City Council splits vote on Breckenridge Group proposal

Will Fowler

After hours of public input and dozens of residents’ statements, the Ames City Council voted to move forward with formalizing the Breckenridge Group development proposal on July 8, resulting in a 3-3 tie.

The proposal, which has raised concerns in the community, would be the next step in rezoning the land to increase housing for students in the southern part of Ames near the old Ames Middle School that is owned by Breckenridge Group and named Aspen Heights.

Breckenridge has sued the city of Ames previous to the meeting for “exceed its authority” in past rezoning. This has led some to believe that Breckenridge is using the lawsuit to manipulate the city government.

“Ames citizens should not have to file a suit to speak with their Council [like Breckenridge did],” said Sharon Guber, an Ames resident. “You are caught in a game.”

While several people spoke in favor of the proposal, most comments were against it.

Various issues were brought up by community members, including the removal of wildlife, homogenized architecture, detriment to quality of living, and a disruptive student presence.

A representative from Breckenridge Group spoke first after the Council introduced the issue.

“Aspen Heights has listened and worked diligently with the community,” said Charlie Vatterott, a representative of Breckenridge. “Not once have we used litigation in an offensive manner. For anyone to get up here and say they’re being disregarded is ludicrous.”

Guber, however, claimed that Breckenridge was “holding litigation over Council’s head.”

“I take exception to Mr. Vatterott’s view that we have had a fair chance to be heard,” Guber said. “They’re saying, ‘If we get 1000 [student] bedrooms, we’ll drop the lawsuit.’”

This issue has resonated with many members of the community who are concerned about setting a precedent of suing the city to push corporate action. 

Sarah Cady, a resident of the area affected by the proposal, said through tears that the city and neighborhood don’t have a say anymore and that they have been thrown under the bus by Breckenridge Group. 

“No matter what we do, we are stepping into an unknown,” Cady said. “My personal opinion has changed. I now speak with a position of reality.”

The emotional sentiment of Cady was reflected by mutterings of “bull” and shaking heads from the crowd during pro-proposal statements. It was most apparent when someone shouted “How much did they pay you?” at an ISU student after he spoke in favor of the proposal.

“Zero, buddy,” the student said, holding up his hand in an 0 symbol. “Zero.”

The hall was full and a collapsable wall was removed to accommodate the roughly 80 people in attendance.