Petition to save Historic Valley Junction
Petition created by Jennifer Hampton
Written/Submitted by Victoria Veiock
Photo by Ryan Conrad
Saturday, January 22, 2022
To: HVJ Master Plan Steering Committee, City of West Des Moines, Mayor, City Council, Government Officials, and Valley Junction Foundation
For almost 50 years Historic Valley Junction has been a vital part of my life as a retailer, property owner, volunteer, advocate, and shopper. Along with scores of HVJ property owners, merchants, shoppers, and community members, I am concerned about recent development in our community. I am writing on behalf of these stakeholders.
Here are a few highlights from my lifetime love of Historic Valley Junction:
• In 1978 I opened “Wicker and the Works” located in the former car dealership on the northeast corner of 4th and Elm Street. I chose Historic Valley Junction to become part of a small community, not a mall.
• In about 1985 Bob Morrisey and I organized the first HVJ farmers’ market held at 5th and Elm Street. It featured a single vendor, an Amish woman who sold jam. This was the beginning of what is now a May through September weekly event occupying two-plus blocks, with dozens of area local vendors selling fresh produce, baked goods, plants and flowers, arts and crafts and prepared foods. We also feature a weekly band live on our main stage at Railroad Park.
• Next we started the Antique Jamboree, another long-time popular event which I named! Our event popularity took off.
• In 1987 I joined several business and property owners to form the “VJ87.” This group became part of the Main Street Iowa
and Main Street America networks, and in 1990 became the Historic Valley Junction Foundation. I continue to promote our
HVJF community and have actively recruited businesses for the area including Isabel Bloom and Bozz Prints.
• My husband Mark came to Historic Valley Junction in 1970 and has owned three district businesses. Mark has personally
renovated 16 storefronts, and together we were part of making decisions on the streetscapes.
• Mark’s and my daughter Val continues our legacy as a property owner and merchant She owns “Bings” on 5th Street.
Fifth Street has been the heartbeat of the Historic Valley Junction area for the 50 years I have been here. The buildings that created the landscape of our district come in different sizes and they were built in different years. The historic designation was meant to preserve the look and the integrity of a main street town that has as many styles of buildings as the people who live, work, shop, and play here. A “small town in a big city” is the essence of who we are. It’s our brand.
There are merchants, landowners, and neighborhood homeowners that are not happy with the direction Historic Valley Junction has taken. With the recent change in development guidelines, the addition of modern three-story buildings, and new office space with all-day workers, parking density is becoming an issue. Developers who aren’t required to provide parking on their building sites are creating a problem for merchants.
New developers should be held to the same standard that many of us were years ago when we had to provide parking for our customers and clients. On-site parking is also required in most other parts of West Des Moines. Dropping the on-site parking requirement for new developers gives them a financial advantage and imposes on other HVJ businesses a financial disadvantage through loss of on-street parking for our customers.
Loss of our historic charm is an even bigger concern. Our streetscape has changed forever and appears to be the beginning of similar changes. The mass of these buildings is not what main streets, preservationists, and downtown consultants consider appropriate and best practices for a district like ours. We are known for our quaintness and our ease of parking, which makes us unique to our competitors. New development is not always the answer, especially with tearing down and adding new architecture that never existed before.
Many of us thought these abrupt changes were the reason the Master Plan Steering Committee (Phase 2) was formed. Many of us also feel that not all committee members share the interests of Historic Valley Junction businesses and do not have the heritage of our community at the heart of their work. We are not confident that this represents our common interests.
Visual survey results presented at the last Master Plan Committee meeting reinforced that the new buildings in Historic Valley Junction are the least popular in the survey. This makes it clear that the majority of the community does not like or want modern new development with its new architecture. People are in favor of fixing up current buildings and working with the architecture that already exists, as this represents the history of Historic Valley Junction. We want the look that property owners preserved and developed over decades and the buildings that we have so lovingly tried to bring back to life for the last 50 years.
Although new developers have gotten substantial financial incentives, their rents are high, making it difficult for new entrepreneurs to choose Historic Valley Junction as their starting point. We had become known as a “business incubator”—a great place for a business to start. Not only are higher rents making it harder for new businesses, but the increased rental costs are not as rent-friendly to retailers as office and commercial tenants. This is impacting our “quaint retail shops image.”
The HVJ community is splintering, and its future is in doubt. We cannot risk our history and our origins in order to fast-track the desires of people who have demonstrated with their building projects they do not support the image and streetscape of the district we have preserved and restored.
Therefore, we, the undersigned believe, and hereby petition the mayor, city council and government leaders of West Des Moines as follows:
1. We do not want any more new three-story buildings on 5th Street or the surrounding area. We want to preserve the area so that we maintain the look and feel of what we already have.
2. We want zoning that requires developers to provide on-site parking for all new apartment, retail and office spaces. This is required for other WDM areas, and it is even more important in an historic downtown.
3. We believe that historic designation needs expectations and codes for appropriate compatible building design for our district and neighborhood.
4. We want Historic Valley Junction to maintain its emphasis on retail stores and restaurants, not offices and non-retail commercial spaces. The Master Plan Committee needs not only to support this emphasis, but to facilitate it as part of its objectives.
5. We want the city of West Des Moines to provide financial support for long-time property owners who have historic buildings. Significant financial incentives have been given to new developers who have used these funds for projects that are detracting—not adding—to our historic heritage. This is the reverse of what city funds should be promoting in Historic Valley Junction.
6. We believe that we will not achieve the goals of the Master Plan Committee or the welfare of Historic Valley Junction if the moratorium deadline is in March. We want the moratorium to be extended to at least the original target date of the summer of 2022, as initially agreed.