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Solon Lofts and Commons moves ahead

City to discuss rental plan with developers

By Doug Lindner
Solon Economist

SOLON– The Solon City Council has given the official OK for a plan to renovate the former St. Mary auditorium into a mix of residential and commercial uses.
The site plan for Solon Lofts and Commons was approved on a 3-0 vote at a June 21 city council meeting. (Council members absent?)
But there are still some details to work out.
Council members gave informal approval of the latest concept for the building, including a proposed second parking lot for tenants, at a June 7 meeting and the site plan was recommended for approval, with contingencies, by members of the Planning and Zoning Commission at a June 20 session.
Prairie Equity Group, of Iowa City, has proposed to renovate the 1915 structure into 17 upper-level condominiums with approximately 5,000 square feet of ground level commercial space. A gated parking area east of the auditorium, part of the original plan, was supplemented in the latest version by another lot at 213 S. Dubuque St., southwest of the building.
The 17 residential apartments will be a mix of studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom units, while potential commercial tenants include such businesses as a salon, fitness center and office space, City Administrator Cami Rasmussen said at the June 21 council meeting.
Variances were granted for open space, landscaping and parking requirements, and the city will look to include instructions for the maintenance of the parking areas in a separate developer’s agreement.
According to City Engineer Dave Schechinger, the developers have proposed using permeable pavers in the two parking areas, something which will require ongoing upkeep. Schechinger suggested including a schedule of inspections for the parking area as part of the developer’s agreement.
Al Wells, representing Prairie Equity Group, said a management company would be responsible for maintaining the building and its parking lots.

Other issues to resolve, Rasmussen noted, include making sure the size of the studio apartments meets city minimums for square footage, and determining whether the city needs to establish standards for temporary stays in the units.
“Our intent is to restore this building, and the best use of some of those rooms are for overnight accommodations,” Wells told council members. “Solon has no overnight accommodations.”
Wells said the condominiums could be rented out the same way a privately-owned duplex could be listed with alternative hotel sites like Airbnb.com.
Rasmussen said city staff had not yet researched whether current city code addresses such instances, but said similar ordinances regarding bed and breakfasts and private lodging would be reviewed.
“It seems like a fairly unique and interesting concept,” council member Shawn Mercer said. He asked Wells how Prairie Equity Group would manage the venture.
Wells said the partnership would maintain ownership of the condos, renting out overnight stays to wedding parties at the Palmer House Stable, for example.
“I’ve got 150 people who come from Friday through Sunday, and they have to drive to Iowa City,” he said.
But, he added, the group would have to be careful not to let the behavior of overnight occupants impact long-term tenants of the building.
Wells also said some of the potential commercial tenants are interested in capitalizing on Solon’s growing popularity as a weekend destination for kayaking and biking, but have no available lodging.
He said Prairie Equity Group would be willing to work with the city and would comply with whatever was decided.
Mayor Steve Stange said he felt it was an issue that could be dealt with by city staff through the developer’s agreement.
“I think it’s fair,” Mercer said. “We’ve made the argument that one of the number one concerns is parking. I think Mr. Wells has addressed that.”