- Unparalleled business coverage of the Iowa City / Cedar Rapids corridor.
- Immediate access to subscriber-only content on our website.
- 26 issues per year delivered digitally, in print or both.
- Support locally owned and operated journalism.
The Marion City Council’s recent approval of a revised preliminary plat for a housing subdivision dubbed Sycamore Heights Second Addition marks the first planned development in the long-planned Neighborhood at Indian Creek community on the north side of Marion.
And with a unique design and features designed to foster a sense of tight-knit community, it’s not just another run-of-the-mill mixed-use area, officials say – it’s an entirely new way of looking at integrated development projects.
Concept rooted in 2005 transportation study
Dave Hockett, principal planner for the city of Marion, said planning for the Neighborhood at Indian Creek concept – an area covering about 150 acres, bounded by 35th Street on the west, 35th Avenue on the south, 44th Street on the east and the future Tower Terrace Road extension on the north – began with a 2005 transportation study on the upcoming realignment of Tower Terrace Road to the east side of Marion.
That study led to the development of a land use plan for the future Tower Terrace corridor, which evolved into an initial master plan, created in 2009, for what became known as the Neighborhood at Indian Creek.
At that time, the plan seemed premature. As Mr. Hockett noted, “we were quite a ways ahead of development that far north in Marion.”
But by 2019, Marion was growing steadily to the north and east, and city officials worked with Des Moines-based RDG Planning & Design to develop a more detailed plan that addressed not just land use, but more form-based zoning regulations covering projects from single-family homes to neighborhood commercial areas, expanding on the 2009 study by adding a level of detail necessary to move from land use to neighborhood development.
“The design team engaged local community leaders, property owners and city staff in a day-long design work session and multiple small and large group design review meetings to gain knowledge and understanding about the history and present and potential future of the project area,” the neighborhood’s master plan says. “These meetings were supplemented by small group precedent tours where the design team guided members of the Marion community through many existing developments in the Des Moines metro area with similar characteristics to the plan being proposed.”
Design concepts were then created for the Neighborhood at Indian Creek and vetted for compatibility with the larger Marion community. These concepts were reviewed by the groups for strengths, weaknesses, and suitability to the community as a whole.
“Significant elements of the plan are a neighborhood square, a community park and context-based residential and commercial architecture,” the plan says. “Minimized residential setbacks make the fronts of homes within The Neighborhood more conducive to community interaction. Each of these elements is directly influenced by the uniqueness of the community and informed by the ongoing discussions about what makes an ideal neighborhood for Marion.”
The plan is similar in some respects to the concept for the East Town Crossing at Highways 13 and 151 on Marion’s eastern edge, but the Neighborhood at Indian Creek is the city’s first planned development with a largely residential focus, Mr. Hockett said.
“East Town Crossing just ended up being developed first,” he noted.
It also bears some resemblance to the Peninsula neighborhood on the northwest side of Iowa City, but includes more mixed-use and commercial elements, Mr. Hockett said.
“Perhaps you won’t find the same diversity in housing that you can find in the Peninsula,” Mr. Hockett said. “But it's a lot of the same principles – putting garages in the rear, bringing front porches back, incorporating common open spaces. It may also have a playground, dog park, trails, and unprogrammed space" within an association's control.
‘Midwestern architectural character and a neighborhood feel’
The Neighborhood at Indian Creek’s master plan describes the project as being targeted to “meet the residential and mixed-use commercial needs of a wide cross-section of the marketplace.”
“The emerging vision for The Neighborhood at Indian Creek is a mixed-use development with Midwestern architectural character and a neighborhood feel developed through neo-traditional planning,” the master plan says. “The plan recommends the integration of a large centrally-located community park and a smaller commercial center with a green space square at the heart of the area. The larger park provides gathering space for passive recreation and community events and the opportunity for neighbors and greater Marion to interact regularly. The square, located within proximity to the park and major thoroughfares, also works to create a sense of community by placing a public gathering and events space at the center of The Neighborhood’s commercial services area where day-to-day necessities can be met.”
Unlike many modern developments, the residential lots, from two-story and three-story condominium units to single-family homes, are built closer to the street, with smaller setbacks than many contemporary developments. The single-family homes are designed to have full porches and minimal front yards, built on lots of a quarter acre or less, with access to garages via rear-side alleys – all to encourage social activities in an area with walkability as a major focus.
“The pedestrian takes precedence in this community,” the plan notes. “Uninterrupted walkways can be found on most streets as the driveways and typical residential services (trash collection, utility maintenance, vehicular ingress and egress) are located at the back of houses. Community open space, pedestrian corridors, greenways, limited travel distances and centrally located amenities all encourage neighbors to travel by foot and to interact daily.”
Landscaping, lighting, pedestrian lanes, bicycle paths and traditional architectural design elements are planned to reinforce the neighborhood’s socially-focused atmosphere – and even undeveloped portions are being taken into consideration.
“Open space within The Neighborhood at Indian Creek should be considered in its greater context and designed holistically,” the master plan notes. “Whatever the space’s purpose, it should not be considered to be ‘left over’ or designed as though it stands alone. Open space within The Neighborhood is intended as a unifying element. These spaces can be either passive, active, or both depending upon where they are located within the development and their intended use. In the case of the community park, public open space will facilitate the gathering of many people, convey pedestrian and bicycle traffic away from vehicular traffic, establish areas for quiet reflection, and in some areas of the park, provide a gathering space for groups.”
Strong commercial elements
As conceived, the Neighborhood at Indian Creek will also incorporate a significant commercial component, particularly along the future Tower Terrace Road and north and south along 35th Street.
“A lot of these projects will probably have mixed-use buildings with commercial on the first floor, combined with second- and third-story residential units,” Mr. Hockett said.
A 30-acre community park will be featured prominently on the northwest portion of the development, along with a centralized neighborhood plaza. Then as development moves further east, “it'll get more and more residential,” Mr. Hockett said.
Unlike the strip mall developments that tend to permeate modern suburban developments, Mr. Hockett said the Neighborhood at Indian Creek is intended to bring residential, commercial and recreational elements together in a new way – and in a new part of town.
“If you live in North Marion, you've got quite a jog right now to get to your basic necessities,” Mr. Hockett said. “I don't like to use the phrase ‘create a new downtown,’ but this has been designed to create a shopping experience for folks in North Marion that don’t have those services or amenities available to them.
“It's been designed to provide commercial opportunities in North Marion, and it’s just evolved from there,” he said. “We don't need to do continuous strip malls. We have an opportunity to create a second commercial destination in Marion with a walkable neighborhood, and to get all those services provided to an area of town that’s been drastically underserved.”
The area also incorporates Linn-Mar’s newest intermediate school, Boulder Peak, which opened its doors in September 2020, and includes space for a future elementary school.
Sycamore Heights will be first phase
The Sycamore Heights development, which is in the process of receiving final approvals from the city of Marion, will encompass about 40 acres on the eastern portion of the Neighborhood at Indian Creek.
About 20 acres on the west side of 44th Street, within the defined neighborhood area, will be comprised of duplexes and townhomes that will be required to adhere to the neighborhood’s design standards, and will include approximately 138 units. Another 20 acres on the east side of 44th Street, just outside the official neighborhood boundary, will be developed for an estimated 60 single-family homes that won’t be bound by the same design standards.
The project is being developed by Sycamore Development LLC and local developer Josh Entler.
Tentative plans call for site work to begin this fall, with construction beginning this spring. It’s anticipated the project can be completed in three years, Mr. Hockett said.
“I think it's a really good first step toward dipping our toes into actually starting to develop homes at a more attainable price,” he said. “They haven’t announced price points yet, but I'm sure they're going to be more attainable than a lot of the other developments in the metro area for new construction, which is something that's sorely been needed across the whole metro area, that mid-market construction. There'll be owner-occupied, good local starter homes for a lot of folks and a good downsize home for a lot of others. I think it'll be a pretty diverse neighborhood of all walks of life.”
Further development not yet planned
Currently, no other development plans have been announced for the project. Mr. Hockett noted.
“The balance of the site is owned by three different property owners, and right now they're not positioned yet to begin development,” he said. “The city also has to have the bigger discussion of acquiring the parkland in that location. That's really the cherry on top of the whole development, that park space.”
The completion of Tower Terrace Road to the east is still pending as well, he noted.
“We still need a lot of discussions over the next couple of years before we can talk about the balance of the property,” he added.
Still, Mr. Hockett noted, city officials are excited to see the project moving forward, and as Sycamore Heights construction unfolds, he said he anticipates momentum for the overall Neighborhood at Indian Creek will continue to build.
“We’ve been eager to get this off the ground,” he said. “We need to keep working towards the extension of Tower Terrace all the way to Highway 13, because this area needs more rooftops before the commercial will come. But now we’re getting the Sycamore development, with those 200 units, and Abode has a condo development just to the northwest of the neighborhood. Once we get those rooftops in place, we’ll start seeing more of that commercial growth.”