Council votes against public hearing on cottages

Three workers' cottages were given no public hearing to assess their historic value. Photo by Adam Burke
Three workers’ cottages were given no public hearing to assess their historic value. — photo by Adam Burke

Iowa City Council voted this morning 4-3 not to have a public hearing to discuss the historic status of three workers’ cottages, located on the 600 block of South Dubuque Street.

The buildings, which had been slated for rezoning into the new Riverfront Crossings District, are on the chopping block after an engineer’s report from VJ Engineering declared them unsound. After this initial inspection report, a community group, Friends of Historic Preservation, paid for their own inspection, which found that the buildings could be restored. The city, which did not take into consideration the second report from Morning Star Studio, issued violation notices for the cottages, ordering the properties to be vacated and the structures to be repaired or demolished.

At the meeting, more than 30 people attended and many gave commentary on both sides of the issue.

“My intention was to go and do a simple thing,” said property owner Ted Pacha, explaining that the motive for selling his property — as well as filing an application for a demolition permit — was related to his recent battle with cancer.

Current tenant Will Ingles, who lives in one of the buildings and runs The Book Shop, told the council that the three buildings “deserve to be preserved,” and that there is “nothing currently wrong with the cottages that cannot be repaired.” He detailed some of the history of the buildings and has compiled a list of tenants dating back to 1859. He encouraged the council to hold a public hearing about the property.

Councilors voting on both sides of the issue spoke about the strained process of this decision process.

Councilor Susan Mims voted against the public hearing, which advising preservationists to be diligent in their efforts to conserve Iowa City history and “start that process before the 11th hour.”

Councilor Kingsley Botchway called the process of deciding on the fate of the cottages “weird” and “sketchy.” He voted for the public hearing.

Rockne Cole, an Iowa City lawyer who is representing two of the tenants, said he would pursue a legal course of action to protect the cottages.

“We are going to demand the right to participate in the notice of violation, and we believe we have a clear procedural due process right to protect the property interests of the tenants to cure the notice of violation through repair rather than demolition,” said Cole after the meeting. He added, “We are not leaving until we address those matters with the city.”

In the meantime, the demolition permit requested by Pacha could be issued as soon as Wednesday.

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