The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Iowa City defers vote on proposed height limits for new houses in the Northside neighborhood

The amendment has been in discussions since June, and will continue that way into December after a deferred vote.
Ayrton Breckenridge
Councilor Megan Alter is pictured at an Iowa City City Council meeting at City Hall on Monday, June 6, 2022.

The Iowa City City Council elected to defer a vote on a zoning code amendment that would reduce the maximum allowable height of select homes in the Northside neighborhood.

The amendment is a proposal from the Northside Neighborhood Association, which is hoping to reduce the maximum allowable height of new single-family or duplex homes in the RNS-12, or Northside area from 35 feet to 27 feet.

The amendment has been under discussion for months, the process first starting at the city council’s June 6 work session when it directed city staff to examine the proposal.

On Aug. 16, the proposal was presented to the city’s planning and zoning commission, where staff recommended denying the proposal. The commission instead elected to defer judgment to Oct. 18 to allow staff to continue working with the Northside neighborhood on the details of the proposed amendment.

At the Oct. 18 meeting, the commission voted four to three to deny the proposal and to keep the current height limit.

During Tuesday’s formal meeting, city staff presented some of the findings from their work studying the proposal. Danielle Sitzman, development services coordinator, said height limits in the RNS-12 zone exist to prevent the “domination” of adjacent buildings.

“The city has traditionally found that three-story building heights, the 35-foot height, are appropriate in all areas containing single-family uses, including the RNS-12 zone,” Sitzman said. “The purpose of the RNS-12 zone is to maintain a single-family character which has been interpreted as preserving single-family uses and preventing the spread of multifamily convergence and redevelopment.”

She also said the existing height limit is consistent with other single-family residential zones throughout the city. If the amendment were approved, it would require city staff to implement different height requirements for different uses, creating unnecessarily complicated regulations that staff don’t recommend, she said.

Following the staff presentation, members of the public were allowed to comment on the proposal, with six people coming up to speak.

This included Susan Shullaw, a resident of the Northside who also serves on the neighborhood association’s steering committee. 

“We sincerely believe that without this change to the zoning code 35-foot tall single-family and duplex residential structures will be built in RNS-12 zones that are not covered by historic or conservation district overlays,” Shullaw said. “Such inordinately tall structures would further destabilize these already fragile neighborhoods, violate the intent of the RNS-12 zone, and run counter to the objectives of the Comprehensive Plan and the central district plan.”

She also said the area welcomes new residential development as long as the structures are appropriately sized, affordable, and contribute to the character of the city’s older neighborhood.

The other speakers agreed with Shullaw, asking the council to consider the amendment as it was in the best interest of preserving the historic district and neighborhood, especially from developers looking to build new housing in the area.

After hearing from staff and the public, the council unanimously voted to defer judgment to continue discussions on the proposal with the city’s planning and zoning commission.

Before voting, Mayor Pro Tem Megan Alter commented on what she called the tenor of local disagreement. Alter said she was unsettled by how city staff had been treated when examining the proposal.

“I feel that there has been at heart the disagreement has between staff and between passionate very well-informed residents at times has really, to me read that it’s kind of denigrating the professionalism of staff, that they’re looking to cut corners, that there’s a disregard or there’s laziness,” Alter said.

She acknowledged the mistrust between residents and government, from local to national, but said she wasn’t OK with how dismissive members of the public had been with the city staff and their work.

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About the Contributors
Alejandro Rojas
Alejandro Rojas, News Editor
Alejandro Rojas is The Daily Iowan's news editor. He previously worked as a news reporter covering Johnson County and was the summer executive editor in 2023. He is a senior, double majoring in journalism and political science.
Ayrton Breckenridge
Ayrton Breckenridge, Managing Visuals Editor
Ayrton Breckenridge is the Managing Visuals Editor at The Daily Iowan. He is a senior at the University of Iowa majoring in journalism and cinema. This is his fourth year working for the DI.