New recommendation would make Good Neighbor Program meetings between developers, residents mandatory

The commission recommended that meetings be mandatory for annexations and project-specific amendments to the city zoning map.


Ayrton Breckenridge

Iowa City Downtown District office front as seen on Sept. 2.

Brian Grace, News Reporter

The Iowa City Planning and Zoning Commission recommended that the city’s Good Neighbor Program make certain meetings between land developers and neighboring residents mandatory. The proposal includes meetings for annexations and project-specific amendments to the city zoning map.

Previously, the Good Neighbor Program allowed for developers to voluntarily meet with renters and property owners who live nearby a development site and take feedback from residents regarding land development.

Developers will still be responsible for reaching out to neighboring residents, though projects not including annexations and/or project-specific amendments will remain voluntary.

The Good Neighbor Program began in 2013 as a city effort to create dialogue between land developers and neighboring residents who would be impacted by the development process. The city has reaffirmed its position in keeping the program as an optional avenue for connecting the two parties until now as city council and staff review the commission’s new recommendation.

Iowa City Senior Planner Anne Russett is the staff contact for the Planning and Zoning Commission. She said the addition of mandatory meetings was an effort to increase awareness among residents regarding new developments and communication between them and developers.

“I think the commission oftentimes hears from neighboring residents who come to their meetings and express concerns or are concerned that they were not aware of the project,” Russett said. “The city sends out letters as well to neighbors, but I think the commission thinks that any efforts that can be made to increase our communication and try to better ensure that people are aware of projects is a good thing.”

RELATED: New Riverfront Crossing student apartments will be eight stories tall when fully constructed

The planner said in a memo to City Manager Geoff Fruin that in addition to mandating certain meetings, the commission recommended the notification radius for neighbors be increased from 300 feet to 500 feet, as well as looking for ways to increase electronic notification methods.

The memo also said the mandatory meetings will require amendments to the city zoning code, as well as possibly adopting a formal good-neighbor policy.

Russett said the commission is waiting on city council input on the recommendation, which will be discussed in an upcoming city council work session.

City Councilor Susan Mims said there are conflicting issues the city council will need to evaluate when looking at the recommendation and how the city might implement it.

“One is making sure that the neighbors have the opportunity to get as much information as early as possible and to get input,” Mims said. “There’s also the issue of not adding requirements that potentially expand or extend the amount of time or increase the cost of development. If we’re going to require them, I hope we can do it in a manner that doesn’t make things more burdensome for the developers.”

Mims went on to agree with the additional recommendation of increasing the notification zone to 500 feet.

“I think that’s a pretty reasonable requirement,” Mims said. “You get out there and 500 feet isn’t a whole lot of distance, you know, not a major change in your neighborhood…I’d like to hear what developers have to say.”

City Councilor Laura Bergus called for getting more information out to the public regarding development updates.

“In general, I like the idea of pushing information out to people who may be impacted by land use decisions in more ways and more directly,” Bergus said. “I’m interested to see how the discussion goes.”