• warning: Parameter 2 to ed_classified_link_alter() expected to be a reference, value given in /home/soloneconomist/www/www/includes/common.inc on line 2968.
  • warning: Parameter 2 to ed_classified_link_alter() expected to be a reference, value given in /home/soloneconomist/www/www/includes/common.inc on line 2968.

Site plan for Liberty Executive Park takes shape

"Trendsetting" commercial-residential subdivision proposed west of Kansas Avenue
A concept illustration demonstrating site plans for Liberty Executive Park in North Liberty. One of four lots to the west of Kansas Avenue, the space will be home to two mixed commercial-residential two-story buildings. The North Liberty City Council approved the site plan unanimously during its July 24 session, with the intent to make minor revisions to the building facades. (illustration by Neumann Monson Architects)

NORTH LIBERTY– Seven years after its rezoning, plans to develop the first lot of Liberty Executive Park are moving forward. During its July 24 session, the North Liberty City Council approved a site plan by A&M Development, which seeks to deliver a new approach for the city’s growing district.
Located at the southwest intersection of Landon Road and Kansas Avenue, the lot will serve as a sign of things to come for the area, with two-story, mixed-use commercial and residential buildings. The two large buildings will run perpendicular, with one along Landon Road and the other along Kansas Avenue, as well as an urban-scale pedestrian plaza between the buildings with a triangular greenspace area. The proposed buildings are a typical legacy city block in length at 288 feet. The ground floor will be commercial office and retail space, while the second floor will be made up of 56 apartments between the two buildings. Unique to North Liberty, the layout will feature interior parking accessible at the rear of the buildings, as well as parking in the front. No restaurants are planned by the owners, as the space would not likely meet parking requirements. However, upon additional development in the district, the opportunity may present itself for shared parking.
“It’s a little bit different than what we’ve seen in North Liberty because the buildings are pushed out to the outer edge of the parcel,” noted Dean Wheatley, Planning Director for the City of North Liberty.
Visual aesthetics include varying shades of brick to differentiate the building space, residential balconies accented with wood and recessed storefront entry. The city has worked with the architect and developer to refine the design and layout from a previous submission.

A trendsetter

Foreshadowed by the introduction of the University of Iowa Community Credit Union (UICCU) and the soon-to-open GEICO, the current Liberty Executive Park plan comes as a resolution to a prolonged development limbo. Previous suggestions for the lot included a recreational center, soccer field and high-density residential space. The city anticipates the move towards commercial and residential space will bring service businesses to the new district, which will host some 1,200 employees between UICCU and GEICO.
Wheatley described the mixed-use approach as the “big buzz” in city planning and elaborated on its application to the first lot of Liberty Executive Park.
“The idea is that you develop synergy with having people near where they want to be, or where they need to be, to do business,” he explained during the July 24 session. “In general, we find that when people drive down the streets, they want to duck into a parking lot, get their business done and get out, and that’s why strip centers have proven to be the overwhelming popular choice for business owners and developers.”
The Liberty Executive Park site plan is symbolic of modern city development, Wheatley said, which moves away from a traditional downtown-based layout in favor of sprawling micro communities.
“While we all may lament the decline of downtowns, there’s a reason the downtowns have declined, and that’s a good part of it; they just weren’t as convenient,” he remarked. “We all like to drive through them and look at them and feel good, but they just, ultimately, have not proven out.”
The land for Liberty Executive Park, also known as The Villas, is owned Iowa City-based A&M Development LLC, a group of investors led by McComas-Lacina Construction owner Mike Hahn. Hahn noted the site was always meant for high-density, quality office space which best suits the market and will set the tone for the district, with Mayor Terry Donahue referring to the development as a “trendsetter” for the remaining three lots west of Kansas Avenue.
“With GEICO and the credit union and the number of young people that work there, there’s all kinds of opportunities,” Hahn noted of the variety of potential businesses that could come to the area.

Minor revisions

While supportive of the plan overall, members of the North Liberty City Council stressed a desire to make the buildings more aesthetically appealing and less monotonous, as well as add a few other minor improvements.
“I don’t need every apartment unit to have something completely new, but something that breaks it up a little bit,” said councilor Chris Hoffman. “If there’s a way to make it more interesting, that would be my preference.” Similar comments came from other council members.
“No offense to personal preference, but this looks a lot like dorms to me,” Sarah Madsen offered upon review of the concept illustrations. “The masonry is concerning to me that we’re just building a bunch of off-white boxes.”
Annie Pollock cited a desire to add more bike racks to make it more pedestrian-friendly, which Hoffman supported. Jim Sayre also suggested additional low landscaping features in lieu of additional trees along Kansas Avenue.
With the city council “90 percent” satisfied, the site plans passed unanimously, with a caveat to include comments on adding bike racks, landscaping improvements and changing the brick color. While a construction time line is yet to be determined, the developers could break ground as early as this year.