Dan DeGeest’s Council Review, June 16, 2017: Old Middle School Housing Proposal

Also recapped: Ames Economic Development Commission's annual report, sustainability report, Paris Accord climate agreement

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Annotating the Council Preview in highlighted text

Hi Friends,

I love Ames in the summer. The town seem a little sleepier, things move a little slower, and friends and family can gather at a gamut of activities. The sun hangs on till well past 9 p.m. and even after a three hour City Council meeting the day still feels full of opportunity. I hope everyone is enjoying summer in Ames as much as I do.

Thanks for reading,

Dan DeGEEST>>

The Ames City Council meeting for June 13, 2017. The agenda included:

Item 39: Ames Economic Development Commission: Presentation of annual report and resolution approving 2017-18 agreement (Video)

Each year, the city gives $157,500 to the AEDC, including $60,000 to the business development coordinator, $90,000 for marketing, and $7,500 for an annual software package. The marketing dollars go toward a few purposes: business recruitment (showing sites, coordinating incentive applications, responding to inquiries from potential companies); marketing materials (website, brochures, etc.); and aggressively marketing toward industries such as ag-biotech or advanced manufacturing. In addition to the marketing facet, the city jointly funds a business development and marketing position, whose job description is basically listed in the contract. The AEDC had a 2012-16 plan, with five objectives, all now completed. (Check out the AEDC Report Card, if you’re interested in reading more.)

The annual economic development high five and the presentation of what I would call an “executive summary” of how the AEDC spent the $150,000 of funding they get from the city. Projects they showcased in their report this year included the 1,300-acre industrial park annexation, the new airport hanger, and a couple of new tenants in the Research Park. They opened 35 “project files” but there was no detail on what types of projects those are or the companies involved — I would find that information interesting. The report highlighted a few other projects, programs, and success stories for the year.

Motion approving 2017/18 Agreement ($150,000) passed 6-0.

Item 40: Progress report from sustainability coordinator regarding FY 2016-17 activities (Video)

Since 2010, the city has utilized Iowa State University’s director of sustainability to assist in city sustainability efforts. Initially, this contract focused on reducing electricity consumption, but it now includes five tasks, including waste reduction, EcoSmart and Smart Business Challenge programs, and representing the city at events relating to sustainability. (The city uses 25 percent of this employee’s time, while the other 75 percent is spent working for Iowa State.)

Hopefully some day this partnership will help produce a composting or citywide recycling program. Current work in this area included a RFP process and successful hiring of a consultant for the development of a waste diversion enhancement and recommendation report through contracted services and expanding the successful Rummage RAMPage event for diverting furniture and household items from the Resource Recovery Plant.

Resolution approving contract with ISU for sustainability advisory services from July 1 through June 30, 2018, in an amount not to exceed $25,000 passed 6-0.

Item 41: Resolution reconfirming May 5 resolution approving US Mayors Climate Protection Agreement (Video)

Given the recent national turmoil regarding the decision to withdraw from the Paris Accord, the mayor is asking we reaffirm the attached 2007 resolution. It has four directives: endorse US Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, set a baseline for carbon emission of city functions, set carbon emission goals, and develop a plan to reach these goals.

This item caused an unexpected amount of debate. Councilman Gartin felt strongly that addressing the Paris Accord issue was not needed and Councilman Orazem stated we already exceed sustainability standards in Ames so why bother with any of it. The normally fairly quiet ISU representative spoke up in favor of this resolution and stated there was wide support from ISU students for this action. The word “precedent” was tossed around — if we vote on this, then every group with a good cause will come knocking for something. I dislike that word. Being on council requires making hard decisions and in practice there is very little precedent and nearly all issues are dealt with on case-by-case basis — it’s OK to take a stand on an issue independently of every other possible issue you might encounter.

Motion putting 2014 mayor’s agreement on a future agenda for discussion passed 6-0. Motion to hold a workshop on carbon emission goals passed 6-0. Motion granting mayor authority to sign on to Paris accord passed 5-1 (Gartin NO).

Item 42: Staff report on request for proposal for 321 State Ave. (affordable housing) (Video)

The city put out an RFP for the Old Middle School lot (321 State Ave.) in March of this year. The only proposal received was from JCorp Inc, represented by Duane Jensen. JCorp is proposing all single family owner-occupied homes, 29 LMI (low- to moderate-income) rate, and 19 market rate. The LMI homes would sell for $135,000 to $155,000, and are located to the north of Tripp Street. In the RFP, the city proposed giving the land to the developer for free, and giving an additional $400,000 to 500,000 towards infrastructure improvements. The proposal from the developer is asking for over $900,000 toward infrastructure improvements. The staff report lays out four alternatives, ranging from increasing incentives to rethinking the project.

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Affordable housing has been getting lip service for ages and during the 2015 campaign all the candidates listed it as a top priority. We all talked about the Old Middle School site and the potential it offered. So here we find ourselves nearly 2 years later, lawsuits settled, the land has been secured, HUD and other federal hoops have been cleared, and the city is ready to turn it over for development.

The requests for proposal (RFP) went out in March and the city received one proposal. One! This is a top citywide issue, a top issue for all the currently elected council members, the city has land to give away to a developer for free and is even offering additional incentives, and only one group could come up with a project? To make matters worse, the proposal requires an additional $500,000 in assistance to make the project viable and will still only result in the most “affordable” housing option coming in at around $130,000.

Many options were discussed but in the end council felt the best option for closing the financial gap was to reduce the number of housing units, remove through roads in favor of cul-de-sacs, and remove formal park components opting to just leave the green space as is and up to the future neighbors to turn into a park or other use. There is nothing innovative or bold in this project. It’s just a spreadsheet of numbers and new an exercise of making the numbers line up. Nobody talked about the potential of empowering people through home ownership or seeking more creative ways to drive down the construction and thus, purchase prices. The closest anyone came to humanizing the project was when Councilman Gartin asked about any potential for partnering with Habitat for Humanity.

I do think JCorp has made a good-faith effort but they are in the business of building market rate homes and just doing what they normally do but on a smaller home footprint isn’t really the innovation I had hoped for and in the end, as seen by the huge funding gap, isn’t that effective. I think the council should have given a lot more direction in the RFP targeting either a price per square foot or an overall purchase price expectation. But there are no comparisons to be made because nobody else even showed up to play. Some version of their plan will move forward.

Motion approving cost reduction measures (Option 2B in the report) passed 6-0.

Item 43: Urban renewal area for Barilla (Video)
At our Feb. 28 meeting, the council approved a $3 million tax increment financing incentive for a planned expansion at Barilla. This urban renewal plan is the first step in several toward moving that incentive forward.

Motion approving urban renewal passed 6-0.

Item 46: Hearing on major site development plan for 398 S. 500th Ave.

City staff and the developer of The Collegiate development are still working to finalize details of this project, and are asking that the hearing be continued until June 27.

Item 47: Hearing on proposed 2017-18 Community Development Block Grant Annual Action Plan (continued from May 9)

This hearing is being extended again, this time until June 27.

Council Comments (Video)


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