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First reading of proposed zoning changes approved by Des Moines council for 2 controversial projects


The Des Moines City Council on Monday approved the first reading of a request from White Willow Events to change the zoning at 6011 and 6015 Grand Ave. to allow the construction of an events center. The structure at 6011 Grand Ave., previously a garden center, has been vacant for more than five years. Photo courtesy of Polk County assessor

Zoning changes for two contentious proposed projects received initial backing from the Des Moines City Council on Monday, during a marathon, virtual meeting that lasted nearly four hours.

The council approved requests to change the zoning on property in northeast Des Moines where a homeless shelter for women and children is proposed and to change the zoning on property on the city’s west side where an event center is proposed.

The meeting was held virtually as a way to keep large groups of people from gathering in one place to avoid the spread of the novel coronavirus. 

The request by Taylor Boesen of White Willow Events to change the zoning of 6011 and 6015 Grand Ave. to allow the development of an event center received the most resistance, with neighbors raising concerns about increased traffic, noise and potential for accidents. 

The proposed two-story, 7,000-square-foot structure would be open until 10 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays, according to city documents. Boesen, however, said during the hearing the center would close at 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

Billy Kirby, who lives within 250 feet of the proposed event center, described the neighborhood as “pretty quiet.”

“An event center specializing in wedding receptions every weekend drastically changes that quiet neighborhood,” he said during the public hearing, held via the teleconferencing software Zoom. “When most of us are returning home to turn on our lamps and tuck in our children, the party at the event center will just be getting started. …

“But the noise and the activity after the party is over is probably more disruptive. People conversing. Car doors slamming. Headlights shining into windows. … A potential business like this, set in a neighborhood, disrupts what it is to be at home in a neighborhood.”

Boesen, who has family ties to City Councilwoman Connie Boesen, said no more than 300 people would be at the proposed event center at one time and many would use a ride-sharing service to arrive and leave the venue. She also said there was ample parking space between the center’s lot and lease agreements with neighboring businesses. 

Taylor Boesen said she planned to install windows that deaden noise. In addition, the zoning change does not allow concerts or other music-only performances at the center. 

Councilman Josh Mandelbaum, who represents the area, said he appreciated how much residents cared about the neighborhood. He said he also appreciated Taylor Boesen’s passion for the proposed project.

“This project, like many of the issues that we face on the council, requires us to get a balance right,” he said. “We have an opportunity to redevelop an underutilized, deteriorating commercial property on one of the major corridors of our city.”

Mandelbaum said he agreed with the staff recommendation that an event center was an appropriate use for the site. He said the site plan process and other city requirements will help keep down noise and light pollution. “I recognize we have work to do,” he said.

The council voted 6-0 to approve the first reading of an ordinance to rezone the properties. Connie Boesen abstained. Two more readings are required before the zoning changes are in effect.

The council, on a 7-0 vote, also approved the first reading of an ordinance to rezone property at 3800 E. Douglas Ave. to allow a homeless shelter for women and children to open on the site. 

The shelter would be operated by Hope Ministries, which as an agreement to buy the former elementary school turned church.

At a previous public meeting, area residents raised concerns that a shelter would cause property values to decrease, cause overcrowding in nearby schools and spark an increase in crime.

Those concerns were not aired at Monday’s council meeting. 

“How we measure our successes is how well we help others be successful,” said Councilwoman Linda Westergaard, who represents the area where the shelter is proposed. “And that’s what Hope Ministries brings. I think it will be a good addition to our community.”

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