DSM SG Audit-Final
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DSM SG Audit-Final

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Final Reporton theDes Moines Metropolitan AreaSmart Growth AuditSubmitted toU.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 7and1,000 Friends of IowabyIowa State University ExtensionAmes, IowaDecember 2006AcknowledgementsThis project involved gathering and analyzing the core development regulations of fifteencommunities in a short period of time. This would not have been possible without thecooperation and efforts of a number of people along the way. David Doyle, EPA Region 7agreed to fund the grant request of 1,000 Friends of Iowa, which started this process. JonnaHiggins-Freese, then-Executive Director of 1,000 Friends of Iowa initially contacted Iowa StateUniversity Extension about the study, brainstormed with us about potential research design, andagreed to fund our sub-contract. Nearly fifty local elected officials, appointed planning andzoning commissioners, and planning and zoning staff from the Des Moines metropolitan areacommunities attended the April 2006 workshop and provided advice and feedback on theproject. Finally, a special thank you goes to those planning and zoning staff members whocooperated with us by providing copies of development regulations and took the time torespond to our lengthy follow-up survey to help us better understand the implementation ofthese regulations.The contribution of all these individuals is greatly appreciated.Gary D. Taylor, AICPAssistant Professor & Extension SpecialistISU ExtensionPrincipal ...

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Final Report
on the
Des Moines Metropolitan Area
Smart Growth Audit
Submitted to
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 7
and
1,000 Friends of Iowa
by
Iowa State University Extension
Ames, Iowa
December 2006Acknowledgements
This project involved gathering and analyzing the core development regulations of fifteen
communities in a short period of time. This would not have been possible without the
cooperation and efforts of a number of people along the way. David Doyle, EPA Region 7
agreed to fund the grant request of 1,000 Friends of Iowa, which started this process. Jonna
Higgins-Freese, then-Executive Director of 1,000 Friends of Iowa initially contacted Iowa State
University Extension about the study, brainstormed with us about potential research design, and
agreed to fund our sub-contract. Nearly fifty local elected officials, appointed planning and
zoning commissioners, and planning and zoning staff from the Des Moines metropolitan area
communities attended the April 2006 workshop and provided advice and feedback on the
project. Finally, a special thank you goes to those planning and zoning staff members who
cooperated with us by providing copies of development regulations and took the time to
respond to our lengthy follow-up survey to help us better understand the implementation of
these regulations.
The contribution of all these individuals is greatly appreciated.
Gary D. Taylor, AICP
Assistant Professor & Extension Specialist
ISU Extension
Principal Investigator
Lucy M. Wilkinson
Graduate Extension Assistant
Community & Regional PlanningDes Moines Metropolitan Smart Growth Audit
Executive Summary
Many communities across the nation have embraced the general principles of smart growth in
their comprehensive planning documents, but are local land use regulations also being revised to
incorporate these principles? To study this question 1,000 Friends of Iowa received a grant
from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 7, to conduct a study titled “Smart
Growth for Environmental Results: Study and Decision Maker Training in the Des Moines,
Iowa Metropolitan Service Areas.” 1,000 Friends of Iowa entered a sub-contract to have Iowa
State University Extension (ISUE) perform a “Smart Growth Audit” of the zoning and
subdivision codes of fifteen communities in the Des Moines metropolitan area.
The purpose of the study was three-fold: (1) to provide community leaders in the Des Moines
metro area with information on the regulatory practices currently being promoted by smart
growth advocates as “model” practices; (2) to provide these same leaders some insights into how
their regulations stack up against current model development practices, and (3) to present
communities with a “fly-over” assessment of whether their regulations may present an obstacle
to smart growth. The study should not be interpreted as an assessment of whether an individual
community, or the Des Moines metro area generally is growing “smart.” By its very nature the
study does not capture the myriad of factors that influence the development patterns of cities,
nor does it propose to prescribe planning solutions that are best left for the communities
themselves to decide. Furthermore, the study does not take into account the administrative
practices that are individual to each community, or the degree to which development is
accomplished through more flexible code provisions such as planned unit development districts.
The audit was comprised of 48 yes/no “indicators” designed to examine the development codes
for the presence or absence of regulations and standards that are currently promoted as
supporting smart growth principles. The indicators were developed using “smart growth audit”
evaluations developed by other entities across the nation, and model smart growth codes
similarly developed by other entities.
The audit results were mixed. Indicators addressing the ability to accomplish mixed use
development and an efficient pattern of streets and blocks under current regulations were mostly
answered in the affirmative. Indicators addressing other characteristics of smart growth, such as
neighborhood walkability, compact urban design, and development that results in a range of
housing types and affordability received mixed responses. Generally, the larger communities in
the metro area had a greater number of affirmative responses than the smaller communities.
The results are not unexpected, and consistent with the limited number of audits performed in
other states without state-level growth management programs.
The study results, and even the process of developing the study parameters, brought to light the
challenges of addressing smart growth in a way that makes sense for many other medium-sized
communities such as Des Moines; the primary challenge being the absence of relatable examples
from similar communities. Nearly all of the principles and best practices of the smart growth
movement have been forged in either our largest, fastest growing metropolitan areas or in rural
areas rich in natural and recreational amenities such as lakes, forests, mountains, and coastlines.
Land values, rates of growth, and even the topography of these areas apply different economics
to development than those found in Des Moines and similar communities. Yet the Des Moines
metropolitan area and others like it face many of the same challenges from sprawl as these otherDes Moines Metropolitan Smart Growth Audit
communities. What development ideals of the smart growth movement are capable of
implementation – in terms of practical and popular support – in a metropolitan region facing
slow to moderate (in relative terms) growth, inexpensive land values on the fringe, and a host of
other factors that make outward growth a much less expensive alternative to inward and upward
growth?
Experiences across the country suggest a possible agenda for a “smart growth movement” in
metropolitan Des Moines. Regardless of size, location or rate of growth of community, the
principles more likely to be advanced are those that municipalities can adopt independently of
other municipalities; such as creating distinctive, attractive communities through greater controls
on design and street layout, and providing for more mixed land uses and pedestrian-friendly
environments. The communities can take steps to advance these on their own now. The
greater challenges are those that require significant cooperation among local governments,
citizens and developers, and coordination among local governments themselves; including
limiting the outward expansion of new development and raising densities in new and existing
developments. This is an ideal time to intensify level of dialogue on those issues in particular,
and smart growth in general; before the qualities that make this such a livable area go the way of
other former 20-minute communities. Perhaps the greatest value of the study will be if it in fact
acts as a catalyst for further dialogue on important questions about how we can define and
implement “smart growth” in a way that makes sense for the Des Moines metropolitan area.Des Moines Metropolitan Smart Growth Audit
Table of Contents:
Acknowledgements
Executive Summary
Introduction................................................................................................................ 1
Background on Smart Growth Audits ................................................................ 2
Developing the Audit Checklist for the Des Moines Area............................ 4
Initial Draft Audit Checklist.......................................................................... 4
Salisbury House Workshop........................................................................... 5
Redraft Audit Checklist................................................................................. 5
Comments on the Final Audit Checklist and the Purpose of the Audit.. 6
Conducting the Audit............................................................................................... 8
Aggregate Summary of Results............................................................................ 9
Mixed Land Use............................................................................................. 9
Walkable Neighborhoods ............................................................................ 10
Compact Building Design............................................................................. 12
Range of Housing Opportunities................................................................ 14
Distinctive Communities with a Strong Sense of Place.......................... 16
Provide a Variety of Transportation Choices........................................... 17
Preserve Open Space, Farmland and Critical Environmental Areas.... 19
Fair, Predictable, Development Decisions................................................ 20
Tabular Summary of Results by Community................................................... 22
Conclusions and Observations.............................................................................. 25
References.................................................................................................................... 28
Appendix A- Smart Growth Network: Ten Principles of Smart Growth.... 30
Appendix B- Smart Growth Audit Tool................................................................. 36Des Moines Metropolitan Smart Growth AuditDes Moines Metropolitan Smart Growth Audit 1
Introduction
Concern over sprawling development has prompted an increasing number of communities to
examine their land development practices. The concept of “smart growth” is a response to this
concern. Although there are numerous definitions of the term “smart growth,” there is general
agreement that the concept embraces the objective that “metropolitan growth should be
channeled into developments that are compact, consisting of diverse housing types and mixed
land uses, supporting pedestrian activity and public transit, and limiting the land consumptive
sprawl of conventional suburban development.” (Talen and Knapp 2003). A number of groups
and professional organizations have taken up the smart growth agenda. Since 1996, the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has funded the Smart Growth Network, a partnership
between the EPA and several non-profit, private sector and government organizations
(including environmental groups, historic preservation organizations, professional organizations,
developers, real estate interests, and local and state government entities) working toward
“development that serves the economy, community and the environment” (Smart Growth
Network 2006). The Smart Growth Network offers ten principles of smart growth that urge
local governments, landowners, developers and citizens to:
1. Mix land uses.
2. Create walkable neighborhoods.
3. Take advantage of compact building design.
4. Create a range of housing choices and opportunities.
5. Foster distinct, attractive places, with a strong sense of place.
6. Provide a variety of transportation choice.
7. Preserve open space, farmland and critical environmental areas.
8. Direct development towards existing communities.
9. Make development decisions fair and predictable.
10. Encourage community and stakeholder collaboration.
(See Appendix A for the Smart Growth Network’s description of these principles).
Other groups are similarly dedicated to promoting a different pattern of urban land
development. The American Planning Association (APA) launched its Growing Smart program
in the mid-1990s. As a result of this program, the APA produced the Growing Smart Legislative
Guidebook, and is currently in the process of developing a set of Model Smart Land Development
Regulations (APA 2006). The state of Maryland passed the Smart Growth and Neighborhood
Conservation Act in 1997, designed to encourage brownfield redevelopment, concentrate
infrastructure in priority funding areas and promote mixed land uses. Many other states and
communities have formally and informally adopted smart growth as a guiding framework for
planning (Edwards 2005).
While there is some consensus on the broad principles of smart growth, there is less agreement
on the implementation of these principles in day-to-day planning practice. Many communities
across the nation have embraced the general principles of smart growth in their comprehensive
planning documents, but a key question is whether or not local land use regulations also are
being revised to incorporate these principles. Noted planning consultant and author Randall
Arendt has referred to comprehensive plans and development codes as the “DNA” that
determine communities’ patterns of development. Thus, these policies can either serve to2 Des Moines Metropolitan Smart Growth Audit
enable, or act as an obstacle to smart growth. If smart growth principles are readily accepted as
broad policy statements to be included in comprehensive plans, are they being translated in
some fashion into local land development regulations, or are the regulations serving as an
impediment to new and different approaches to development?
In order to investigate this question, 1,000 Friends of Iowa received a grant from the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency, Region 7, to conduct a study titled “Smart Growth for
Environmental Results: Study and Decision Maker Training in the Des Moines, Iowa
Metropolitan Service Areas.” 1,000 Friends of Iowa entered a sub-contract to have Iowa State
University Extension (ISUE) perform a Smart Growth Audit of the zoning and subdivision
codes of communities in the Des Moines metropolitan area. Specifically, ISU contracted to (1)
assist 1,000 Friends of Iowa in conducting a meeting of stakeholders in the Des Moines
metropolitan area; (2) develop a “smart growth audit checklist,” using smart growth guides,
codes, and audits from across the nation, and input from the stakeholder meeting; (3) evaluate
the development codes in 15 Des Moines metropolitan area communities against the final
checklist; (4) prepare a final report that reflects the findings of the evaluation; and (5) assist 1000
Friends of Iowa in conducting a follow-up stakeholders workshop in the Des Moines
metropolitan area.
The purpose of the study was three-fold: (1) to provide community leaders in the Des Moines
metro area with information on the regulatory practices currently being promoted by smart
growth advocates as “model” practices; (2) to provide these same leaders some insights into how
their regulations stack up against current model development practices, and (3) to present
communities with a “fly-over” assessment of whether their regulations may present an obstacle
to smart growth.
This report is divided into four sections. First, we review the documented examples of smart
growth audits conducted in other locations across the nation. Second, we detail how we
developed the smart growth audit checklist we used to conduct this study, and how we put it to
use in conducting the audit of zoning and subdivision regulations of Des Moines metropolitan
area communities. Third, we summarize the findings of this work. Finally, we conclude with
observations on the process and the results, and provide recommendations for future studies of
this type.
Background on Smart Growth Audits
While the concepts of smart growth are appealing, studies show that these principles are not
being implemented in legislation and policy-making with the same consistency and fervor with
which governments and advocates are advancing the rhetoric (Edwards 2005; Downs 2005;
Talen and Knapp 2003; Berke and Conroy 2000). Recognizing this fact, smart growth audits
were developed as a tool to aid governments in assessing the degree to which their specific
actions (i.e., development policies, comprehensive plans, zoning and subdivision regulations,
administrative policies and practices) reflect those general concepts of smart growth. The term
“smart growth audit” appears to have been first used by LDR International and Freilich, Leitner
& Carlisle in a 1999 report prepared for Charlotte-Mecklenberg County, North Carolina. In a
2002 Planning Advisory Service Report published by the American Planning Association, it was
recognized that “the concept of auditing plans and regulations to see if they encourage and