the rezoning for the project was contradictory to the city’s land-use plan.

The Rev. Lauren Lyon, director of Trinity Episcopal, said what the church pursued was a petition, not a lawsuit.

Iowa City Mayor Matt Hayek said he had originally hoped not to support the Chauncey proposal.

“I knew there would be opposition to anything associated with developer Marc Moen, regardless of the merits,” he said.

Hayek said all of the proposals for a downtown building presented envisioned a high-rise structure, TIF support, and the same rezoning, but it became clear to him the Chauncey proposal was better than the others.

“The Chauncey was superior on many levels — including the aesthetic look, the public amenities, and the overall mix of uses,” he said. “I knew we would take a political hit if we selected another Moen project, but the proposal was clearly the best. That’s why it received my support.”

Christopher Warnock, an attorney representing Trinity Episcopal Church, said Iowa City’s comprehensive plan as a constitution for zoning and the project does not follow the comprehensive plan. He said Trinity Episcopal Church didn’t think the process of the Chauncey project was legal.

“They were concerned about the way things were done,” Warnock said. “There wasn’t enough community involvement and they were concerned with the high level of public funding. $15 million is coming from the city.”

Warnock said the judge denied the legal action because the plan doesn’t put height or density restrictions of the property.

“The comprehensive plan basically doesn’t mean anything,” he said. “To protest, you have to have 20 percent of property owners neighboring the site, but the city owns all of the land so to protest, the city would have to protest. Since the city approved the project, they don’t want to protest it, so there can’t be a protest.”

Lyon said the church simply wanted the city’s actions to be reviewed.

“The two actions that the petition questioned had to do with the city’s departure of the specifics of the master plan downtown and that the Trinity had no position to protest based on the amount of land the church owns in that particular area,” she said.

Warnock said Trinity does not have a financial stake in the issue and they just wanted the community more involved.

“They felt that somebody had to stand up for the community,” he said. “Obviously, the developer has a direct personal interest and he will lose a lot of money if the project doesn’t go through.”

Warnock said the issues surrounding the proposed building demonstrate a split in the town.

“This shows the power of developers and business that run the entire city,” he said. “The reality is that people talk liberal in Iowa City, but the city government acts in a very conservative way. They are a small group of people who are all connected and all know each other very well.”

After the dismissal of the proposed petition, Trinity Episcopal Church has 30 days to appeal.

Lyon said the vestry would hold a meeting in early November to decide what to do next.

“They will discuss the next steps, but there has been nothing decided yet,” she said.

Facebook Comments