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 begins process to update comprehensive plan

The city hopes to better incorporate its values of equity and sustainability with the updated planning document, which guides housing and development decisions.
The+Iowa+City+Council+holds+a+meeting+in+Iowa+City+on+Monday%2C+Nov.+6%2C+2023.
Ava Neumaier
The Iowa City Council holds a meeting in Iowa City on Monday, Nov. 6, 2023.

The City of Iowa City started the process of an extensive update to its comprehensive plan, which is a non-regulatory document the city uses to guide its decisions in zoning and land use decisions.

City staff outlined some preliminary goals it has for an update of the plan, which was adopted and put into use in 2013. These goals were shared with the city council at its Jan. 16 work session and the Jan. 17 Planning and Zoning Commission meeting.

Anne Russett, the city’s senior planner, said although the comprehensive plan is not regulatory, it is still an important document because it outlines the city’s priorities for how it wants to use and develop land.

It also influences decisions about economic development, parks and green space, arts, culture, sustainability, and transportation.

“Development happens slowly over time, so we’re going to adopt this plan and nothing’s going to change overnight,” Russett said. “But we need to get this in place in order to do some of the more important zoning code changes that we want to evaluate.”

Some of the overarching goals behind the update are:

  • Center the comprehensive plan around housing equity and sustainability
  • Accurately represent the unique development and housing needs of each neighborhood and its demographics
  • Create a more concise system of planning documents that are consistent with each other and the modern needs of the city

One specific topic brought up at both meetings was the somewhat confusing nature of the city’s district planning documents. These individual documents fall under the comprehensive plan and provide a more specific picture of an area’s needs, whereas the comprehensive plan acts as a more general rubric.

At the council and commission meetings, city staff said these plans are hard to maintain, so some are outdated and do not reflect the area’s current development needs. Also, some districts do not have their own plans, while other districts are so similar that their plans are essentially the same.

Because of this, city staff are considering either a reduction of the number of planning districts or getting rid of the district planning system entirely and just incorporating any unique planning needs within the comprehensive plan.

At the city’s Jan. 17 Planning and Zoning Commission meeting, commission chair Michael Hensch said the current district plan system is too cumbersome, and he supports combining the plans into a smaller amount.

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

“I’ve been on [this commission] for nine years and some of the plans are pretty hopelessly out of date,” Hensch said. “Either consolidate them or have the consultant update them. It’s got to be one or the other.”

Mayor Bruce Teague said at a Jan. 16 city council meeting that he would like to see the comprehensive plan become a more general rubric to alleviate the confusion with the district plans but also flexible enough to adapt to the city’s changing demands.

“I came on council in 2018, and one of the biggest things that I consistently hear from the community … is [having] everybody on the same page through documents,” Teague said. “Some of our values aren’t really shown in [the plan] a little bit, and so this would just be doing an overhaul to make sure all of that is a part of this document to help guide all parties involved.”

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About the Contributors
Isabelle Foland, News Editor
(she/her)
Isabelle Foland is a second-year student at the University of Iowa majoring in Journalism and Mass Communication and minoring in Spanish. She is a second-year news reporter at The Daily Iowan, reporting mainly on Iowa City City Council. She is from Missouri Valley, Iowa and has reported for her hometown paper prior to her time at The DI.
Ava Neumaier, Photojournalist
(she/her/hers)
Ava Neumaier is a first-year student at the University of Iowa, majoring in English & Creative Writing. She was the Editor-in-Chief of her high school yearbook in New York, and has interned for a New York Times photographer. She enjoys taking pictures of performances and student life.