Council approves low-income housing development proposal


Jacob Rice

City of Ames Mayor John Haila speaks during an Ames City Council meeting on Jan. 24.

The Ames City Council approved a proposal from the Hatch Development Group on a vote of 5-1 for the Baker Subdivision low-income housing. Ward 2 Rep. Tim Gartin voted nay, citing beliefs that the Commonwealth Companies’ proposal was more family-friendly.

According to city documents, the Baker subdivision is located at 321 State Ave., and the approved $12.47 million proposal from Hatch had 38 townhouse-style units with utility costs included and an amenity area.

The $16.4 million proposal from Commonwealth Companies had 45 units within three multistory buildings, a playground and fitness center. Both proposals had on-site maintenance. The city is seeking approval for the low-income housing tax credit to cover upward of $9 million of the cost.

Ames Housing Coordinator Vanessa Baker-Latimer recommended the council approve the Hatch proposal.

“They have committed to a rent reduction, which we know in this town […] you can get in the first year and then you can’t afford it the next year,” Baker-Latimer said. “By doing that, the residents have a better option to remain in those places longer, and also the utilities are included in the rent.”

Ward 2 Rep. Tim Gartin said the council should focus on families because it is family housing, and the Hatch proposal is missing amenities that the Commonwealth proposal includes.

“There’s not a playground for the kids,” Gartin said. “This is awesome that [the Commonwealth proposal] would have a community center, a fitness center right there– it also has high-speed internet, which the kids will need.”

Baker-Latimer said the Hatch proposal has a designated amenity area but did not get as specific as the Commonwealth proposal and that council can direct city staff to investigate adding a playground. She also said the Department of Housing and Urban Development requires high-speed internet, so it is included in both proposals.

Tony Ramey, an Ames resident living a block away from the subdivision, said he was thrilled to find out that Ames City Manager Steve Schainker recommended passage of the Hatch proposal because it looks more residential and supports quality over quantity.

Joanne Pfeiffer, another Ames resident, said she was excited about the Hatch proposal.

“I know I would rather live in the Hatch buildings,” Pfeiffer said. “It all fits with our neighborhood, and I can say the neighbors I’ve talked to are pretty excited about having this as their choice.”

Gartin said he was torn on the issue, particularly on the number of housing available. It is his normal posture is to take strong deference to city staff, but the Commonwealth proposal had more units.

“The goal here isn’t to make the neighborhood happy with all due respect,” Gartin said. “We’re allowing neighborhood concerns to be the tail that wags the dog.”

Ward 1 Rep. Gloria Betcher said she appreciates input from the neighborhood, but that was not something discussed by the council.

“I don’t know why [Gartin thinks] that the neighborhood input is wagging this dog,” Betcher said. “If we look at the number of units, nine of the units from Commonwealth are one-bedroom units; they aren’t family units.”

Betcher also said Hatch having two more family units means they were meeting more needs of families and that she trusted city staff’s recommendation.

After the Hatch proposal was passed 5-1 with Gartin opposing, At-Large Rep. Bronwyn Beatty-Hansen moved to decrease the parking space limit of two spaces per unit as required by the city to one and a half spaces per unit as the proposal entailed.

“So if we are trying to accommodate families and assuming they have children, and they have to work and take their kids to school, some of them are going to have two cars,” Gartin said.

Baker-Latimer said she was not aware of it being common for families to utilize low-income housing and own two cars. The motion passed 5-1 with Gartin opposing.

In response to Gartin’s concern about the lack of a playground in the Hatch proposal, the council unanimously approved another motion from Beatty-Hansen to direct staff to investigate including a playground in the amenity area.

Residential Survey

The council discussed modifications to the annual residential survey and directed staff to add and remove several questions.

Betcher questioned whether residents knew what the council meant by diversity, equity and inclusion, and motioned to change the phrase to a sense of belonging. The motion passed 5-1, with Gartin opposing.

The council unanimously approved adding questions regarding organized waste collection and the possibility of CyRide going fare-free.

Mayor John Haila suggested the council add a question about whether residents would want to pay more in property taxes to pay for climate initiatives with the upcoming Climate Action Plan proposal.

“When we ask the questions about if people are willing to spend more on all different categories, how often do people say they want to spend more on anything?” At-Large Rep. Amber Corrieri asked.

Ward 4 Rep. Rachel Junck suggested the council put a checklist of eco-friendly climate measures residents are interested in doing.

After Beatty-Hasen said she would support paying for measures to mitigate emissions even if residents opposed them. Gartin asked why the council would ask a question that they do not care about the input on.

Ultimately, the council decided not to adopt a Climate Action Plan-related question.

Other Measures

Tabitha Etten, a sophomore majoring in human development and family studies, served in her first meeting as ex-officio. Etten is currently a College of Human Sciences senator for Student Government and plans to serve as ex-officio until April 2024.

The council unanimously amended the Ames 2040 plan to rezone areas around the Ames Animal Shelter as highway-oriented commercial. The rezoning did take into account the space needed for the construction of a new animal shelter.

Ames residents can only have three landscape accents that are 8×8 feet after a unanimous decision by the council. The vote came after a discussion involving the city’s four-foot maximum fence height. The council did fail a measure to require a permit for a fence or accent projection within a setback on a vote of 2-4.