Beaverdale plan approaches 'live or die' time
The City Council will vote Monday on the project at the old Rice School site.
By FRANK VINLUAN
REGISTER STAFF WRITER
March 24, 2007
The protracted controversy over an $11.6 million plan for townhouses and stores on an open field in Beaverdale could be decided Monday.
The Des Moines City Council is set to vote on the future of the former Rice Elementary School property. The school was torn down in 2000 and neighbors used the four acres primarily as a soccer field and park until the school board began to entertain ideas from developers. But city planners last month rejected the plan by Rice Development Partners. That threw the dispute into the council's collective lap. So far, no consensus has emerged.
"I'm going to keep an open mind," said Councilman Tom Vlassis, who represents the area. "I've never told anybody how I'm going to vote, because half the time I don't know."
The city's zoning commissioners support development at the site but prefer a compromise with opponents. More than 90 percent of surrounding property owners are against the project. The commission's chairman, Dann Flaherty, said the council should send back the plan, but developer Ed Boesen said that won't happen.
"This thing is going to live or die on Monday night," he said.
The school board chose Rice Partners last fall despite a petition with more than 700 signatures and a stream of vocal opposition at board meetings. A group called Save the Green mounted an 11th-hour attempt to buy the property, but the board voted in January to sell it to Boesen's group.
Boesen ran into similar resistance in 2005 on a project in Wauwatosa, Wis., north of Milwaukee. Boesen, who along with brothers Tom and Frank own Boesen the Florist, wanted a distribution center in Wauwatosa, but city leaders sided with the neighbors, and Boesen later proposed a three-story condominium and retail project. The $3.7 million development is scheduled to open June 1.
Beaverdale residents who once opposed development on the Rice site now say they would support limited development. Single family homes rather than row houses would be appropriate, said Richard Jewett, a member of Neighbors for Responsible Development.
Zoning commissioners frequently encounter neighborhood opposition when development is proposed for neighborhoods, Flaherty said. In 2005, a Tai Dam immigrant group said it wanted to sell 30 acres on the northern edge of Des Moines and use the money to build an immigrant cultural center on an adjacent 100 acres. Neighbors were opposed, largely over concern about flooding. Flaherty said talks among the council, the developer and neighbors addressed the concerns and won over many who had been against the project.
Boesen said changes in the Rice plans would affect the financial prospects of the project. His plan will require approval from six of the seven council members. A "supermajority" is required to amend a document that guides neighborhood growth, or when more than 20 percent of surrounding property owners oppose rezoning.
Mayor Frank Cownie said he favors development on the site, as long as it meets environmental specifications. Councilman Chris Coleman, who lives in Beaverdale, also supports the project. He acknowledged a friendship with the Boesens but said it won't influence his vote.
"A small minority has been opposed from the very beginning," Coleman said. "Overall, the support in the neighborhood has been very strong."
Councilman Michael Kiernan said this week he wants to review all the plans.
"Right now, I'm not leaning one way or another on the project," he said.
Reporter Frank Vinluan can be reached at (515) 284-8211 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Staff writer Jason Clayworth contributed to this article.