City Council meeting packed with Ames residents to talk about the rental ordinance

City of Ames residents fill the Council Chambers wall to wall — prior to the meeting beginning, some attendees had to be moved to a separate room in order to meet fire code.

Jill Alt

City Hall was packed wall to wall for the City Council meeting Tuesday night. 

There weren’t enough chairs for all of the Ames residents who came to this week’s City Council meeting. 

The biggest topic of the night was the rental ordinance impacting the Ames community, as the moratorium will expire June 1. 

The current options include percentage limits, distance separation, concentration limitations, parking spaces tied to occupancy and bedroom count.

The rental ordinance would regulate concentration in university-adjacent neighborhoods, and to create a limit or a “cap” on how many rental properties can exist within certain areas. The areas currently included are the College Creek neighborhood, the Oak Riverside area, the South Campus Area Neighborhoods (SCAN) and the Colonial neighborhood area. 

On one side, citizens of Ames are in favor of this cap because of the impact an increased rental properties may have on the property value of their homes. 

On the other side, citizens who have made investments in their home with the intent to flip and rent it, are out a potentially large amount of money. Many students have spoken at prior meetings as this limits availability for them to live near campus. 

At the March 20 meeting, City Council directed staff to mail notices to the property owners within the eight potential neighborhoods currently subject to the rental housing moratorium.

The current parameters on the rental ordinance are as follows

Calculation of the percentage of existing rentals is based upon properties zoned R-L or UCRM. 

R-L = Residential, Low Density UCRM = Urban Core Residential Medium Density Zone

All properties zoned R-L and UCRM with a registered rental dwelling are calculated in the percentage. 

A maximum of 25 percent of R-L and UCRM properties within a defined neighborhood are permitted to have registered rental dwellings. 

No new rental registrations can be approved if the percentage of rentals would exceed the 25 percent cap. 

If a defined neighborhood exceeds the 25 percent cap, no new single-family rental registrations may be approved. 

A duplex dwelling may register the second unit of the duplex, regardless of the neighborhood cap percentage. 

Currently registered rental dwellings may maintain their registration and renew their letter of compliance.

If a registered rental dwelling ceases to operate as a licensed rental dwelling, the owner cannot seek a new registration if the neighborhood exceeds the 25 percent cap. For example, an existing rental dwelling cannot be demolished and rebuilt and then registered as a rental dwelling if in a neighborhood over the 25 percent cap. 

A property owner may seek approval of a transitional letter of compliance to allow for the temporary rental of a dwelling for up to one year, regardless of the 25 percent cap on rental dwellings.

Councilwoman Gloria Betcher spoke in defense of renters in Ames.

“It sounds like we’re talking about how undesirable it is to live next to rentals,” Betcher said. “This isn’t about nuisance, this isn’t about the things that can be mitigated through enforcement. So if there’s nothing wrong with living next to rentals, why are we discussing this?”

People from both sides spoke on the matter, taking issue with and defending the impacts. A total of 34 Ames citizens stepped forward with multiple perspectives of the ordinance. 

One of the Ames residents who spoke at the meeting was Sarah Conroy. She explained the home she owns with her wife is surrounded by university facilities and rentals and hoped to turn their current home into a rental as her family grew in the future. 

She believed this ordinance — should it pass — to have a potentially negative impact on her family and their future. 

John Pleasant spoke in favor of the rental ordinance. He acknowledged the importance of hardship cases, and then advocated for the 200 homeowners in the SCAN area. 

“You have to balance the needs of those five to 10 who plan to flip to the 200 property owners who would experience additional hardship by having exemptions that would essentially start a domino effect,” Pleasant said. 

Ken Platt came up to the City Council as a 50-year resident of the Ames area. His believed the rentals in the area pose a threat to the community and expressed a wish for this to not be limited to university-adjacent neighborhoods, and should impact the whole city. 

Tom Budd came forward multiple times Tuesday night, and one of the times he approached the podium, he gave this analogy regarding the rental ordinance.

“When I bought my house, I knew I couldn’t make my neighbor paint their house red. I love red. I would love it if everyone wore red,” Budd said. “I don’t make that decision for them and I don’t expect to.”

He related this to the actions of renters in the area and property rights.

The Ames Rental Association sent a representative to the meeting tonight to read a statement. The statement said:

“Mayor and Council Members:

The Ames Rental Association is representing roughly 5,750 rental properties in Ames with this statement. This includes general members of the association and other landlords that are not members, but have agreed with our position on the matter.

The Ames Rental Association is not in favor of limiting rental LOCs based off of percentage caps or distance factors. The following are a few reasons that we are opposed to rental limits:

  • Property value will decrease for sellers of current non-rentals in the effected neighborhoods.
  • Affordable housing will be negatively affected.
  • Many Near Campus Neighborhood (NCN) rental property owners are not in favor of the overlay.
  • There is not enough data to suggest/prove that a rental overlay will have a positive affect on the community.
  • There have been many recent changes that will impact the Ames rental market such as the rental housing ordinance, added enforcement and vastly increased rental stock in town. Time is needed to determine the full impact of the changes. If these changes resolve issues, overlays would be completely unnecessary, and any implementation of an overlay district would only have served to create a negative impact on the Ames community.”

Many of the speakers at Tuesday’s meeting were real-estate agents or rental owners — 25 to be exact. However when asked by Betcher if their homes were personally affected by the rental ordinance — one member of the group raised their hand. 

The meeting concluded at 11:45 p.m. on Tuesday and will reconvene April 17. A draft of the ordinance discussed at the meeting will be prepared for April 24.