After operating under the same — though frequently amended — zoning code for the last 54 years, the city of Des Moines is preparing to make a big change, and change carries a message: You can do it the easy way or you can do it the hard way.

Most developers and property owners are familiar with the hard way. Spend countless days, at least 120 under many estimates, meeting with planning and zoning staff, going before at least two boards, then arriving hat in hand before the City Council for final approval.

Time is money, as they say, and the city believes a new zoning ordinance is designed to save time, at the very least. Providing, of course, that projects fall under a range of acceptable forms suitable for particular locals. (If building in the Beaverdale brick neighborhood, for example, plan on repeating the predominant character of those homes.) A multifamily project might be appropriate for a main transportation corridor, but think again if the plan is to drop it a few blocks off the busy street into a quiet neighborhood.

Mike Ludwig is the city’s planning administrator, and he has been shepherding the new-ordinance project for several years. The initial idea was to role it out by the end of 2017. The city formed a steering committee and sampled an initial draft of the new code for folks who attended public meetings.

There are two goals for the new code, he said: Protect neighborhoods and remove obstructions for developers.

The 2017 draft generated comments, lots of them. The 1965 code has been amended roughly 300 times, by Ludwig’s guess. There were 282 comments generated by draft of the new code, and some of those comments were accompanied by long letters. The attorney for the Home Builders Association of Greater Des Moines filled 32 pages, Hubbell Realty burned a fair amount of paper, also.

In fact, you can read every comment that has been submitted on a website that went live today at noon. The website,, includes new zoning maps, proposed changes to the code and the comments on the 2017 draft.

In short, the city is attempting to up the game on design standards and finding suitable locations for a range of development projects. It is responding to the concerns that have emanated from the neighborhoods for many years, finding appropriate uses for appropriate places, and making life a little easier for developers.

The key is that developers who follow the approved forms that the city prefers for certain projects (don’t even think of slapping vinyl siding on a multifamilty project, for example) will go through an administrative review process that should be wrapped up in 30 to 60 days.

The alternative is to challenge the forms and go through the approval process that has been in place for lo these many decades.

After another round of public hearings, the city hopes to have a new zoning ordinance in place by the end of the year.