In a little more than a month, Hubbell Realty Co. needs to decide whether to close on a deal to buy 75 acres of abandoned railroad and industrial land south of Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway or allow the property to continue to be overrun by weeds and scrub trees.

Most bets are that Hubbell will buy the property from Norfolk Southern railroad and turn it into a mixed-use development that could grow to a population of 5,000 over the next 20 years.

With a due diligence period to buy the land set to expire Aug. 15, there are some obstacles to overcome, most resulting from differences in the Hubbell vision for the development and the view of city planners who are policy bound by a comprehensive plan that was approved last year — about the same time Hubbell acknowledged it wanted to buy the property — and pending changes to the city's zoning ordinances, which aren't expected to gain final City Council approval until this fall.

And when all is said and done, one issue that could still be pestering Hubbell President and CEO Rick Tollakson is how to accommodate drone deliveries in the area, which the company calls Gray's Station.

Tollakson, Dan Cornelison, Hubbell senior vice president and general counsel,  and Kris Saddoris, vice president of development, chatted about the project Wednesday with reporters who showed up near what many consider an almost prehistoric — certainly a primitive — stormwater detention area that lies near the Raccoon River at the southern end of what would be Gray's Station.

For now, Hubbell representatives will appear Thursday before the city's Plan and Zoning Commission in the first step to having Gray's Station designated as a planned unit development.

With a two-decade timeline, the company would like the flexibility that the planned unit development would provide in adapting to market forces, Tollakson said.

Hubbell spent the better part of a year trying to find out what type of housing would fit in Gray's Station. RDG Planning & Design led that process, and the result was that there is a desire for apartments, for-sale units and an anticipated demand for single-family housing.

With Gray's Station located on the fringe of downtown, Hubbell could provide some of the missing middle housing types that fill the gap between single-family residences and apartments.

As Saddoris said, Gray's Station could be home to the so-called "age in place" population, people who want to work and live in the same location, as well as more mobile apartment dwellers. As a developer, Hubbell wants to be able to respond to those demands.

The city, on the other hand, would like preplanned, predictable development.

"It doesn't matter what the city wants or what we want, it's what the market wants," Tollakson said.

Tollakson and his crew can look at developments in other Greater Des Moines cities that were tied in knots coming out of the recession because of stiff development requirements.

For now, the city's comprehensive plan and the zoning ordinances that will follow are not expected to look kindly on single-family or the smaller-scale missing middle housing that Hubbell would like to include. As a matter of policy, such housing is envisioned for the neighborhoods that ring downtown. (It should be noted that downtown can be in the mind's eye. Does it end at Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway, or does it extend to the Raccoon River?)

Building height is another issue separating, for the moment, the city and Hubbell. Current ordinances and, again, the future zoning plan call for building heights of at least three stories or 36 feet in mixed-use downtown neighborhoods. Hubbell would like to stay under that limit for some types of housing.

One area that seems to get mutual appreciation is Hubbell's plan to convert three stormwater basins into conservation areas that would filter and store stormwater and serve as a large green space that would be connected to Gray's Lake by a pedestrian and bicycle bridge. Ultimately, the bridge could link to a recreation area that would include Gray's Lake and Water Works Park.

In Gray's Station, the conservation area would be owned and maintained by the city.

Cornelison said the company is seeking density among large green spaces.

City Councilwoman Christine Hensley has watched the project play out from its earliest days. She wants to abide by the vision of the future that it maps out to 2040, but she doesn't believe city staff should give it a literal interpretation.

She applauds city staff for following the document and believes it is up to City Council to make changes where needed. Hensley is quick to point out that Gray's Station would lift the property value in the area to about $250 million. The land currently is assessed at about $450,000.

"I want to make sure we have a good development there," Hensley said. "It is not going to be 100 percent what the city wants and not 100 percent what Hubbell wants."

What Hensley doesn't want is "that land sitting vacant for another 20 years."

Doubtful that it will, but how will Hubbell provide for drone deliveries?

"We just don't have it figured out yet," Tollakson said.

After Thursday's plan and zoning meeting, Tollakson and staff need to figure out how to navigate City Council meetings on July 24 and Aug. 14 that will take up issues of the planned unit development and a development agreement.