A sandy lot and a grove of trees bordered by a river levee might seem like a pleasant spot for a picnic and little else to many of us, but for the city of Des Moines, an eager developer and a creative urban designer, that piece of ground is so much more.

 

Troy Hansen is one arm of the development team. Dennis Reynolds is his designer. As with many people in the land development game, they have a different perspective on the readily apparent.

 

Under the direction of Hansen Real Estate Services, the lot - nearly four acres of sand and trees with some signs of urban development, including a fire hydrant and manhole covers - will become Eagle View Lofts. The property is just south of Shaw Street and west of Southeast Sixth Street.

 

People watching the site over the last year or two have seen crews raising a railroad bridge, installing sewer and water systems and running fiber-optic lines.

 

When Reynolds and Hansen's father, Craig Hansen, walked the property this winter, they saw eagles soaring above open water on an otherwise iced-over Des Moines River.

 

They envisioned the development potential right away.

 

 "We said, 'Oh yeah, that's way cool,' " Reynolds said.

 

The team attempted to find a configuration that would suit a residential development.

 

 "Urban riverfront is always full of sanitary sewers and water lines," Reynolds said.

 

An initial plan called for five structures and a total of 90 market-rate apartments. That setup just wasn't going to fit.

 

What the developers wanted to preserve was a view to the east of Principal Park and much of the downtown skyline. To the northeast, they wanted residents to catch sight of the Iowa State Capitol.

 

The design now calls for a ground-level parking structure topped by six stories of apartments in one building that runs north and south, with open space to the west that will open to a landscape of native grasses and flowers that, along with the sandy soil, will help filter storm water runoff. To the east, the city of Des Moines will have a community garden. Plans call for 132 apartments.

 

Some residents will look out their "nests," as community spaces will be called, and see a 70- to 80-foot cottonwood standing out in a grove of trees.

 

With the parking structure at ground level, the first floor of apartments will be above the Des Moines River levee, providing views of the river and the south river bank, where eagles take up residence in the winter.

 

The project has the backing of city leaders, as it fits a development niche at the southern end of the Market District. A few blocks to the north, the Market One project serves as the inaugural development for the area.

 

"We had hoped the city's big investment in Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway and the Southeast Connector would kick-start development," said Matt Anderson, assistant city manager.

 

Troy Hansen believes that other property owners in the area will follow his lead by pursuing new development.

 

The property is one of several that the Hansens own along with Michael Gartner on the north and south sides of the river.

 

"There's just something about water and being near water," Troy Hansen said, as he watched from the levee as a fisherman moseyed along the south bank of the river.

 

Eagle View Lofts is one of five projects undergoing a scoring process by the city of Des Moines for a possible recommendation to receive the remaining $3 million in federal disaster recovery funds available to the state as a result of the floods in 2008.

 

The projects will be reviewed by the City Council on Aug. 25, which will make a recommendation for funding to the Iowa Economic Development Authority. If Eagle View Lofts receives the funding, 51 percent of its 132 apartments would be leased to individuals with incomes at 80 percent or below the median income level in Des Moines. For a one-person household, that income currently is $41,950 a year.