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NL council approves smaller lot sizes in office, research park

Downsizing to draw businesses

By Lori Lindner
North Liberty Leader
NORTH LIBERTY­– North Liberty officials are trying to make it easier for businesses to locate in the city’s available office and research park areas.
The North Liberty City Council, at its Oct. 13 meeting, approved the first reading of a zoning amendment reducing the minimum size of lots for land zoned O/RP (Office/Research Park). Instead of requiring 2-acre lots, zoning officials are requesting to allow 1.5-acres. Lot width would go from a minimum of 200 feet to 150 feet, and allow side yards to be just 20 feet wide instead of 50 feet.
The discussion was triggered by a proposed site plan for Corridor Media Properties– owner of the Corridor Business Journal publication– but the change was part of the larger picture of development for North Liberty’s west side.
“We just haven’t seen the kind of development we hoped we would see there after the large credit union project,” Wheatley said. “They are familiar with this proposed amendment and are supportive of it also.”
The current requirement is 87,000 square feet, or a bit smaller than a typical city block, Wheatley told the council, while the proposed smaller requirement would be closer to two-thirds of the size of a city block, or 65,000 square feet.
The only area zoned O/RP in North Liberty lies between Kansas Avenue and Interstate 80. The zoning classification was created in 2000, and modified in 2010 when the University of Iowa Community Credit Union (UICCU) proposed its 105,000 square-foot member support center on 24 acres near the intersection of Landon Road and Kansas Avenue. The city granted UICCU a 100 percent incremental tax rebate deal in the total amount of $5 million over eight years, funded through Tax Increment Financing, as an incentive to build there. The city also approved a $5 million tax rebate for A&M Development, LLC, on 40 adjacent acres, in the hope of spurring additional commercial development around the credit union.
So far, that has not happened.
The O/RP designation is intended to accommodate office buildings, research facilities and similar businesses such as banks, clinics, laboratories, utility offices or communications stations. The city’s stringent design standards would remain in place, Wheatley noted.
“Overall, what it comes down to is the vision for this area,” Wheatley said in his remarks to the council. “(With the current requirements), we are really looking for large, corporate-type buildings, and there doesn’t seem to be a big demand for that right now, as evidenced by our experience in that area. This would allow for smaller lots, and be more consistent with what we are told, at least by the architect for the (proposed) project, that they see more of.”
Council member Terry Donahue said
“That ground has sat out there for five or six years,” Donahue said. “We had high hopes when we set the TIF in motion. If this increases the marketability of that whole area, that’s what we need at this time to get things going again. This is a good step to get it back, and showcased.”
According to documents submitted to North Liberty Planning and Zoning Commission, the Corridor Business Journal plans to construct a single-story, 12,000 square-foot corporate headquarters on Landon Road. The headquarters will accommodate between 12 and 14 employees.
The council unanimously approved the first reading of the ordinance change 4-0– with council member Annie Pollack absent– and was expected to condense the additional two readings at its Oct. 27 meeting.