Iowa City, Iowa

Iowa City, population 70,000, lies in south-eastern Iowa and is home to the University of Iowa. The world-famous Iowa Writers Workshop here has nurtured many acclaimed authors and, in 2008, Iowa City became the third City of Literature designated by UNESCO.

In January 2013, the City Council adopted a Master Plan for Downtown Iowa City and the Riverfront Crossings District, the area south of downtown that encompasses both banks of the Iowa River. The Master Plan called for preservation of historic structures in these two areas by implementation of development incentives such as building height bonuses. In June 2014, the City adopted its Riverfront Crossings Form-Based Development Standards which include height transfers for open space, public right-of-way transfers, Class A office space, public art, leadership in energy and environmental design (LEED), student housing, hotel space, workforce/affordable housing and elder housing as well as historic preservation height transfers.

Historic Preservation Height Transfers

Sending sites must be designated Iowa City Landmarks or become Iowa City Landmarks as a condition of approval. On becoming a sending site, the historic building is preserved not by easement but by enforcement of the City’s Zoning Code Section 14-3B-7, Prevention of Demolition by Neglect. Transferable floor area is calculated as the total lot size times the number of floors allowed by code at the sending site. Note that this is different from floor area ratio and does not involve deduction of the floor area within the landmark building. The transferable floor area can be used at one or more receiving sites within the Riverfront Crossings District. The bonus square footage at receiving sites can be generated in return for various other public benefits as well as historic preservation; when bonuses from all sources are combined, maximum building height is limited to five, eight, twelve or fifteen stories depending on the receiving site’s sub-district.

Open Space Height Transfers

Sending sites must meet three criteria:

  • Minimum 20,000 square feet parcel size
  • Frontage on a public street or adjacency to public park or waterfront
  • Designated as a potential park in the River Crossings Plan or a determination that the site is ideally located for park purposes.

Sending site owners who dedicate eligible land as a public park receive transferable floor area using the same formula used for historic sites. Receiving sites must be located within the Riverfront Crossings District and maximum with-bonus height is subject to the same limitations discussed above for the Historic Preservation Height Transfer program.

Public Right-of-Way Height Transfers

Sending sites are land proposed for dedication as public right of way that are needed to implement the Riverfront Crossings Master Plan. All other provisions are as outlined for the Open Space Height Transfer program addressed above.

Height Bonus for Public Art

Receiving site developers can gain one additional floor by paying one percent of the threshold project value defined as the site preparation and construction costs itemized on the building permit. This can be considered as a form of TDR since the public benefit (public art) is not installed at the receiving site but can be located anywhere within the sub-district of the receiving site as determined by the Public Art Committee.

Other Height Bonus Options

The other forms of height bonus, (Class A office space, LEED, student housing,

hotel space, workforce/affordable housing and elder housing), do not appear to meet the definition of TDR since the bonus occurs at the same site as the public benefit rather than at a separate location.

As of the writing of this profile, January 2015, a proposal was under consideration to use the Historic Preservation Height Transfer mechanism to preserve the Tate Arms historic boarding house at 912 S. Dubuque Street. The Tate Arms housed black college students from about 1940 to 1960. Until the University of Iowa desegregated Currier Hill in 1946, black students were not allowed to live in the university’s residence halls (Schmidt, 2014). The preservation of the Tate Arms would generate 34,800 square feet of transferable floor area of which 7,400 square feet would be used to add a bonus fifth floor to a proposed residential building at 201 E. Benton Street (Davis, 2015).


Davis, Andy. 2015. Council to consider height bonus tied to Tate Arms preservation. Iowa City Citizen Press, January 5, 2015.

Schmidt, Mitchell. 2014. Fate of Tate Arms building in doubt. Iowa City Citizen Press, June 5, 2014.