Your Village: What’s happening to the empty building at the corner of Linn and Market?

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The corner of N Linn St. and E. Market St., March 1, 2018. — photo by Paul Brennan

So, what’s happening across the street from High Ground? — Michael (asking for a friend, Lana), Iowa City, via Facebook

Sometimes it seems that apartment buildings are destined for every parcel of real estate in Iowa City, and this is one of those times. Plans call for 202 N Linn St. to be redeveloped as a mixed-use building, with retail space on the ground floor and apartments above.

The lot at the corner of Linn and Market has been home to a variety of businesses over the years. For decades it was the site of Pearson’s Drug Store and soda fountain, then it was home to the video rental store That’s Rentertainment. Mostly recently, a branch of Central State Bank stood there.

Photo from the 1930s of Pearson’s Drug Store — courtesy of the State Historical Society of Iowa

Although there are firm plans to apartment-fy the corner lot, the only city permit applied for so far is a demolition permit. It was approved on Feb. 21.

The city council had to rezone the property to allow for a greater housing unit density, as well as lift height restrictions to allow a five-story building, to make the redevelopment possible. That rezoning almost didn’t happen.

Developer Ross Nusser’s original presentation to the city council said two floors of the building would be reserved for senior housing (for people 55 and older). But at the June 6, 2017 meeting during which the council was scheduled to vote on the rezoning, Nusser said that the building would no longer have designated senior housing. He said his attorney had misunderstood a U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) regulation that requires at least 80 percent of a building’s housing units to be reserved for seniors, if a building is going to have age restrictions.

“I am a strong advocate that two floors should be dedicated to senior housing, but that is not able to happen because of a bizarre Housing and Urban Development rule,” Nusser told council members. He added, “I will incorporate wider doors and hallways, make every bathroom handicap accessible. I am very committed to this idea of senior housing, but I cannot come out and say these apartments will be age-restricted housing.”

The council was set to vote down the rezoning, until Mayor Jim Throgmorton changed his vote. Throgmorton had been particularly concerned about the height of project, suggesting that any building higher than four stories could have “negative ripple effects in the neighborhood,” creating new pressures in the real estate market and driving up the price of living in the Northside.

Nusser said that since the building would no longer have two floors of dedicated senior housing, he did not expect the building to have more than four floors. In response to a suggestion to delay the vote so council members could more fully assess how removing senior housing from building affected the desirability of the project, Nusser said that if the rezoning was not approved at the current meeting, the redevelopment would not go forward.

The rezoning was approved 4 to 3.

Artist rendering of planned new building at 202 N Linn St. submitted to Iowa City Council — image via Ross Nusser

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