Opposing development for all the wrong reasons in Iowa City

When there is a disagreement between developers and, well, anyone else, my natural inclination is to distrust the developer.  Recently a local developer, Allen Homes (about whom I admittedly know nothing about), created a local shit-storm when they gave thirty-day notice to vacate to two local businesses located in homes they had purchased for redevelopment.  While the developer was clearly within their rights to do so given the month to month rental arrangements the businesses had, the fact that the businesses were the Red Avocado and a book store led many locals to be up in arms.  Fair enough.  The opponents talked about preserving the historic nature of the homes, but clearly they were mainly just upset about seeing two beloved small businesses displaced.  Again, fair enough.  This is not what disgusts me.

What raises my ire here is that in seeming retaliation for this move, a local bookseller began an online petition that led to the same developer backing out of a planned building on the northeast corner of Linn and Bloomington Streets.  The project would take three relatively run down rental houses and replace them with a multi use building including first-floor retail space and seventeen one and two bedroom apartments (which, conventional wisdom dictates are less popular with students than larger three to five bedroom units).  Great, you might think.  Just what a city needs—infill development that provides more business space in the quasi-hip northside neighborhood.  Better this than yet more megalopolis sized apartment complexes and single story retail development at the outskirts of town, you might say.  Well, I certainly would agree with you.  Someone who wouldn’t is the owner of the Haunted Bookshop who started said online petition.  This would be up the street from her bookstore, and her opposition ostensibly is that it would be out of place in the neighborhood.

Here’s the thing, though.  The development at the corner of Market and Linn built a few years back could similarly be described as being out of place in that very same neighborhood.  It has fist-floor retail space and apartments up above.  In fact when they started putting the building up, I thought it was just more of the same bland new development.  But when that first-floor retail space was filled with such great local businesses as T-Spoons, The Motley Cow, and RSVP, I realized what a great addition to the northside business district this was.  And in fact I have found myself visiting that area even more.  In fact, on a number of occasions I have even shopped at the Haunted Bookshop just because I was in the neighborhood due to those new businesses.

I’m all for opposing development, but let’s oppose the ones that are actually harmful.

Allen Homes withdraws proposal from the Iowa City Press-Citizen, Jan. 6, 2012

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