Construction of a senior living facility and open space dedication near Hickory Hill Park was unanimously approved on first consideration by the Iowa City Council during their Nov. 30 meeting.
The approval brings a 69,689-square-foot facility — to be built on 8.85 acres of the southeast corner of the plot — closer to reality. The building will have 120 continuing care retirement community units and 134 beds.
The remaining nearly 40 acres of the rezoned plot is dedicated toward open space and the expansion of the park. When asked if the park land could ever be used for future development, Iowa City development services coordinator Danielle Sitzman said the intention is to keep the space from being developed.
“I think this is a shockingly good outcome given how I foresaw this may have ended,” said council member Laura Bergus. “However, the reason I asked about the dedication of the land to the city is that we know that infill development is one of the most helpful things we can do as far as climate action, and we know that we have a really significant housing shortage in the city. I do see that as a bit of a missed opportunity here.”
The undeveloped space will now be rezoned to low density single-family with a planned development overlay space. The City Council must vote three times in order to approve a rezoning.
“What I learned through this process was how cherished Hickory Hill Park is to the community,” said council member John Thomas. “It’s an extremely important element within the community that has been dramatically strengthened by this project.”
He added: “This is a huge win for Iowa City.”
Notably absent from this proposal is the removal of the controversial single family home component from previous plans, resulting in a scaled back proposal from Nelson Development and Axiom Consultants.
“It’s assuring to hear from the friends of Hickory Hill Park that they do support this version,” said Pauline Taylor, a council member who voted no in previous plans. However, she voiced her disappointment that the previous plan with 41 single-family homes could not find a satisfactory resolution.
“We lost an opportunity for more housing in the city,” she said. “We don’t have a lot of land left to develop in the city, and we need to continue to grow. The only way we’re going to get some progress on affordable housing is to build more.”
Friends of Hickory Hill Park, an all-volunteer nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the park as a natural sanctuary, supports this version of the plan after disapproving of earlier iterations.
“I’m really happy to see that there is unification today on this item, not only from this council but also from the developers as well as from the neighboring community and Hickory Hill,” said Iowa City mayor Bruce Teague.
The Iowa City Council rejected development efforts in July, citing concerns over cul-de-sacs, the climate impact to the park, the inclusion of a memory care facility and buffers separating the park from the development itself.