A proposed five-story commercial and residential apartment building in prime space on College Hill appears to be at an impasse.
Current zoning ordinances, the perception of such ordinances and the potential ability to bend them are at the core of the stalemate.
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 would be demolished.
The plan is subject to Cedar Falls Planning and Zoning Commission and City Council approval, but no action has been taken yet.
The site is zoned C-3 commercial but is within the College Hill Neighborhood Overlay District. The city staff report says, in part: “Principal permitted residential uses are to be discouraged from being established within the commercial district due to the limited area available for commercial establishments.”
That would seem to be a tough hurdle to clear, especially since a city staff report 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.”
Not surprisingly, that has become an issue for dueling attorneys.
Des Moines attorney Daniel L. Manning Sr. represents a group called Concerned Citizens of College Hill. He 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.
Conversely, Des Moines attorney Larry James Jr., who represents 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 in a letter issued in February.
Parking, a familiar problem in Cedar Falls, also is a hurdle. 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.
Dahlstrom suggested most residents of the project, who presumably would be University of Northern Iowa students, may not have cars.
Let us be clear. Many development projects spearheaded by Dahlstrom have been beneficial to the communities in the Cedar Valley and have been supported in this space.
We just want to see this potential project — should it go forward — be done right, because you only get one chance to do that.
We’re not legal experts, but we believe one floor of commercial and four floors of residential is a pretty clear indication of which one is “primary” and which one is “secondary.”
This issue deserves a lot more discussion before it gets to a decision that benefits the neighborhood, College Hill merchants, potential building residents and citizens of Cedar Falls.
Zoning ordinances are created, presumably, to accommodate the best interests of all involved. Perhaps zoning ordinances specific to this project need to be looked at more closely.
One thing we know for certain: This project should not rely on executing an end-run around current zoning ordinances.