2015-2020 Capital Improvements Plan

The Ames City Council begins at 6:30 PM  Jan 27th.  The agenda includes:

  • Item 26 -- 2015-2020 Capital Improvements Plan (CIP). The City Manager's letter is a good summery of the CIP. I recommend reading it. One item in which I have been interested is the flood mitigation project. I have been very skeptical is the flood mitigation project. It is a 4.8 million dollar project primarily intended to protect many businesses on South Duff as well as The Boys and Girls Club and some rental properties, as well. It will drop the flood level in this area 2' during a 100 year flood. It also will have a slight benefit to Hunziker Youth Sports Complex.

    When Walmart decided to invest in property on South Duff I would think they considered the flood burden on that property and were ready to protect that investment. I am not sure if it is appropriate that property tax dollars from the entire community be used for this improvement. 

    There are times when a community should come together and share the price of a catastrophe. The Emerald Ash Borer is a great example. Here you see some taxpayers benefiting more than others while we all will contribute. In this case, however, full understanding of the costs has come years after the time when planting a tree could have prevented such costs. The financial burden, on so many of our residents, could not have been reasonably anticipated decades ago, so we will work together as a community to solve this problem.

    In contrast the investments on South Duff have been made in spite of and with complete awareness of the flooding risks associated with that area. Property owners have been offered FEMA buyouts and have refused them. I think the financial risks associated with this flooding should be borne by those who stand to reap dividends from those risks; the businesses who stand to gain from the project. Not every taxpayer should have to bear this burden, as the risk has been well understood since Save-U-More flooded in 1993.

    In the 2014 Citizens Satisfaction Survey, of 41% of residents agreed there should be no development in the flood plain and 55% felt there should be no incentives for such development. While this project is not an incentive project, it certainly feels like one to me.

  • Item 27 -- Discussion of City's Branding efforts. The branding exercise undergone years ago always was anticipated to have a brand communication plan, a way to get out and tell our story. However the cost may be unacceptable. Council will discuss details about what we are hoping to achieve and get more accurate numbers on the costs, but should be move very cautiously.

  • Item 28 -- Staff Report on shopping carts abandonment. Shopping carts have been scattered around the community, especially near South Duff and South 5th for years. Council has largely ignored the issue, but recently received a letter from a vision-impaired individual who finds them very tough to navigate. We will look at it one more time.

  • Item 29 -- Staff Report on Residential High-Density Evaluation of City-Wide Sites. In this council action form the RHD Tool is applied to many properties around the community, which are not currently under consideration for redevelopment. This issue could end up guiding us to the approval of hundreds of new rental units in the community. While, we have heard many aesthetic concerns about the high density housing explosion on S. 16th and Mortensen, I am finding it very hard to get past the fact that this housing will put downward pressure on rental housing pricing, making it more affordable in the City of Ames, a goal of the council's. I hope the council will have the courage to demand cost sharing development agreements with CyRide during as we look to add housing to the market.

  • Item 30 -- Requests for initiation of Land Use Policy Plan Amendments for Eastgate and South Duff Avenue. These 2 projects will be considered in the context of the Residential High Density Tool. It should be an interesting conversation.

  • Item 34 --Hearing on Urban Revitalization Plan Amendment for 921- 9th Street (former Roosevelt School site). While this project has been a great example of cooperation between the Roosevelt Neighborhood, the Ames Community School District, the City of Ames and Duane Jensen, I am disappointed when organizations, that have made commitments to the city, fail to follow through on them. Then our residents turn to Channel 12 and see us discussing the difference between a beautiful 2-story glass atrium and corrugated metal, and wonder why we don't have anything better to do. We again will have to look at holding an organization to their original commitments, rather than celebrating a community success.

    I just wish we could high five on a job well done, but as I am pretty short, that might not go much better than this discussion will.

Residential High-Density Evaluation Tool

  • The Ames City Council begins at 7:00 PM  Jan 13th.  The agenda includes:
  • Item 31 -- Staff report on Independent Hydraulic Analysis of Riverside Manor at 1209 S. 4th Street. A developer is working with Riverside Manor to develop very close to the squaw creek. Part of the plan is to create a retaining wall impacting the previously unimpeded flow of river water on occasion during flooding. Council has requested a hydrologic study of the area. There has been a study previously as a result of Grand Avenue Extension planning, but not a more detailed analysis that is site specific. Council will decide if using the existing study, which only accounts for 100-year floods, is sufficient.

  • Item 32 -- Presentation of Residential High-Density Evaluation Tool. When growth north of Bloomington Rd. was originally discussed, concerns were raised on the basis of cost. Costs of roads, water, sewer, transportation, fire service, police service, etc. increase as land is far from the core of a community. As one can see from the map below, our existing CyRide transit services would be making very long expensive trips into Iowa State University campus from many of the potential developments shown below. While Campustown redevelopment has been valuable in relieving this pressure to the outskirts, it has not been enough. The Government of the Student Body's decision to fund free student bus rides with student fees since early 2000, in conjunction with Iowa State University's decision to provide little parking for its nearly 35, 000 students have made every square inch of undeveloped land in the Ames community, no matter how far from the ISU Campus, a possible site for high density housing. The City must work with land speculators in a way that allows returns on their land while protecting the quality of life and long-term fiscal health of the Ames community and its services. This is never easy to do. We will do our best to balance all this and more when charting a course on Tuesday night.



Human Services Funding and Tax Incentive Giveaways

This meeting the council reviews the budget guidelines for 2014-2015 (item 38).

Many years ago the voters of Ames approved 1% sales tax referendum (see the sales tax history) directing that 60% of the sales tax goes to reduce property taxes that pay for services like roads, police and fire protection and 40% be expended on "...human service agencies, the arts, and community betterment."

This Tuesday the council sets the 2015-2016 funding levels Human Services (ASSET) . It is often tempting for city councils to use the funds earmarked for "Human Services and the Arts" on items that are traditionally paid for out of the general fund (property tax). If the health of the fund is considered an issue in the discussion, it the discussion should also cover how some local option dollars go to support items that are very justified coming from property taxes.

The idea of "community betterment" is a vague one, and council might be wise to treat its meaning conservatively, and ensure its use is not for something traditionally purchased with property taxes dollars.

The Ames City Council begins at 7:00 PM  Dec 16th.  The agenda includes:


Council Considers Front-yard Parking

The Ames City Council begins at 7:00 PM  December 9th.  The agenda includes:

  • Item 6 -- Requests for Ames 150 Sesquicentennial Platting Day in Downtown Ames, December 17.This is the final event in the Ames 150 Celebration: Happy Birthday to You Ames, you are looking so spry!

  • Item 11 -- Hearing on Zoning Ordinance text amendment to Section 29.401(4)(b) to increase allowable height for certain architectural features in all zoning districts. We have been receiving many emails and letters on this issue. The staff recommends for the zoning change, to allow for taller architectural elements in residential areas but the Planning & Zoning Commission recommended against the amendment due to the amendments not coming from a change in community perspective, but rather one property owners unwillingness to design a project which meets existing city codes.

  • Item 12 -- Hearing on Zoning Ordinance text amendment to Section 29.406(7) to include an allowance for front-yard parking in limited circumstances. This is a very similar story to that above. Another developer desires a certain layout of parking, and rather than adjusting their project to meet code, they are asking to change city code. These kinds of requests utilize a lot of City of Ames staff time.

  • Item 23 -- Resolution approving Final Plat for Prairie Village Subdivision (1204 South 4th Street adjacent to Riverside Manor). While the use is allowed, there are risks with regards to altering flood patterns in the neighborhood. Any change made to the current plat that could yield a new risk to nearby neighborhoods should be taken extremely seriously.


  • Item 24 -- Follow-up report on HIRTA Demand Response Facilitation discussions Open Meetings request. The City of Ames unanimously recommended that these discussions be open to the public, while the facilitator in the process preferred a closed setting to enhance the forthrightness of the conversations. Not surprisingly, the Story County Board of Supervisors preferred less transparency in these discussions and are unwilling to open them to the public. 

  • Item 26 -- Progress report from Sustainability Coordinator regarding July - December 2014 activities. This cooperative effort is a valuable one, let's see what progress we have been making at leveraging resources in more efficient and sustainable ways.

  • Item 27 -- Emerald Ash Borer (EAB). The response plan removing Ash trees in Ames, if approved, will begin immediately.

  • Item 28 -- Resolution approving Federal Airport Improvement Program. The City of Ames municipal airport serves many different clients. Conversations with Iowa State University show that they view its operations as an important part of the economic development resources for the ISU Research Park. As such, the City of Ames may need to consider the airport in the context, not only of hobbyist pilots, but also as an economic development asset. However, as we are not made of money, we may need to pull back on other economic development investments. As of late, The City of Ames has been on an economic development/corporate welfare roll: $1,000,000 plus for Deery Bros., over $2,000,000 for Kingland Systems, around $1,000,000 for the South Bell TIF park, and millions and millions committed to the ISU research park. The council might benefit from considering how never-ending incentives can be less money for the amenities that its residents desire. Improving the airport may be a good economic development investment and, with the right contributions by Iowa State University, could even fund itself through increased fuel and lease revenues, but the quality of life of Ames residents is our charge, and all choices should be considered in this context because most of us don't fly planes.

  • Item 29 -- Judicial Determination of Preemption of Lap Dance Ordinance. This one will be an interesting one. We haven't seen a meeting like this since Dangerous Curves was allowed to enter the Campustown market in 2005. It closed quickly thereafter. Here is a quote from that meeting from my 33-year old self: “Council Member Goodman pointed out that there are many bars in the area of Campustown where dancing that might be construed as erotic or sensual, although not paid for...occur.” 

    Probably still true...but now, I go to bed too early to know.


City Council Budget Guidelines

The Ames City Council begins at 7:00 PM  November 25th.  The agenda includes:

  • Item 28 -- Hearing on rezoning properties for ISU Research Park Phase III Project from Agricultural (A) to Planned Industrial (PI). The research park expansion will increase available land for businesses who could benefit from the park amenities.

  • Item 29 -- Hearing on Zoning Ordinance Text Amendments to Reduce On-Site Parking Required for Fraternities and Sorority Housing and make text clarifications. The council communicated previously they were comfortable with the 3 bedroom per parking space limit. The current parking regulations will remain in place protecting the adjacent neighborhood from becoming parking lots.

  • Item 38 -- City Council budget guidelines. One issue of note is the transition to residents paying higher property taxes while commercial and industrial users will be paying less, due to the bipartisan property tax reform this year. Another concern is the $3.3 million Airport Hangar and Terminal. While the hangar serves as a gateway to investors, such a large cost for an asset that many citizens will never use is concerning. More concerning is that the initial split of the project was to be 1/3 Iowa State University, 1/3 Private Sector Businesses and 1/3 City of Ames funding. However the budget letter reads, "It appears it may be difficult for the private sector and the University to contribute $866,000 each to the City in cash." City staff continues to work on funding strategies, but for an asset used by so few, perhaps a more conservative tack would be a more reasonable approach.


Housing Development Overview and Discussion

The Ames City Council begins at 7:00 PM  November 18h.  The agenda includes:

  • Item 1 -- Housing Development Overview and Discussion. The housing market in Ames is a complex beast. Elements that have contributed to its current trends include low interest rates, the residential rollback applying to all apartments, business investments and corresponding job growth, land availability, transportation and residential population (especially Iowa State University enrollment). While we receive many negative comments on the amount and scale of apartments in our community, we also find ourselves wanting to protect our neighborhoods from too much intensification. This delicate balance is impacted by at least 2 large factors: CyRide and City of Ames land use choices.

    There are many benefits to robust transit systems: empowerment of those who cannot afford cars in a community, environmental sustainability, decreases in greenhouse gases and large decreases in traffic congestion. In addition, as a progressive community, a robust transit system is a great asset for recruiting young creative residents rethinking the way they impact their world. There is a lot to celebrate in this symbiotic relationship between housing and CyRide. However the financial cost of CyRide has grown at an astounding rate. 
    CyrideandAMes pop.png

    A lack of student housing to meet enrollments in conjunction with a lack of student parking near the campus (which is a good thing, less parking less congestion) has produced an amazing transit system that acts to encourage high density housing in the community which is good. But it is becoming very expensive.

    City of Ames land use planning has also contributed to this increase in CyRide costs, by allowing developments at locations large distances from the ISU Campus. This pressure continues with a slew of new apartment requests all over the community.

    Affordable owned and rental housing is also disappearing in our community; as demand for housing increases, prices go up. Trailer parks are knocked down to make room for denser development. This is great in terms of efficiently providing services as dense development allows more residents to be served by existing police and fire services as well as existing water, sewer and road infrastructure. However, the unintended consequence is the disappearance of affordable owned housing and increased rental housing prices. Council may need to look for creative solutions, like Tiny Houses, or some other bold new options to provide affordable housing in our community. These are complex questions, and the discussion will be an interesting one. 

    Current RH (Residential High Density) Development and Requested RH


Economic Development or Corporate Welfare? Tough call.

The Ames City Council begins at 7:00 PM on Monday November 10th.  The agenda includes:

Ordinance pertaining to Fats, Oils, and Grease

The Ames City Council begins at 7:00.  The agenda includes:

Neighborhood Summit


The Ames City Council begins at 7:00.  The agenda includes:

  1. Item 1 -- Neighborhood Summit:

    • a. Emerald Ash Borer Response Plan and Urban Forest Diversification and Reforestation Recap
    • b. Explanation of Special Project Outreach by Public Works Department
    • c. Safe Neighborhoods Program Update
    • d. Neighborhood Association Survey Feedback
    • e.Dialogue with Neighborhood Association Members
  2. Item 2 -- Presentation of Proposed Ordinance Changes to Chapter 31, Historic Preservation.

One Last Dance with the Deery Brothers

The Ames City Council begins at 5:30 with a joint meeting of the Ames City Council and EUORAB with a single addenda item: