Zoning Code Changes Axed After Builder Uproar

Local homebuilders warned against restrictive requirements that could have crippled new home construction.

The city of Des Moines, Iowa, recently proposed changes to their zoning codes that would have required, among other things, that all new homes be built with basements and one-car garages as well as meet specific square-footage minimums for living spaces. Some of those changes have now been dropped after local homebuilders argued that the requirements would negatively impact the construction of new single-family homes, with some builders saying they would stop development in Des Moines altogether.

The new zoning codes caused an uproar among Des Moines-area builders nearly as soon as they were announced.

“Houses being built today in Des Moines would not be built tomorrow based on [the city’s proposed] minimum square footage requirements, garage and basement requirements,” said Eric Webster, a general manager for Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices, during a panel in July.

The proposed changes would have been especially harmful to the production of Habitat for Humanity homes, some of which would not have been able to be built under the proposed requirements. Developers fear that the new standards could eliminate affordable housing and drive the cost of homes up out of the price range of the typical home buyer in the area.

“It’ll be a tidal wave that’ll swamp many boats, especially Des Moines residents who are making less than $90,000 per year,” Lance Henning, executive director of the Greater Des Moines Habitat for Humanity, told the Des Moines Planning and Zoning Commission.

After hearing from local builders, the Des Moines Planning and Zoning Commission removed the minimum size requirements for new construction as well as the requirement that each home have a full basement. The rest of the zoning code updates were unanimously approved, marking the first approved changes to the Des Moines zoning code in 54 years.

According to the Des Moines Register, city officials intend the new code to serve as a “living document” that will change and adapt as time goes on. The new zoning codes will not go into effect until after a City Council vote that is currently scheduled for late October.