Government

Freerks, Teague face off in Iowa City Council special election

Candidates discuss affordable housing, development

Ann Freerks and Bruce Teague
Ann Freerks and Bruce Teague

 IOWA CITY — Voters will choose the newest Iowa City Council member — Ann Freerks, 51, who works at the University of Iowa, or Bruce Teague, 42, a business owner — during a special election Tuesday.

The winner will fill the seat vacated by Kingsley Botchway II, who resigned and took a job at Waterloo schools. The term lasts through 2021.

The open council seat is at-large, meaning it represents all of Iowa City. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. and voters should go to their regular polling places.

Here are the candidates’ responses to some of the key issues facing Iowa City.

Q: With questions over whether the Iowa Legislature will continue fulfilling its commitment to “backfill” reduced commercial property taxes to municipalities and passing a law that limits how cities regulate occupants in a rental unit, how do you view Iowa City’s relationship with the Legislature and how might you work to improve it?

A: FREERKS: There’s obviously been some differences between how Iowa City feels they should be able to regulate their home rule, there’s been kind of an erosion of home rule you would say, and with what the state feels.

What it comes down to is Iowa City has visions and goals and a way that we see ourselves, and we just try to have to be true to those things as much as we can. But of course we need to work to try to have the best relationship we can with the state Legislature, and people at different levels of government, and that includes the communities around us, North Liberty, Coralville, things like that.

So open communication, trying to do what we can to support our values and goals but knowing that we need to also work on communicating that up the chain.

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A: TEAGUE: I think the city and the state do have some trouble with their relationship. I do believe that working on the relationship will be critical. Iowa City is seen as a progressive city, and we do things. We are trailblazers and doing some innovative things that other communities probably wouldn’t take a chance in doing.

So I do think Iowa City is taking those chances and paving the way for greater opportunities within our community that really is faster-paced than what the state would’ve wanted to see.

I don’t think that the city should stop being progressive and moving forward with some things, as it really is our system. ...

What I would suggest, advise, is that we do upfront begin to have those conversations with the state so that they’re fully aware of our intentions and see if we couldn’t get some buy-in there.

Q: Iowa City has implemented inclusionary zoning in Riverfront Crossings, which requires developers to provide affordable housing in 10 percent of a new project’s units or pay a fee. With the new zoning and the city allocating more money toward affordable housing efforts, is Iowa City on the right track to solving its affordable housing issue?

A: FREERKS: We have the 15-point affordable housing plan that the City Council has worked on. To me that’s an excellent start. Again, it’s about the goals that the community puts in place that are tied to the comprehensive plan and the things that we value.

And so we know affordable housing, we need more of it. And that’s not just an Iowa City thing, that’s a regional thing as well.

... I do think that as new development comes on line we have to always think about affordable housing. But also workforce housing.

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And that’s something, those people that don’t necessarily meet that 30 percent (income threshold for housing costs) but they also have a difficult time finding money for rent or housing. ...

I think we need to work on different levels. And what we’re doing in Riverfront Crossings is a nice start to that and the 15-point plan. We just need to continue to assess the things that we do and work with developers, work with the nonprofits that we deal with and just try to come up with as many solutions as we can to it.

A: TEAGUE: Affordable housing requirements for some developers that go into partnership with the city, many of those affordable housing units are required to be in existence for 20 years. After that 20 years is up, then the affordable units are no longer required for the developer to have.

Part of the issue there is first and foremost the developers are business individuals. And so when we’re just looking at it from a business point of view, if a unit you can now increase your revenue, just a business decision would say “yes, you increase your revenue” once that contract expires. ...

I think with that being said, the city, their current plan for acquiring affordable units through some of the incentives that they’re doing is not sustainable. They will expire. I do believe that we need to look at a different option for affordable housing units.

I do believe that it should be spread throughout our community and not clustered in one area. I think there’s a lot of opportunity for us to really look at other communities and see what they’re (doing for) affordable housing units. ...

Q: Projects related to downtown development are always going through the council. How would you strike a balance between demands for housing and residents’ concerns over the height of downtown buildings?

A: FREERKS: The development of Riverfront Crossings has to kind of take some of the pressure off the downtown. I think that there’s a need to try to protect some of the historic nature of our downtown that we have. It’s what brings people here. It’s part of the kind of unique fabric, that funky vibe that the city has. ...

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When we passed Riverfront Crossings, the idea wasn’t that everything would be 15 stories. That was never part of the plan. It’s a variety of height and types of buildings, connected with open space and to really make a quality area that’s not piecemealed.,,,

So I certainly don’t think that all buildings should be the maximum height. And I think that I’m not opposed to height in the right places for the right reasons.

The details are important about this, though. When we passed ... Riverfront Crossings a number of years ago, we stated that if we feel something like that needs to be revisited at some point, we shouldn’t be afraid to do that ….

A: TEAGUE: Iowa City is a huge hub of this region. Other communities, Coralville, North Liberty, Tiffin, they’re growing at a fast pace. But Iowa City is the hub where most individuals ... really come to be a part of the Iowa City environment. But because of various reasons, they move to nearby communities.

I believe that we do want to try to capitalize and we want to try to maintain those that want to have that Iowa City experience and ensure that we have a place for them to live. As well as businesses that want to work here have a place for them to actually open their businesses and be successful ...

I believe that Iowa City will have high density because of the rapid growth that we have already in our community and since we are the hub again a lot of people that come to this community and the surrounding areas would love the opportunity to live in Iowa City and even work in Iowa City, but right now we are not able to really capture those individuals within our community.

Q: Last week, the City Council adopted the Iowa City Climate Action and Adaptation Plan. How aggressive would you like to be with the city’s budget to accomplish the goals laid out in the plan?

A: FREERKS: I looked over it not in great detail. So I’d want to study it. I think there are lots of things we can do without having to put a lot of money into the program necessarily.

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There are goals we have in place and things we can work on and we try to pick those things off right away as we can.

From there, it’s up to the council as a whole …

It’s certainly an important topic and something that we need to continue on, but we have lots of important things that we need to do. And there’s lots of places that we need to put our money.

So the fact that we have a plan in place, when we have something that we want to work toward, is obviously the most important to start. From here we know that we need to continue to make progress no matter what. We can’t sit still on it.

A: TEAGUE: ... There was great conversation between the council members about how can this really make a footprint within our community. We know that these have global effects, some of these climate action plans can have global effects, but locally our impact can be great even though from some perspectives the number is really small, the impact is really small. But I still believe that any impact is great ...

I do hope that the City Council does aggressively move forward with some of the items within this plan. And that could be very simply by hiring someone in, part time or full time, to really move this hope along the way.

l Comments: (319) 339-3172; maddy.arnold@thegazette.com

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