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Letter to the editor: A plea for Hickory Hill Park

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Hickory Hill Park, March 30, 2021. –Jason Smith/Little Village

By Carol deProsse and Caroline Dieterle, Iowa City

There are several solid reasons why the City Council should unanimously vote no July 27 on the third reading of an ordinance to create housing on land adjacent to Hickory Hill Park. Among these reasons are: the planned development does not comply with the Iowa City Comprehensive Land Use Plan; the housing would be estate housing, purchasable only by those with considerable income; hundreds of residents have objected to over-building so close to the only natural area of all the City’s parks; the City’s Climate Action Plan is diminished by allowing development on the far north end of Iowa City, with many trees removed and where cars would be the primary mode of transportation; more land is clearly not being created and all efforts should be made to conserve existing land for the wisest uses; and the idea of more park land is a nearly universal desire among people living in urban areas.

Contact the Iowa City Council (council@iowa-city.org) and/or plan to attend the July 27 council meeting to protest the approval of the proposed development of the tract of land adjacent to Hickory Hill Park that is owned by ACT.

Proposed development near Hickory Hill Park, as presented to the Iowa City Council. — City of Iowa City

There are currently three votes (Thomas, Salih and Taylor) to deny the application and only one more is needed to stop the plan, though a unanimous vote would be a show of support for the hundreds of citizens who oppose it and a demonstration of Council farsightedness in preserving parkland for future generations. Councilors Mims, Teague, Bergus and Weiner must be convinced to join in the denial. This is the last chance to significantly add to the current acreage of Hickory Hill Park.

ACT, the owner of the land, is a large corporation; it doesn’t care that the land and everything growing on it will be chewed up and spit out during the development, as the natural flora and top soil are stripped off and contours graded.

The planning department favors the plan, and the city manager or the staff is said to be pressuring individual councilors to approve it, that the developer is “threatening” to sue if it is denied. A threat to sue and actually suing are completely different. All too often the Iowa City Council seems to abandon its responsibilities to the residents after developers work with city staff, and the staff propels it forward against the wishes of the community. This is an opportunity for our elected representatives to represent the majority who have come forward in opposition.

Normally, transactions involve a willing seller, a willing buyer and a mutually agreed upon price. The City should look at its own history and know that it is legal to take land by Eminent Domain — condemnation. In this case, there isn’t necessarily a willing seller but there is a government buyer acting for the public good on behalf of the citizens, following Eminent Domain law regarding the amount that shall be paid for land it is taking for a public use. A park is a public use, the type of use Eminent Domain was created to serve. The price paid is based on the value of the land as it stands, undeveloped, which is reflected in the assessed value currently on record at the city assessor’s office, which is considerably less than the price the developer is paying ACT.

Even if the city bought the land at the developer’s contract price and also compensated the developer for costs incurred to date, the total sum would barely make a dent in the approximately $18.3 million the city will receive through the American Rescue Plan Act’s Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund. It would be dollars well spent for the benefit of residents and visitors alike.

A bumble bee digs into some bee balm at Hickory Hill Park in Iowa City. — Jordan Sellergren/Little Village

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