City Council continues to address Breckenridge Group development requests


Photo: Iowa State Daily

The Ames City Council rejected development for a new apartment complex where the old Ames Middle School stood.

Greg Zwiers

Ames City Council rejected a development agreement unanimously with Breckenridge Group at its Aug. 12 meeting. The agreement would have settled a lawsuit by the Texas-based developer, who owns land in three separate parcels that was formerly the Ames Middle School.

Breckenridge Group also had two separate requests for rezoning of a north and south parcel of property near the old middle school between Lincoln Way and Wilmoth Avenue. It was the first time the council had a public forum on the rezoning of both parcels.

Breckenridge bought the land in 2012.

The council approved a first passage of the rezoning of the northern 8.4 acre parcel at 205 S. Wilmoth Ave. from government airport land to low density residential in a 3-to-3 vote with Mayor Anne Campbell voting for approval in a tiebreaker. Two more passages will be required.

Kelly Dieckmann, Ames planning and housing director, said that city staff estimate there will be 40 to 50 housing units that can be developed by Breckenridge with a total of 120 to 150 beds in the space.

Breckenridge sent a letter to the council at 4 p.m. Aug. 11 to clarify its master plan for the land rezoning that it requested on the southern land parcel at 601 State Ave., causing confusion among the council and members of the community who were given the opportunity to speak at the public forum.

Rich Ketcham, an Ames resident, said the dealings in the past two years with Breckenridge is like “dealing with a greased pig” and said the company has been “disingenuous time and time again.”

“A greased pig would be a lot more fun,” said councilman Peter Orazem in response, eliciting laughter from the nearly full council chambers.

The community has voiced strong opposition to any zoning other than residential low density, citing concerns regarding traffic safety, wildlife currently inhabiting the area and the partying of college students who would be the main tenants of the Breckenridge development.

Ketcham said it is really hard to come into a meeting and be able to tell what exactly is up for discussion.

In the letter, Breckenridge stated that the maximum number of housing units for the southern parcel will be 172, down from an earlier estimate of 190. This will allow for 516 beds.

Warren Madden, senior vice president for business and finance at Iowa State, he didn’t think that high density zoning is a good idea because of Breckenridge group’s apparent inability to negotiate and lack of clarity on the housing density of the project.

City Council voted to approve a motion by councilwoman Gloria Betcher that Breckenridge comes back to the Aug. 26 meeting with another recommendation for 10 to 14 acres to be rezoned as opposed to the current 29 acres of the property. The city staff recommendation was that 10 to 14 acres of the land would be able to be used for development. 

“I have watched zoning processes in Ames for at least 10 years and I have never seen one that was made this complicated and involved as many twists and turns as this one,” said Sue Ravenscroft, a former councilwoman.

She said all of the complications have been brought by the developer.

Dixon Jensen of Jensen Property Management said it has been an unbelievably complicated process and he has never seen anything like it.

“I normally don’t come to these meetings, but frankly it’s just unbelievable entertainment,” Jensen said. He suggested zoning all the land as low density residential and not approving the development agreement. 

He said that if the council doesn’t want the development and the neighbors are set against the development, that they could buy it.

“I don’t think you should let this continue like this. I think somewhere the leadership has got to step in and say, ‘Zone it, move on, let’s make it happen,'” Jensen said.