Iowa City City Council votes not to approve Hickory Trail Estates

The rezoning item failed to pass, with only two Iowa City City Council members voting to approve the Hickory Trail Estates plan and public commenters encouraging a “no” vote.


Nichole Harris/The Daily Iowan

The Iowa City City Council is seen at an Iowa City City Council meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020. (Nichole Harris/The Daily Iowan

Natalie Dunlap, News Editor

Developers will need to return to the drawing board for the Hickory Trail Estates plan following an Iowa City City Council vote that rejected the rezoning plan.

During the Tuesday night meeting, five councilors rejected the plan, with City Councilors Laura Bergus and Susan Mims voting in favor of the plan. 

Adam Tarr, an attorney from Pugh Hagan Prahm, spoke on behalf of the rezoning applicant, Nelson development. 

He argued that the proposal “expands and improves and protects the diversity of the park, while also addressing a vital need for senior housing including memory units. It adds a quality single family housing stock to the side.” 

He said the developer had worked with the city forester, the park staff, city council staff, and the Planning and Zoning Commission on this plan. 

The parks and forestry staff of Iowa City reviewed the landscaping plan and had no objections to it, he said.  

The development would cover 48.75 acres of land and consist of low density single-family housing and memory units for geriatric adults. 

“It’s now the council’s sworn duty to act in good faith tonight, and apply the law you have, not the law you want, to accept the overwhelming recommendation of staff and approve the final reading of this application,” Tarr said in closing. 

When the floor was opened for public comment on the agenda item, more than a dozen people spoke, all voicing opposition to the rezoning. 

Casey Kohrt, the chair of Friends of Hickory Hill Park, said the project was not compliant with the Northeast District Plan and voiced frustration about Iowa City considering the vote. 

He said after the Hickory Heights development was approved, members of Friends of Hickory Hill Park decided they needed to work with the city going forward, and that resulted in the Northeast District Plan. 

“Now, if you’re going to vote against that I ask myself, ‘Why bother?’” Kohrt said. “We were told that this is how we protest, and then you’re going to throw the plan out the window.” 

Other speakers said this development would make the park less welcoming and inclusive, more busy with traffic, and that it would cause environmental issues. 

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Iowa City resident Matthew DeForest called Hickory Hill Park the “gem of Iowa City.”

“What is so appealing is that you can get lost in nature. Already with the encroachment of the more recent developments, you feel like you’re in somebody else’s country club, and it’s just going to make that 10 times worse,” DeForest said. “It’s really going to be a disaster.”

During city councilor discussion, City Councilor Pauline Taylor said she felt the passion expressed by residents, and that she would be voting no. 

City Councilor John Thomas, who voted against the rezoning plan on June 16, as well, said he would again be voting no as he believes the intent of the Northeast District Plan is not achieved by the current proposal. 

Bergus said she would vote in favor as she was confident the plan won’t impact views from the park, like Hickory Heights, and because the proposal expands the park. 

She added she was concerned about what a potential future group of councilors might choose to do with the land.

Mayor Bruce Teague said he wants to support the memory care element of the plan, but that this wasn’t the time for the city council to approve this project. 

Mims emphasized that Iowa City does not own the land. For her, she said, the plan met the requirements, and voted in support of the rezoning.

“It does have an interim development zoning and so the property owner does have a right to develop it,” Mims said. “… The real question for us tonight is whether or not we believe that it meets the requirements for that comp plan, and fits in with what should be in that Northeast District.”