Plea to oppose rezoning and building project

At the end of my professional career, three interrelated forces appeared to shape decision making at the university where I taught: expediency, money and “branding” (mostly catchy slogans and glossy brochures).  These forces could also be driving a proposal coming before the Storm Lake City Council on Monday, Oct. 2.

The proposal is to change the zoning of a portion of the undeveloped land between East Milwaukee Avenue and East Fourth Street from R-1 (single-family residential) to R-4 (high density, multi-family housing).  This would allow Missouri developers to build a three-story, 60-unit, largely low-income apartment building on seven acres situated directly behind Larsen Oil, Efficient Construction and Phillips and Phillips Trucking.  The project will be built only if the zoning is changed and the developers are successful in their bid for $800,000 in low-income housing tax credits from the Iowa Finance Authority.

The proposal could be seen as expedient:  a way to add 60 units in one fell swoop to a city that consultants have suggested needs as many as 600 new units.  The proposal will also have financial benefits for the developers, the selling agent and area employers who need a large workforce but pay relatively low wages.  Finally, the building’s location is behind an abandoned railroad line that can partially hide it and away from the lake, parks and businesses most frequented by visitors to Storm Lake.  Thus, it may not detract from tourists’ and even many residents’ perception of “The City Beautiful.”

Expediency, immediate monetary benefits for some, and minimized negative perceptions may benefit a business entity, including a university or a town, in the short run, but a commitment to quality would have a deeper, more widespread and lasting positive effect. 

To consider the proposal’s quality, I’ve asked myself the following questions and invite the members of the city council and all Storm Lake residents to consider them as well.

I have lived in 13 different apartments over the span of my adult life.  Would I want to live in Storm Lake or any U.S. town of its size in a single building that contains 60 apartments, 20 on each floor?  Would I feel a sense of pride, community and/or security if I lived there?  Does the developer’s estimate of an average 1.5 person occupancy in the building’s 36 two-bedroom, two-bath apartments accurately reflect existing conditions in Storm Lake?  Would I want this apartment complex built next door to my home?

Is the project worth $800,000 of taxpayers’ money when Iowa is covering last year’s shortfall with money from its emergency fund and the federal government’s debt exceeds $20 billion?  Is it likely that the project will not need additional infrastructure investments from the City of Storm Lake?  Will it have a positive impact on home values in adjacent neighborhoods?

Can a large, high-density, low-income apartment building with a site plan that offers only two parking spaces per unit and a playground/picnic area about six parking spaces wide and less than two car-lengths deep help Storm Lake better be The City Beautiful?

Since my own answers to each of these questions is “No,” I strongly urge the members of the city council and my fellow residents of Storm Lake to oppose the rezoning proposal and this particular building project.


Storm Lake