Frequently Asked Questions

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Thanks for swinging by to learn more about the Historic West Des Moines Master Plan Update! Please explore the information and FAQs herein, and stay involved by subscribing for e-news below. Feel free to join us in-person or virtually for future Steering Committee Meetings which are open to the public and listed on the City Calendar online. Scroll down to learn more about in-person and virtual participation, and other ways to connect!

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Contact: WDM Community & Economic Development Department
Phone: (515) 273-0770 or Email: ced@wdm.iowa.gov

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SECTION 1 · PROJECT OVERVIEW

About the Master Plan Update

The most recent adaptation of the Historic West Des Moines Master Plan was adopted on September 19, 2016. During the past 6 years, the city has worked hard to successfully achieve the action steps identified in the 2016 Plan. Over $37 million has been invested in the form of infrastructure and stormwater upgrades, alleyway paving, improvements to Holiday Park, trail connections, small business grants, public wifi, and so much more. With this reinvestment comes the need to reexamine our goals and establish building design standards.


What is the Study Area?

The Study Area for the Historic West Des Moines Master Plan Update is bounded by Grand Avenue to the north and west, 1st Street to the east, and Railroad and Lincoln Street to the south.  Please see the highlighted area in blue on the map. 

Study Area Map

What is a Master Plan?

Master Plans outline goals, visions and policies that help shape healthy, vibrant futures for small communities and neighborhoods. They set parameters for long-term management of development and redevelopment, envision the future, and provide the foundation for zoning regulations.

Master Plans guide and form the framework for achieving goals related to land-use, transportation, aesthetic design, parks and open space plan, housing, etc. Every Master Plan is unique in that it responds to distinct aspirations and challenges of the community for which it is developed. 

View the Video Summary of the 2016 Master Plan

How are Master Plans created?

Master Plans are developed by engaging citizens, neighborhood groups, the development community, stakeholders, community leaders and staff to provide input on a broad spectrum of community issues and planning topics.  

The process includes a thorough analysis of local conditions, case studies, and engagement to ensure the plan and policies reflect local values, needs, and aspirations. When existing conditions are understood, the community moves towards developing policies consistent with their values that will enable them to achieve their vision and goals.

Why is the HWDM Master Plan being updated

During the past 6 years, the city has worked hard to successfully achieve the action steps identified in the 2016 Historic West Des Moines Master Plan. 

Over $37 million has been invested in the form of infrastructure and stormwater upgrades, alleyway paving, improvements to Holiday Park, trail connections, small business grants, public wifi throughout Valley Junction, and much, much more. With this reinvestment comes the need to reexamine our community’s goals.  

Our community is also impacted by things outside of our control. The changing nature of technology, online shopping, covid, hybrid work environments, rising housing costs, transportation modes, retail / restaurant trends all shape the way we live and the vitality of the communities we call “home”. Planning best practice is to do “check-ups” (i.e. updates) every 5-10 years to ensure sound planning and forecasting for the future.

Is this plan the same as the Comprehensive Plan?

They are not the same, but the two documents work together. 

The City-Wide Comprehensive Plan acts as the overall policy guide for future development and prosperity of the entire community. The Development Services Department is in the process of updating the City-Wide Comprehensive Plan and you may have received some information from them. In contrast, a Master Plan focuses on the specific details of a smaller area or neighborhood. The Community and Economic DevelopmentDepartment is working on the Historic West Des Moines Master Plan. Ultimately, the Historic West Des Moines Master Plan will be adopted and incorporated into the larger City-Wide Comprehensive Plan

Is the City looking to acquire homes through eminent domain?

No. The city is not looking to acquire or take homes through eminent domain. 


SECTION 2 · COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT

Planning Process

The Master Plan Update is rooted in community input and leadership. A 19-member Steering Committee was formed in Summer of 2021 from existing 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations that equally represent the residential and business communities in Historic West Des Moines. Each organization appointed members to serve on the committee. Further, a variety of events have been hosted and are ongoing. These include community-wide workshops, focus groups, sessions with neighborhood organizations, merchant breakfasts, and dozens of public meetings with our steering committee and community members. A dedicated website, online tools, polls, and surveys have also helped generate extensive community input.


What is the role of the Steering Committee?

The Steering Committee acts as a consulting body to the City Council on issues pertaining to the Historic West Des Moines Master Plan. They do not have decision making authority, rather their role is advisory and responsibilities include:

  • Partner with the City of West Des Moines to build interest, excitement, awareness, and community consensus around a comprehensive strategy for Historic West Des Moines by representing the diverse interests of current businesses, residents, and investors.  
  • Work towards updating the Master Plan to address growth and prosperity going forward into the future.   
  • Make recommendations and provide guidance to the City Council on matters pertaining to the creation, revising and implementation of the Historic West Des Moines Master Plan. 
What organizations comprise the Steering Committee?

The 19-member Steering Committee was created from existing 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations that equally represent the residential and business communities. Each individual organization then appointed members they believe best represent the community. The break-down of the representation is as follows:  

OrganizationMembers
Historic WDM Valley Junction Neighborhood Association3
Valley Junction Resident Association3
Residents appointed by the Mayor2
Historic Valley Junction Foundation7
West Des Moines Chamber1
City of West Des Moines, City Council (ex-officio, non-voting members)2
What community members serve on the Steering Committee?
  • Mitchell Callahan · Resident, Mayor Appointed
  • Scott Cutler · Business, Historic Valley Junction Foundation
  • Nan Earll · Resident, Historic WDM Valley Junction Neighborhood Association.
  • Julie Eliason · Business Representative, Historic Valley Junction Foundation
  • Steve Frevert · Business Representative, Historic Valley Junction Foundation
  • Renee Hardman · City Councilmember (ex-officio, non-voting member)
  • Katherine Harrington · Business, WDM Chamber of Commerce
  • Ralph Haskins · Resident, Historic WDM Valley Junction Neighborhood Association
  • Scott Hatfield · WDM Planning & Zoning Commission Member
  • Nate Hon · Resident, Historic WDM Valley Junction Neighborhood Association
  • Renae Johanningmeier · Resident, Historic WDM Valley Junction Neighborhood Assoc.
  • Vicky Long Hill · Resident, Valley Junction Resident Association
  • Aaron Sewell · Resident, Mayor Appointment
  • Steph Trannel · Business, Historic Valley Junction Foundation
  • Kevin Trevillyan · City Councilmember (ex-officio, non-voting member)
  • Cleo Underwood · Resident, Valley Junction Resident Association
  • Vincent Valdez · Resident, Valley Junction Resident Association
  • Mark Veiock · Business, Historic Valley Junction Foundation
  • Meredith Wells · Business, Historic Valley Junction Foundation
  • Debbie Westphal Swander · Business Representative
What is the role of the Consultant Team?

A consultant team led by Teska Associates (who helped guide the 2016 Master Plan) is providing planning insight, design expertise, and facilitation on topics. Master plans require broad input and buy-in in order to be successful. The consultant team also serves as a neutral party to facilitate honest dialogue and mediate challenging issues.

  • Teska Associates, Inc. (www.teskaassociates.com) Prime consultant focusing on planning, facilitation, engagement, landscape architecture and design guidelines
  • Bauer Latoza Studio (www.bauerlatozastudio.com) Sub-consultant focused on historic preservation, upper story reuse, residential styles, and design guidelines
What City Staff are involved?
  • Clyde Evans · Director of Community and Economic Development
  • Christine Gordon · Housing Planner
About the Historic Valley Junction Foundation:

Established in 1986, the Historic Valley Junction Foundation (HVJF) is a stand-alone 501(c)(3) non-profit, non-membership organization that collaborates with local business, residents, and government officials to help guide the evolution of the original Historic Valley Junction district.

Their mission is to advance the growth and development of the Historic Valley Junction area into a vital and dynamic commercial, residential and tourist area through business improvement, design, organization, and promotion.

During the master planning process, the HVJF is one of the established organizations the consultant team works with to make connections to local business owners and residents in the community. Because of their long history of successful work within the community they have been selected to be a part of the steering committee. 

For more information about HVJF please visit www.valleyjunction.com

About the Historic WDM Valley Junction Neighborhood Association:

The Historic WDM Valley Junction Neighborhood Association (HWDMVJNA) is a stand-alone 501(c)(3) non-profit that represents residents of Historic West Des Moines, homeowners, business owners and renters.

Their mission as highlighted on their website is to:

  • Promote open discussion of neighborhood issues
  • Pursue solutions and action favored by members
  • Monitor and inform members of private initiatives and public policies significant to Historic West Des Moines HWDMVJNA
  • Promote neighborhood activities and events

During the master planning process, the HWDMVJNA is one the established organizations the consultant team works with to make connections to members of the community. Because of their history of successful work within the community they have been selected to be a part of the steering committee. 

For more information about the HWDMVJNA please visit www.wdmneighborhood.com

About the Valley Junction Resident Association:

Established in 1991, the Valley Junction Resident Association (VJRA) is a stand-alone 501(c)(3) non-profit.  According to their website, their  focus is on educating, informing, and representing residents of residential property in Valley Junction.

During the master planning process, the VJRA is one of the established organizations the consultant team works with to make connections to members of the community. Because of their long history of successful work within the community they have been selected to be a part of the steering committee. 

For more information about the VJRA please visit www.facebook.com/VJResidentialAssociation.


SECTION 3 · GUIDELINES

Design Guidelines & Districts

Recent development in the study area has sparked concerns over what types of building designs are appropriate in our community. For that reason, the first focus of the Master Plan Update was to collect public input and develop design guidelines consistent with our collective values. A depth of local insight and consensus was achieved through meetings, events and a visual preference survey. These findings and efforts to date led to the Design Guidelines for the Mixed-Use Commercial District (centered on 5th Street) being approved by City Council in February 2022. Design Guidelines are also underway for three additional districts.

For the interactive map, once you click the button above it will open in a new window. To view the district layers and legend, click the square icon with an arrow located in the upper left screen. You can then toggle items on and off.


Adopted Mixed Use Commercial Design Guidelines


What are Design Guidelines and why do they matter?

Design Guidelines serve as an important tool and way for communities to communicate and shape the desired character they want to see moving forward into the future. Design Guidelines do not affect or require changes to existing homes or buildings; they apply only to new construction or redevelopment.

  • Guidelines are especially important in historic areas like Valley Junction because they help ensure new development considers the established environment and reflects desired community character. They typically include photographs, diagrams and imagery to help demonstrate ideals and standards pertaining to site and building design, materials, scale, setbacks, buffers and more.
How are recommendations and standards being created?

Public input is being collected to create guidelines consistent with our community values and reflective of planning best practices.

  • A variety of events have also been hosted and are ongoing. These include workshops, focus groups, sessions with neighborhood organizations, merchant breakfasts, and dozens of public meetings with the dedicated steering committee. 
  • In the Fall-Winter of 2021, a Community Character Poll and Visual Preference Survey resulted in over 600 comments and 470 responses.
  • This community consensus was reviewed with the Steering Committee then applied to create the draft guidelines.  
What are the varying Design Districts?

There are four unique design districts as highlighted below and in this interactive google map.

The: (1) Mixed-Use Commercial District (highlighted in red), (2) the Railroad Avenue District (highlighted in dark blue), (3) the Transitional District, (highlighted in yellow), and (4) the Mixed Industrial District (highlighted in light blue). The black outlined area represents the Valley Junction National Register District, which is separate from the Design Districts.

Note: District boundaries have been refined through the planning process. The Transitional District in particular has been amended with several blocks being removed.

Draft Map of Design Districts

How were the boundaries determined?

The boundaries of the districts were initially established based on land use, zoning, and their location/surrounding environment. They have been further refined through steering committee review, community input, and planning best practices.

While the guidelines for each district vary, they must work together and alongside other planning documents to help ensure new development aligns with the area’s treasured character and history, while shaping a healthy and vibrant future. 

What are the District Typologies?

The District Typologies are succinct 1-2 paragraph statements that celebrate the look, feel, and function of the design districts. Like the guidelines themselves, the typologies are rooted in consensus built through community input and the Visual Preference Survey.

Typology 1: Mixed Use Commercial District (ZONING REFERENCE VJ-MU)
The Mixed Use Commercial District, also known as the Historic Valley Junction Business District, is the heart and soul of Historic West Des Moines. Centered along 5th Street, this walkable, charming area with railroad roots is characterized by a mix of traditional and eclectic 2-3 story mixed-use buildings, mid-block alleyways, art and patios. Timeless architecture unifies the district, with colorful pops of character sprinkled throughout signage, awnings, entryways, and public art.

Typology 2: Transitional District (ZONING REFERENCE VJ-TR)
The Transitional District is located on the periphery of the Mixed-Use Commercial District and includes single family residences, starter homes, and small, low intensity, in-home neighborhood commercial uses that respect and enrich the quaint residential context. With existing live-work spaces, artist studios, offices, and salons already mixed into the residential fabric, the area has a history and diversity of naturally occurring “Transitional” uses. Buildings are limited to 2 stories, residential in appearance, and include traditional materials and pitched roof forms (hipped, gable, dormers). Quality articulation, landscaping, and an abundance of front entry porches give the district a quaint appeal and walkable, neighborhood charm.

Typology 3: Railroad Avenue District (ZONING REFERENCE RA)
The Railroad Avenue District includes 3 sub-districts that share contextually appropriate and creative design guidelines to foster walkable, mixed-use environments and synergy with surrounding uses. Celebrating the area’s Railroad Roots via art and streetscape elements is a priority. The auto-oriented corridor and surrounding residential neighborhoods require thoughtful planning with regards to building form, parking, circulation, landscaping, and screening.

Typology 4: Mixed Industrial District (ZONING REFERENCE MI)

The Mixed Industrial District is a unique area that emerged as a focal point through community outreach and discussion. At prior meetings residents have voiced concerns about the look and feel of properties in this district, noting a need for improved design standards and property maintenance, especially in reference to the area north of Railroad Avenue and south of Holiday Park where industrial uses intermix with residential homes. Locals have also noted a desire for areas that can support incubator type businesses and creative maker spaces. Industrial areas and adaptive retrofits of warehouses are quite common for these types of uses.

Design guidelines are important to ensure future development is attractive and planned with the local community in mind. Recommendations focus on building design, form, landscaping and proper screening of trash, storage and service areas. Site design, connectivity, and public art to enhance and strengthen local character are also being explored.  Click here to view the 6/29 committee presentation focused on the draft guidelines.

Typology 5: The Guidelines for the Commercial District remain in progress.

What is the status of the Design Guidelines?

The development of standards remain in progress and we invite you to get involved.

The Design Guidelines for the Mixed-Use Commercial District, Railroad Avenue District, Transitional District, and Mixed Industrial District, and Commercial District have been reviewed and recommended by the Committee. City Council approved the Mixed-Use Commercial District Guidelines on February 21st, 2022.

What is the need and intent of the Transitional District?

Transitional Districts provide a variety of benefits for residents and businesses alike.

They help stabilize rent and prevent displacement of small businesses and mom-and-pop shops in the Mixed-Use Commercial District. They also provide a smooth transition from shopping areas by interspersing neighborhood amenities.

With existing offices, artist studios, salons, and live-work spaces already mixed into these areas, Historic West Des Moines has a history and diversity of naturally occurring “Transitional” uses.  However, currently, without Transitional District Guidelines, much more intense commercial uses and structures up to 4 stories are permitted in the 500 block of 5th Street. 

The Transitional District Guidelines are seeking to celebrate the existing community fabric, residential look and neighborhood amenities, while placing limits on use types and building height:

  • Guidelines require newly constructed buildings to be no more than 2-stories with pitched residential rooflines, and architecture that mimics the traditional neighborhood.
  • They also encourage the use of traditional masonry, wood, and limestone materials and recommend features like front porches with small front yard setbacks to engage the street. Renovation of existing structures will be encouraged.
  • Guidelines will prohibit intense, noxious, noisy, high-impact, commercial uses.
  • Allowed uses include ongoing single family residential, starter homes, ADUs, and small in-home, low-intensity, neighborhood commercial use types that respect and enrich the existing quaint residential context. These use types (for example: yoga and pilates studios, artist spaces, in-home offices, barbers, and repair services) will have limited hours of operation and may not exceed 2,500 sf.
Why are taller modern looking buildings being built on 5th Street?

The size of buildings, how close they are to the property lines and the uses within them are dictated by the Zoning Code. The original 1948 zoning code for the City of West Des Moines established the maximum height of 45 feet for buildings along 5th street (Ord 253). That maximum height remained in place until 1996 when it was reduced to 40 feet (Ord 1190).     

Design Guidelines for architecture is something that was never adopted for this area.

For years, Valley Junction went without redevelopment. And many years ago, Valley Junction struggled to even have tenants fill the existing retail spaces. At the time, elected officials, property owners and community members believed that shorter height restrictions and design guidelines would discourage redevelopment and investment in the area. Over time, because there was limited redevelopment, many in the community began to believe that there was a shorter building height requirement and design guidelines when they, in fact, did not exist.

Recently, redevelopment interest in Valley Junction shifted. Property owners wanted to redevelop their property with a building that is customized to their liking, and, in some cases, maximize the potential of their property under the height requirements of the zoning code. Since there were no design guidelines in place and the proposed buildings complied with the established zoning code, the property owner was legally entitled to build a building that has an appearance to their liking, up to 40 feet tall.

Because of the contrast in the new building’s appearances. It became clear the neighborhood’s needs, and goals have evolved. The City initiated this master planning effort to reassess the community’s standards and modify the existing master plan so  it reflects the community’s current vision.

Is Valley Junction a protected Historic area? 

Portions of Valley Junction are listed on the National Register, and generally include the 100 and 200 blocks of 5th Street and the west side of the 300 block of 5th Street. However, not every building within that area is deemed historically significant.

The National Register has 3 specific criteria in place to determine if a building, site or area is historically significant.  The criteria includes:

  • (1) An event or pattern of events that made a significant contribution to the community, State or Nation; (2) Documented properties associated with an individual person who are significantly important within a local, State or national historic context; or (3) Buildings or areas that are significant because they embody and maintain historical integrity through the preservation of distinctive characteristics of a type, period or method of construction.
  • For more information of historic criteria please visit: www.nps.gov/subjects/nationalregister/upload/NRB-15_web508.pdf

In 2016 the City hired an architectural historian to evaluate the historic eligibility of building in Valley Junction for the National Register. That study concluded there is a core district that retained their historic pre-1966 commercial building development pattern. However, within that district some buildings maintained their historical integrity because distinctive architectural features are still in place. These buildings are considered to be contributing to the historic district. Other buildings have been modified over the years to a point where their distinctive historic architectural features have been covered up or removed completely. These non-contributing buildings are still in place and add to the pattern of the district, but they are no longer individually distinctive from a historic perspective. It should be noted, that by uncovering or reconditions architectural feature, some non-contributing buildings can become contributing, if the owner so chooses.

  • To view the 2016 National Register of Historic Places District Nomination Study please visit www.valleyjunction.com/about/our-history
  • The recent development in the area have occurred on properties outside of the historic district with buildings that did not meet the criteria to be considered historic. That, along with the existing zoning code and deficient design guidelines allowed for the newer buildings.
  • Please see map below which highlights contributing properties per the 2016 study.


Explore the Interactive Design District Map

Areas highlighted in red represent the Mixed Use Commercial District, areas in yellow represent the proposed Transitional District, areas in blue represent the Railroad Avenue District, and areas in purple represent the proposed Mixed Industrial District.

  • For best user experience, view the map on a desktop or tablet.
  • To view the district layers and legend, click the white square with an arrow in it located on the left side of the map header. Layers will then appear which you can toggle on and off.

Resources at the Ready

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General FAQs

Guidelines FAQs

ADU FAQs

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