CEDAR FALLS — A five-story, 55,000-square-foot commercial and apartment building has been proposed for the College Hill area. But parking is a concern.
The project, proposed by a company of developer Brent Dahlstrom, would be an L-shaped building taking up three properties: 2119 College St., 1003 W. 22nd St. and the former Ginger’s bar location at 922 W. 22nd St. The existing buildings on those properties would be demolished.
He presented the plans to the Cedar Falls Planning and Zoning Commission this week. Commissioners discussed but took no action. It appears Dahlstrom will have to come up with significantly more parking spaces to pass muster with the city.
The project would include commercial retail space on the first floor and 63 residential units on the second through fifth floors, according to a city staff report. Of the residential units, 24 would be studio units, 16 would be two-bedroom units, 16 will be three-bedroom units and seven would be four-bedroom units.
Of the existing buildings, “the two multi-family dwellings on the property were constructed in 1900, while the commercial building (Ginger’s, also formerly the Stein and the Pizza House) was constructed in 1972,” the staff report said. “The developer has owned the multi-family dwellings since 2016 and the commercial building since 2012. The Ginger’s building was heavily damaged in a spring 2016 fire that consumed the old Great Wall restaurant building at West 22nd and College, which has since been rebuilt.
The city planning staff is recommending the developer adjust the plan to meet parking, storm water drainage, building setbacks and other requirements.
The city staff report also notes, “The applicant believes that the principal use of the property is commercial, based on the commercial retail space on the first floor and the residential units located on the second through fifth floors. It is the staff’s determination ... that the building’s principal use is residential.”
The report notes the applicant may appeal to the city Board of Adjustment if in disagreement with the staff finding. About 3,000 square feet on the ground floor would be commercial space.
The project site plan, subject to commission and City Council approval, is zoned C-3 commercial but is is within the College Hill Neighborhood Overlay District. The staff report notes “principal permitted residential uses are to be discouraged from being established within the commercial district due to the limited area available for commercial establishments.”
Parking remains a major sticking point. The overlay zoning rules require the development, if it is primarily residential, to have 144 parking stalls. But the site plan only has 47 stalls — 97 short of the overlay district’s requirements — much of it on the first floor of the project. Dahlstrom suggested most of the residents on the project, primarily University of Northern Iowa students, might not have cars.
Dahlstrom told commissioners the project was similar to one the City Council recently approved for him in the block including the former Iowa Sports Supply downtown, or with developer Mark Kittrell’s River Place development along State Street. However, some staff and commissioners noted the College Hill district is different from downtown. In a recent smaller residential-commercial project at 917 W. 23rd St., residents were required to purchase University of Northern Iowa parking permits.
Several zoning commissioners indicated they like Dahlstrom’s project but that parking congestion remains a concern in the College Hill area.
Dahlstrom asked for direction for commissioners and the city to make the project work, such as adding more commercial development so the project qualifies as commercial and requires less parking under current zoning rules. He noted he has been in discussion with city staff for months without resolution.
“I don’t want to argue,” Dahlstrom told commissioners and city staff. “I want to have a project we can all agree upon. I believe it’s an exciting project. We’re just looking for direction.”
The commission received letters from attorneys presenting opposing points of view on the project,
Des Moines attorney Daniel L. Manning Sr. representing a group called Concerned Citizens of College Hill, said the project “virtually ignores city code governing building construction at the proposed site,” noting staff identified “multiple code violations” regarding building height, setbacks and parking.
However, Des Moines attorney Larry James Jr., representing Dahlstrom’s company, said the city code “does not give guidance on how to determine a property’s principal or secondary use” and notes the property would meet parking requirements if its principal use was deemed to be commercial. City staff’s determination the project is primarily residential “appears to be arbitrary and has no basis in the code,” James wrote. His letter was issued in February. Several commissioners questioned why the project has been at an apparent impasse for so long.
Cedar Falls Community Development Director Stephanie Houk Sheetz suggested after the meeting the discussion before the commission gives the city staff and the developer renewed impetus to find some kind of solution to make the development happen.
“This discussion ends up spurring both sides thinking about what might be alternatives and how can we get to something that will work for everybody,” Sheetz said.