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Initial property maintenance code approved

Jay Waagmeester
City council meetings can be viewed on the AmesTelevision YouTube channel.

The Ames City Council revisited the property maintenance code in unanimously approving a draft of ordinances for first reading July 18 that include restrictions on outdoor yard waste storage, vegetation in the right-of-way and unsecured buildings. 

During the workshop, the council voted against the city staff’s recommendation of a 10-foot sidewalk clearance and voted for an 8-foot clearance to be in the draft. Their recommendation was based on the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) requirement for a 10-foot clearance on certain projects for which they provide funding. 

“We are still recommending the 10-foot DOT requirement,” Ames Building Official Sara Van Meeteren said. “In talking with public works, they have some pretty major concerns about being able to maintain that. They said there are some projects that we have to maintain compliance with for over 20 years.”

Ward 2 Rep. Tim Gartin said he felt like he was fighting too hard for the 8-foot requirement.

“I still am baffled that the federal government cares about [the sidewalks],” Gartin said. “Sometimes you have to pick your battles.”

In referring to limitations on RV parking, Gartin said there is “no question” they affect neighboring property values.

“There are some neighborhoods that sort of have the feel of an RV park,” Gartin said. “I worry again that we wouldn’t allow construction of properties of that size in those spaces, and yet someone can park a vehicle the same amount of space in those areas.”

In the workshop, Gartin motioned to have city staff investigate RV size limitations on private residential property but did not receive a second. 

Mayor John Haila said this is not a vendetta to cite the entire city of Ames. 

“We’re not going to be driving around every firetruck; we’re not going to be checking every building and taking notes,” Haila said. “I think that there’s a modicum of discretion [city staff] would use if they knew that someone was trying to basically be vindictive.”

Van Meeteren said the citation process is complaint-based, and the city’s goal is to educate.

The council approved the draft of ordinances with a 10-foot requirement and placed it on the July 18 meeting agenda for first reading. The city is still seeking feedback on the proposed ordinances, which all can be found here

Raygun signage

Betcher pulled an item regarding a sign in the right-of-way on Main Street for the new Raygun store from the consent agenda. The sign proposed for the new Raygun store features a cat holding a raygun with “pew pew pew” written below it.

Betcher said she was concerned about the sign’s content in a community with “high profile gun violence in the last couple of years.”

“I didn’t see a kitty with a raygun,” Betcher said. “I saw a kitty with a machine gun, and it made me wonder whether other people would see the same thing.”

Raygun’s Director of Operations Blake Crabb said the company is sensitive to the idea of gun violence in America and sells products that promote ending gun violence.

“It is in our opinion that the gun that Gary the cat is holding is an imaginary space weapon,” Crabb said. “We think it is different from an image of a handgun or an AR-15.”

Crabb also said the Cedar Rapids Raygun location hosted survivors of the Parkland High School shooting during a March for Our Lives event in 2018. 

Betcher said the image caught her off guard. 

“I’m a gun owner, so when I saw that my thought was just, ‘What would this do to other people who maybe had been more closely impacted by those shootings here in Ames?’” Betcher said.

Gartin questioned the constitutionality of denying approval of the sign due to its content. Ames City Attorney Mark Lambert said the city only has the basis to deny the signage if there is a problem with the right-of-way. 

“If you’re [denying approval of the sign] because you don’t like the image or don’t like the message, then that potentially creates first amendment concern,” Lambert said. 

The council approved the sign unanimously. 

RAGBRAI Hairball fireworks permit

Hairball, who is headlining RAGBRAI’s overnight stop in Ames, requested a fireworks permit from the city and in conjunction with that a change from the $5 million liability coverage required in the municipal code to $2 million.

According to city documents, representatives of Hairball said that $2 million is the amount other communities they have performed in have required for liability coverage. They also told Ames city staff that the higher liability limit would cost an additional $1,200.

Ames Assistant City Manager Brian Phillips said that city staff could not recommend approval of the permit and change to the liability limit due to the performance taking place downtown. 

After Gartin suggested the council pay the additional $1,200, Betcher said providing an exception for Hairball is unfair to previous applicants.

“Why would we subsidize them when we haven’t subsidized other people who have wanted fireworks permits,” Betcher said. 

Gartin said that the council votes on these issues on a case-by-case basis and that this case should be reviewed.

“We’re inviting the state of Iowa to our house, and this seems like a very modest amount of money,” Gartin said. “The city of Ames will be benefiting tremendously by all these people coming to Ames.”

The council unanimously approved the fireworks permit but did not change the liability coverage amount. 

Gartin motioned for city staff to work with organizers to investigate if there is an alternative source to cover the $1,200, which was approved 5-1 with Betcher opposing. 

Additional Measures

The council unanimously approved a measure that would allow for the use of a sports practice facility in general industrial zoning through a special use permit. 

According to city documents, the issue was brought to the City Council after Iowa State University terminated a lease with Savage Gymnastics Academy early due to construction on Beyer Hall. 

According to a letter from the Barten Law Office addressed to the council, the Academy is “urgently seeking” another facility for their 150 students, comprising preschool, elementary and secondary school-aged children. 

The council also unanimously approved the final plat of the Iowa State University Research Park Phase III. Ames City Manager Steve Schainker said the university plans to build a research laboratory on the site.

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