New IC dog park to open; watch for my dogs to risk injury there

July 14, 2009

By Gregg Hennigan

IOWA CITY – The city’s second off-leash dog park will open at 9:30 a.m. July 25.

Known as Rita’s Ranch, it is a three-acre area within Scott Park on the City’s east side. The park is named after JCDogPAC founding member Anne Burnside’s dog Rita.

The city’s first dog park, the 12-acre Thornberry Park, opened three years ago on the northeast side of town.

My wife and I find the dog park to be a pretty entertaining place, although with a baby at home, we haven’t been this year.

The last time we were at Thornberry our dog Bill – we have two Boston terriers, Bill and Pete – nearly drowned in the pond. We coaxed him into the water by throwing a ball in there. (If you’ve ever seen an excitable, athletic Boston at the park who’s psychotically possessive of balls and Frisbees, you’ve likely met Bill.) He swam several feet from the shore to get the ball and then turned around. As he paddled back, he quickly started getting more vertical in the water. Then his head started going lower. I was preparing to go in after him when he was able to touch and get back to land – and safety. We joke that he believes we tried to kill him.

Another time, Pete (whom our vet recently declared one of the biggest Bostons she’s ever seen at 38 pounds) took off after a greyhound that probably was the fastest animal I have ever seen in person. They really are graceful dogs. Greyhounds, that is. Pete, not so much. He was running so fast (for him) and awkwardly that I thought for sure he was going to  break a leg. Needless to say, he didn’t catch the greyhound.

One more quick story. I was actually offered this job while I was at the dog park. Lyle Muller, now The Gazette’s editor, called me on my cell phone. I later accepted, and this month marks my third year at The Gazette.

Feel free to share your dog stories in the comment section.

In the photo below, Pete is in the foreground, with Bill behind him.

Bill and Pete


New Iowa City road not a bypass

July 13, 2009

By Gregg Hennigan

IOWA CITY – A new bridge over the Iowa River is expected to open soon.

As I reported in a story today, the bridge is part of a bigger project to link Mormon Trek and Scott boulevards and provide a new thoroughfare on the south side of town.  The new road is known as McCollister Boulevard.

McCollister is not intended to be a new bypass, said Jeff Davidson, the city’s planning and community development director, and Rick Fosse, the public works director. It is expected to provide relief to the busy Highway 6 to the north, but McCollister will be an arterial street with intersections and traffic signals.

“It will clearly be the efficient way to move around south Iowa City, but it will not function as an interstate,” Davidson said.

Once the bridge is finished, McCollister will run from Mormon Trek to a bit east of Gilbert Street in the area south and southeast of the airport.

The eastern stretch of McCollister will be completed as the area developments. Davidson said the city has a general plan for how the street will be aligned.

Old Iowa City council had spunk

July 9, 2009

By Gregg Hennigan

IOWA CITY – Former Iowa City Mayor John McDonald died Wednesday at age 65 after a brief battle with pancreatic cancer.

We’ll have a story and the obituary in Friday’s paper.

McDonald was on the City Council from 1982-93. He was Mayor from 1984-85 and 1988-91, according to City Clerk Marian Karr.

McDonald’s tenure on the council was well before my time, but I’ve heard stories about how those councils in the late-’80s and early ’90s could be, depending on your perspective, pretty entertaining and at times divisive. 

There were some strong personalities with differing views on the council. I asked Darrel Courtney, who was on the council from 1986-93 and served as mayor, about this Thursday when we were talking about McDonald.

It was “always very verbal,” was Courtney’s polite way of describing the meetings. As mayor, McDonald had a calming effect and was great at building consensus, he added.

I went back and looked in our archives and found some support for this.

Read the rest of this entry »

Bicycle statistics for Iowa City area

July 7, 2009

By Gregg Hennigan

IOWA CITY – Curious how various intersections in Iowa City, Coralville and University Heights rank in terms of bicycle usage?

A memo released Tuesday by the Johnson County Council of Governments – a countywide planning organization more commonly referred to by its acronym, JCCOG – provides an interesting angle on this.

Using traffic counts, it ranks 20 intersections by the percentage of bicycle usage compared with total vehicle usage.

Not surprisingly, intersections near University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics and other parts of the UI campus occupy many of the top spots.

The full memo is at the bottom of this post. Unless I’m missing something, the math on the top intersection isn’t right, but the rest appear to be correct. Let me know if you find any errors. Also, the memo suggests only certain intersections were observed.

JCCOG is leading the effort to get area communities designated Bicycle Friendly Communities by the League of American Bicyclists, which I’ve written about before.

A JCCOG board is to discuss its “Metro Bicycle Master Plan” at a meeting July 14.  

View this document on Scribd

Coralville fish store in the NY Times

July 6, 2009

IOWA CITY – On the Fourth of July, the New York Times op-ed page had a piece on a tropical fish store in Coralville devastated by last year’s flood.

Now, the store has reopened in a new location, thanks to a lot of help from people in the community and beyond. One has to think that the perseverance of store owner Ed Fisher was a key factor, too.

Author and Iowa Writers’ Workshop Director Lan Samantha Chang wrote the story. To read it, click here.

Iowa City homeless shelter a crime magnet?

July 2, 2009

By Gregg Hennigan

IOWA CITY – The Shelter House finally broke ground on a new homeless shelter Wednesday.

The project has been delayed for years by legal challenges, and protesters were on hand yesterday at the groundbreaking ceremony.

Opponents of the new shelter site have voiced two main concerns: that their property values would suffer and crime would soar in the neighborhood if a shelter is built.

It’s often forgotten – or not mentioned – that the courts considered these issues and found there was no problem. No finger-pointing here. I’ve left that out of many of the stories I’ve written. The project has such a long history that it’s impossible to fit all the background into a story.

Also, to be clear: I’m not taking sides. I’m just noting that this issue has been looked at by the court system.

This is from an March 2008 story in The Gazette after the Iowa Supreme Court ruled in the Shelter House’s favor:

The concern opponents of the proposed location voiced most often was a likely increase in neighborhood crime, and District Court witnesses reviewed arrest rates for the current shelter house and Hilltop Mobile Home Court residents, the Supreme Court ruling noted.

“Although the witnesses differed in their interpretation of this data, a close inspection of these figures reveals that the arrest rate for persons giving Shelter House as their address was likely less than the arrest rate for persons giving Hilltop Mobile Home Court as their address, (Chief Justice Marsha) Ternus wrote in the ruling. “Moreover, there appeared to be more concern about potential crime due to the number of persons turned away by Shelter House than by the persons who actually stay there.”

Johnson County supervisor: Could we sue consultant?

July 1, 2009

By Gregg Hennigan

Iowa City – Rod Sullivan was not happy during a discussion of jail and court needs Wednesday.

The Johnson County supervisor didn’t like that, after several years of planning for a combined justice center, some were suggesting  looking at a split jail and courthouse.

And he wasn’t happy with the consultant the board hired two years ago to study its options. In fact, he wondered outloud if the county could sue the firm, Dubuque-based Durrant Group Inc.

“We did not get our money’s worth out of this,” he said.

(A story about the meeting can be found here and in Thursday’s Gazette.)

Durrant was paid about $70,000 and, after more than a year of work, came up with four possible locations for a combined justice center.

But other county officials, including County Attorney Janet Lyness, said Wednesday that the Durrant study did not lay out what it would cost to renovate the courthouse and build a jail at a separate site.

That’s a scenario that is now being considered with the Press-Citizen building, and the county may need to pay for another study.

Wednesday was not the first time supervisors had expressed frustration with Durrant. In April 2008, Durrant’s Michael Lewis unveiled for the supervisors his preliminary assessment of possible sites for a facility.

But some supervisors said at the time that they expected more detailed information, particularly cost estimates. Also, Lewis’ final report was late.

Some of that frustration came out when Lewis asked the supervisors to narrow the list of sites to two or three.

“I don’t feel that we can answer your question because I don’t feel like you’ve done what we asked you to do,” said Sullivan, who was the board’s chairman at the time.

Lewis eventually came back with more detailed plans, and county officials later that year zeroed in on a site south of the existing courthouse as their preferred location for a justic center.

They liked that it was close to downtown and had easy access to public transportation and nearby facilities.