Iowa City updating Comprehensive Plan with focus on diversity, affordable housing

This update will ensure the city’s future community development, planning, and zoning is in line with the city council’s housing affordability and diversity goals.


Daniel McGregor-Huyer

The Iowa City Council is seen at a meeting at Iowa City City Hall on August 16, 2022.

Isabelle Foland, News Reporter

The City of Iowa City is in the early stages of updating its Comprehensive Plan to align it better with the city council’s housing diversity and affordability goals.

The Comprehensive Plan acts as a guide for the city’s zoning, planning, and development decisions and codes.

In the city’s March 30 information packet, Iowa City Neighborhood and Development Services provided an update on where the city stands in reaching the goals outlined in the 2022 Affordable Housing Action Plan.

This plan outlines 29 different action steps the city will take over the course of five years to combat affordable housing issues in Iowa City.

Recent action steps that have been taken include a new program with Shelter House that aims to improve housing retention in the community. Additionally, there was an update to the Southwest District Plan that will make the area’s housing more equitable and sustainable.

Within the packet, city staff indicated the city had budgeted funds in its recent fiscal 2024 budget to pay a consultant to assist the city in updating its Comprehensive Plan.

RELATED: IC approves fiscal 2024 budget

The agenda states this update will help the council achieve its goals of greater density and diverse housing types within its neighborhoods.

“Changes to the Comprehensive Plan may include consolidating or reducing district plans and substantially expanding the scope of allowed types of housing in single-family residential zones,” it states.

In an interview with The Daily Iowan, Iowa City Senior Planner Anne Russett said a larger update is needed in the current Comprehensive Plan because it has not been updated in almost a decade.

Because the Comprehensive Plan is important for guiding a multitude of city decisions, a consultant was necessary to bring on board because city staff would not be able to take on such a big project entirely by themselves, Russett said.

“The comprehensive plan covers things from arts and culture to land use to the environment to economic development to transportation; it truly is comprehensive,” Russett said. “It’s a big undertaking.”

Russett said this update is necessary because the city will only be able to truly achieve its housing goals after first updating the Comprehensive Plan.

“We can’t just change the zoning code. We’re kind of restricted based on the current policy direction and what that allows,” Russett said. “So that’s why we need to go back and reevaluate the land use direction and the land use policy that’s outlined in the current adopted Comprehensive Plan.”

Russett said the update process is in the very early planning stages as of now and may take up to several years to fully complete. This is because it will take a lot of interdepartmental meetings and community input throughout the entire process to ensure the updated plan complies with what the community would like to see, she said.

In terms of the next steps, Iowa City City Councilor Shawn Harmsen said the council must first decide what the overall update process will look like, including how many public meetings and public input gathering tools they would like to implement. This will be discussed in upcoming city council meetings, he said.

Harmsen said he predicts this step will be completed by this fall, and from there, the city will have a rough timeline of what the update process will look like. This will allow them to then put out a proposal request for consultants who are interested in taking on the project, he said.

Sometime in 2024, the process of meeting with the city’s different boards and commissions as well as with the public will start, Harmsen said.

While the update process may seem tedious to some, Harmsen said it is important that the city gathers a lot of input throughout the entire procedure as the Comprehensive Plan will inform decisions made years from now.

“We often will talk about decisions we make or planning for the future or taking care of future generations of Iowa City residents, and this is literally one of those processes,” Harmsen said. “And so it’s long, it’s drawn out, but considering the length of time that it could have an impact, [it’s] worth the effort and worth the reflection and the time.”