CEDAR FALLS — Proponents and opponents of a large development in the College Hill area fought to a draw before the City Council on Monday night.
After two hours of discussion, council members voted 6-1 to table developer Brent Dahlstrom’s proposed 61,000-square-foot, five-story residential-commercial development at the bottom of College Hill.
A Dahlstrom company proposed incorporating the former Ginger’s bar site, 925 W. 22nd St., and two adjacent properties at 1003 W. 22nd St. and 2119 College St. Ginger’s was damaged in a 2016 fire that consumed the now-reconstructed Great Wall restaurant. Ginger’s did not resume business and has been demolished.
Council members heard many of the same arguments posed in three previous meetings before the Cedar Falls Planning and Zoning Commission, from many of the same speakers.
Proponents said the project was a much-needed project in the College Hill area near the University of Northern Iowa campus. Opponents said it would compound parking problems on the Hill and said city staff was wrong in its interpretation of zoning rules in recommending approval. A representative of Northern Iowa Student government indicated that body questioned the adequacy of its parking.
Council member Frank Darrah called for the matter to be tabled to give everyone involved time to sort things out.
“I want to support this, but I want the questions answered that were asked tonight,” Darrah said. “Is the parking adequate? Is this equitable with other developers in our community? I want something that’s consistently applied on the Hill, with downtown. Can we use Brent’s College Hill thing as a model for future growth?”
Darrah thinks Dahlstrom can come up with a solution.
“I want appeal to his angels,” Darrah said of Dahlstrom. “He cares about this community. There’s no question about it. He’s a smart young developer who has a vision and I think we can learn from that by working with him. Some kind of compromise along the way.”
Dahlstrom, speaking to the council after the tabling, expressed frustration over his inability to talk directly to elected officials because of a decade-old legal opinion. It advises the city elected officials as well as some board and commission member against direct communications with parties in a development proposal outside a public meeting. Project opponents heard the same thing.
Darrah shared Dahlstrom’s frustrations. “I’m elected to represent people. How can I represent people if I don’t know what their thoughts are?”
The zoning rules and the issue of “ex parte” communications will be subjects of future council work sessions. Community Development Director Stephanie Houk Sheetz said city staff began discussing zoning rules with Planning and Zoning Commission members at the end of their last meeting.
“I believe things can be resolved,” Darrah said. “But I’d like it tabled so we could look at our ordinance and make it work. And I’d like Brent to give us some of his input on that. We’re too small a town to have this. We should be able to sit down with each other.”