Development near Hickory Hill Park unanimously approved by Iowa City Zoning Commission

IOWA CITY — The Iowa City Planning and Zoning Commission on Thursday evening unanimously approved the updated iteration for a development near Hickory Hill Park, that is backed by the Friends of Hickory Hill.

The updated proposal for rezoning the 48.75-acre plot northeast of the park is scaled back from previous plans, and devotes nearly three times more land to the city park.

Hickory Trail Estates, a senior living facility, would be built on 8.85 acres at the southeast corner of the plot. The facility would have 120 continuing care retirement community units with a total of 134 beds.

The development is expected to be constructed and fully occupied by 2025 if approved by the Iowa City Council, according to documents in the agenda.

The remaining nearly 40 acres would be dedicated to the city for public open space and expansion of Hickory Hill Park. This would increase the park’s size by about 21 percent, according to the city.

Residents have opposed previous plans for the project, proposed by Axiom Consultants and Nelson Development, that included single-family homes. The third iteration of the proposal was ultimately rejected by the Iowa City Council.

The most recent proposal does not include the single-family housing.

Board chair Michael Hensch and member Susan Craig emphasized their support for a senior living facility and the increase in park land. Hensch said there is a “strong need in the community” for a senior living facility.

Vice-chair Mark Signs brought up how the developer has spent “tens of thousands of dollars satisfying the community, satisfying the commission, satisfying the city council.”

“There’s a reason builders are not building in Iowa City, and they’re building in all the communities around us,” Signs said. “I think we as a commission, we as a council, we as a community, have to understand that there are ramifications. And if we don’t grow, our taxes will grow to maintain the services that we are asked to do today.”

Hensch added he is concerned about the lack of housing diversity, specifically multifamily homes.

“We have to make hard choices to add to our housing diversity, and a lot of people will not be happy with that, but there’s only one way for that to happen — we’ve got to build places for people to live.”

Parks and Recreation staff support the expansion and will consider uses for the parkland during the department’s planning process, the city’s associate planner Ray Heitner said.

The Friends of Hickory Hill reiterated their support at Thursday’s meeting.

Laura Goddard, treasurer of the nonprofit’s board of directors, said the group’s support is contingent on the land being deeded to the city and being incorporated into the park.

“We are glad this proposal will both provide needed assisted living facilities and maintain the integrity of an important and beloved natural space,” Goddard said.

Goddard said the back and forth process has been a “good example of community involvement and voices being heard.”

The proposal could come before the city council for first consideration during the Nov. 30 meeting, Heitner said.

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