- Associated Press - Saturday, December 3, 2016

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Drivers already use High Street as a shortcut, zooming past Kim Callahan’s home on Des Moines’ west side.

“They just go flying by our house,” she said.

Now, the mother of two school-age daughters fears that traffic is going to get far worse.

A Minnesota developer plans to build a $35 million development with 192 apartments, several storefronts and a rooftop pool three blocks from Callahan’s home. The project at Ingersoll Avenue and 23rd Street has been endorsed by the City Council, nearby businesses and some neighbors.

But many residents such as Callahan have voiced concerns about traffic, parking and the juxtaposition of a modern, four-story building in a neighborhood filled with craftsman bungalows.

“I think development is good,” she said. “It just seems like a huge development to plop right there.”

The Des Moines Register (https://dmreg.co/2glS8ZF ) reports strong demand for rentals has driven developers to build thousands of apartments around metro Des Moines, primarily downtown and on the outskirts of the city’s suburbs.

But with developers looking for new places to break ground, more apartment projects are taking root in the city’s established residential neighborhoods - in some cases causing tension with residents, who complain about noise, congestion and the erosion of neighborhood character.

“There are inherent problems when you start to warehouse a lot of people in a small space,” said Marty Mauk, president of Northeast Neighbors, a group that has raised concerns about apartments being built on Hubbell Avenue.

Development advocates, though, are pushing back against the “not in my backyard” attitude. They say apartment developments can revitalize neighborhoods, raise property values, increase the city’s tax base, and create dense corridors that promote public transit, walkable streets and commercial development.

“It’s happening more,” City Council member Chris Hensley said of the tension between neighborhoods and apartment development. “It does create concerns. It’s all about change. Nobody likes change. At the same time, I don’t want to let a vocal minority have veto power over projects.”

Apartment construction around the city has surged since the recession, as more people move to the region and as young people delay homeownership - either by choice or because of financial barriers.

Since 2012, metro-area cities have issued building permits for more than 7,000 apartment units, according to the Home Builders Association of Greater Des Moines. Around downtown, more than 2,300 new apartments are scheduled to open before the end of 2017.

Increasingly, new housing is radiating from downtown. Rental projects are in the works along Ingersoll Avenue, Southwest Ninth Street and Hubbell Avenue, in the River Bend neighborhood, around Drake University and in the neighborhoods surrounding the confluence of the Des Moines and Raccoon rivers.

In the Drake neighborhood, residents originally voiced opposition to an apartment complex proposed for Forest Avenue at 32nd Street, calling the project “over-development,” ”a monstrosity” and an “eyesore.” Officials at the nonprofit Neighborhood Development Corp., which is building the complex, said they went through nearly 15 designs to make the project more palatable to neighbors. Ultimately, the NDC reduced the development from four stories to two.

On the city’s northeast side, several apartment projects near Hubbell Avenue have faced backlash from neighbors who have raised concerns about increased traffic, crowded schools and a concentration of income-restricted rentals.

Three apartment complexes with more than 500 units are under construction south of downtown, near the river confluence.

Neighborhood leaders have generally voiced support for the projects, but some residents are unsure about the influx of young renters. Home to longtime establishments like Graziano Bros. and Tumea & Sons, the neighborhood has deep Italian roots and many lifelong residents.

“I feel bad that the old neighborhood is not the same as it was, but on the other end of the spectrum . there’s nothing we can do about it,” said Kay Costanzo, 81, who has lived on East Dunham Avenue for 55 years.

The project on Ingersoll has received mixed reviews. Restoration Ingersoll, a group of businesses and property owners, supports the development, which will replace a closed Chinese buffet on a block many have been waiting to see redeveloped.

“This is exactly the type of development that so many stakeholders in the area have been working for close to 20 years to try to attract,” said Christine Irvine, owner of The Mansion Interior Design and Fine Furnishings.

But the Woodland Heights neighborhood association has voted against the project.

“I don’t think it will match the character of the neighborhood,” said Dan Robbins, who lives on 26th Street and who would prefer to see owner-occupied housing matching other neighborhood homes.

Officials with Roers Investments, the developer, point out they overhauled the project to alleviate neighbors’ concerns. Roers moved the parking lot entrance to divert traffic away from homes and redesigned the apartments so the tallest building is along Ingersoll, farthest from residential areas.

Callahan said Roers has been a good partner by listening to the neighborhood and altering its design. But she still worries about the size of the project, and thinks the city has failed to address traffic concerns.

“To me, it felt like it was a deal between the developer and the city, and whatever happened to the neighborhood was secondary,” she said. “That’s just the real world, but when it happens to the world you live in, it can be frustrating.”

As the apartment boom continues, officials expect more tension between neighborhood groups and apartment developers.

“I think this is indicative of what is going to happen in the future” between developers and neighborhoods, City Council member Skip Moore said of the Ingersoll project. Moore was the only City Council member to vote against a zoning change to allow the development.

“I’m a little bit disturbed by both sides on this, because there is really an ‘us and them’ thing going on here,” he said.

Real-estate investors are going to continue putting money in areas such as the Drake neighborhood and Ingersoll Avenue, because renters are demanding walkable, transit-friendly areas, said Larry James, a local real estate attorney and co-founder of Urban Land Institute Iowa.

“That is the direction the market is moving,” he said. “It is a segment that has been under-built in this country for 60 to 70 years.”

James called the Ingersoll project “a slam dunk” because it aligns with PlanDSM, the city’s recently adopted long-range plan. It calls for denser development along key corridors like Ingersoll to promote transit, pedestrian activity and commercial growth.

He said the city should not let a “vocal minority” hold up such projects.

“What policymakers have to understand is there will always be people who will not like this kind of change, but we have a document in PlanDSM in which people said again and again, ‘We want walkable corridors with nodes of commercial development,’” James said.

In some neighborhoods, opposition has focused on income-controlled apartments, which are reserved for renters with low to moderate incomes.

Around Hubbell Avenue, residents have voiced opposition to such developments, saying the area already supports a concentration of low-income rentals.

Mauk, the neighborhood leader, said some residents think income-restricted apartments bring “unsavory characters,” and others worry they will not be maintained well.

“It’s a continuing problem,” Mauk said. “When you have a setup that encourages apartments because of low-income tax credits . it’s loaded against the neighbors.”

Affordable housing advocates argue the city needs income-restricted apartments for the region’s workforce. Renters include bank tellers, waiters and childcare workers, they say.

“The irony of this ‘not in my backyard’ attitude is that many tenants (of income-restricted rentals) are often making more than those in the neighborhoods surrounding them,” James said in an email. “This type of ignorance regarding the tenants is not only offensive, it is impedes economic growth by creating a lack of workforce housing.”

Such tension is not new. In 2010, the Pioneer Park neighborhood lobbied the city to prevent the expansion of the Sutton Hill apartment complex, arguing the area already had too many income-restricted apartments.

Neighborhood leader Carole Jones said that dispute led to better housing policies. Since then, the city has agreed to stop automatically giving property tax abatement to apartment developments, and city leaders are more thoughtful about where to allow apartments, Jones said.

“I just think the city is doing a much better job of planning and looking at the long run,” she said.

There are neighborhoods where residents are welcoming new apartment construction.

Local developer Frank Levy has been working for more than two years on plans to build a 24-unit apartment complex at 40th Street and Ingersoll Avenue.

While a few neighbors have voiced opposition, many have endorsed the project. Levy’s methodical process provided time to listen to neighbors and incorporate some suggestions.

“Maybe we’re successful on this project because we are patient by nature, and this project required it,” he said.

Des Moines-based Nelson Construction & Development is building a 154-unit apartment complex in the McKinley School/Columbus Park neighborhood.

Neighborhood President Jim Post, whose backyard abuts the complex, worries about traffic congestion and how the apartments will age.

But ultimately, Post endorsed the development. He appreciated that Nelson brought the project to the neighborhood board early in the planning process and made changes based on residents’ concerns.

“I think neighborhood associations should know about these projects in their infancy, and not wait until they’re ready to go to (City) Council or apply some tax credit,” he said.

Alexander Grgurich, a development analyst with Nelson, said suggestions from neighbors led to improvements such as wider sidewalks and more stormwater retention.

“We recognized that we were going into their neighborhood,” he said. “And anytime you’re the new neighbor, you need to reach out ahead of time and engage with the neighborhood.”

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Information from: The Des Moines Register, https://www.desmoinesregister.com


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