By Gigi Wood

A new, smaller TIF agreement will be drafted in the coming week for a proposed development in University Heights.

It’s a another restart for a project that’s been in front of the University Heights City Council since the start of 2009, applying and reapplying for site plans and financing agreements.

The controversial project has split the community. Those against the project say the buildings will rise above the treetops and the density of condos and their resulting tenants will be a burden on the neighborhood, traffic and other city resources.

The city council met Aug. 23 in a five-hour work session with the development team to discuss a new tax increment financing agreement for the project and details of the planned-unit development agreement, which outlines various standards, such as lighting and building materials.

One University Place is the mixed-use condominium and commercial development planned for 1300 Melrose Ave., where St. Andrew Presbyterian Church is located. The lot is a few blocks west of Kinnick Stadium.

Last week’s meeting took place at the church, in a community meeting room next to a map of the church’s proposed new building. The church bought property on Camp Cardinal Boulevard for a larger building. Whether the church moves, however, will be decided by the Presbytery of East Iowa and the local congregation.

By the meeting’s end, the city got a scaled back project and about $3 million in infrastructure investment from the project, while the developer gets to proceed with a new request for a TIF agreement.

The number of condos was scaled back from 79 to 69 and 30 feet was shaved off each of the two buildings, while the proposed first-floor commercial space was reduced. Meanwhile, realignment of the Sunset Street/Melrose Avenue intersection will remain part of the project. It had been eliminated in the scaling back of the project.

Councilor Stan Laverman, who has long supported the project, called the elimination of the intersection improvements as a “deal breaker,” because it decreased the project’s value to the city. Other councilors had expressed disappointment about the loss of the intersection improvement and questioned why a TIF should be offered to a project that added so little to the community without the improvement.

“I’m really hopeful that people can see that as true compromise; a smaller building, front and back, plus we got the design of the intersection. I’m glad we got it back,” said Councilor Mike Haverkamp.

The developer, Jeff Maxwell and his architect, Kevin Monson of Neumann Monson Architects, have repeatedly told the council that the project cannot proceed without a TIF agreement. Mr. Maxwell had asked for an $8 million TIF, which exceeded the city’s debt capacity of $5 million. Officials went to the Johnson County Board of Supervisors earlier this month, asking them to make up the difference. The board voted against it.

That sent the project back to the drawing board. With the council’s hands tied on financing, Mr. Maxwell and his team were forced to reexamine the project and present a new plan with a lower cost. They made that presentation last week, when they asked the council for a $6.5 million TIF.

The group discussed setting up a split payment stream for the TIF, where $4 million would be provided to the project immediately and the remaining $2.5 million would be parceled out over a 10-year period.

John Danos, a TIF attorney from Des Moines, attended the meeting via telephone to advise the council on the language of a potential new TIF agreement.

“The big surprise is we got all of that with a smaller TIF. When you figure the cost of the improvements, the cost of the off-site improvements, the sewer and water and all that and the (traffic) signal, you put that  all together and you are looking at almost the equivalent of $3 million,” Mr. Haverkamp said. “And when you look at it over time, what he’s getting in money is pretty much paying for what we get as a city. I think that’s responsible on everyone’s part in everyone’s best interest.”

The development team plans to work with Mr. Danos to draft a TIF agreement and delivering it to councilors a week before their next monthly meeting, which is scheduled for Sept. 13.

Councilors and the development team also spent hours discussing 34 points of the planned unit development agreement. One of the many issues they decided was to require no more than 25 percent of units to be rentals.

Due to years of issues at rental homes along Melrose Avenue, the council is squeamish about adding any additional rentals. Many in the community have said they worry that affluent parents of University of Iowa students from Chicago will rent the apartments, which will then turn into party havens. Mr. Maxwell told the council he had no desire for his development to be used as student housing. CBJ

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