Ames’ Problematic Development Pattern

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A existing land use map in the city of Ames' aging Land Use Policy Plan. Image: City of Ames

The following is an excerpt from Dan DeGeest’s Council Review, a regular email newsletter that the Ames software engineer and former City Council candidate writes to complement council preview email newsletters from Bronwyn Beatty-Hansen, the council’s newest member. You can subscribe to the newsletters here.

Development in Ames seems to follow this pattern: The Land Use Policy Plan and zoning allow for A and the developer wants B. And as the clock ticked past 11 p.m. on Tuesday, I really started to wonder how effectively our city government is operating. Granted, it was a long agenda, but a majority of the time was spent talking about land use changes, zoning changes, and requests from developers to alter our current ordinances and policies to allow their projects to move forward.

This is bad for a number of reasons. It makes every project really complicated and effectively makes development only accessible to really big firms that can afford engineers, lawyers, and other experts who can navigate all the details. That complexity is then pushed down the line to the Planning and Zoning Commission and City Council, which must attempt to make informed decisions in very short amounts of time.

For example, this week’s council packet, which is published just a few days before the meeting, was 315 pages long. I go through these every weekend before the meeting, I hope all our council members and mayor do the same, and anyone who says they read and understood it all is kidding themselves.

It makes the council meetings very long. It deters the public from showing up. It compels the mayor to limit public input. It leads to hasty decisions when fatigue and hunger take over and all anyone wants is the sound of the gavel signaling adjournment.

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Dan DeGeest is a software engineer at Ames tech company Workiva and a former candidate for City Council.