Likely shadow worries Iowa City church leaders
IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — For nearly a century and a half, light has streamed through the stained-glass windows lining Trinity Episcopal Church’s sanctuary, while outside, downtown Iowa City has grown up and evolved around the parish.
“The quality of light through the windows is wildly luminous; it’s really stunning,” said the Rev. Benjamin Webb, interim priest at Trinity Episcopal, as he walked through the sanctuary on a recent morning. Tall, ornate stained-glass windows with inscriptions dating to the 19th century glowed on all four walls, and smaller panes cast diffused light from the arched ceiling onto the pews below.
Webb and his congregation are wary of the day that their potential neighbor to the east — a proposed $53.8-million modern glass and steel high rise — casts its shadow over the church and blots out this early morning light during services at certain times of the year.
The Iowa City Council this month tapped developer Marc Moen and architect Steve Rohrbach’s proposal, named The Chauncey, as the preferred development for a prime, quarter-block piece of city-owned land at the northeast corner of College and Gilbert streets.
If built to current specification, the tower would be the city’s tallest building at 20 stories, and rise across Gilbert Street from Trinity Episcopal, a downtown landmark that has stood since 1871 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It would be flanked on its other three sides by city properties: Chauncey Swan Park and City Hall to the north, the Robert A. Lee Recreation Center to the south and a parking ramp to the west.
Church members have petitioned city leaders to consider the effects of the tower on their parish, which in 2010 completed a $1.8 million renovation and, as parishioners point out, has opted to stay downtown as other churches have moved out of the heart of the city over the years. Not only will the tower’s shadow block light, church leaders say, but the lack of sunshine will diminish the LEED-certified church’s energy efficiency, and the added business and residential density could make parking even more scarce, they worry.
Trinity Episcopal, which has a history of engagement in social justice and sustainability issues, also is urging the city and developers to view the project not just as an opportunity to build more upscale condominiums, but as a chance to address the community’s affordable housing needs.