Shape Sioux Falls, Where has the public discussion been?

Councilor Staggers has asked the question several times. Seems like there hasn’t been much public input on this 422 page document.

Doing just a quick skim through the document, you will see there is MAJOR changes to the zoning ordinances and definitions. I know that the document has been looked at by city officials, the planning board and I believe a volunteer committee. But what kind of exposure has the public had? The city council votes to implement the changes tonight. Trust me, if I were sitting on the city council right now, I would not want to be in their shoes. There are good things about the changes, and a few things that are sketchy. One thing you take away, just by giving it a quick review, is that the city is taking more CONTROL of what personal property owners can do with their property. There is also more detailed descriptions of what a ‘sign’ is.

I think it is unfortunate that the city did not hold several public meetings to explain the changes to the public. Especially since we have the most transparent mayor in the history of our city! DO THE HUETHER!

I find it quite ironic that when it comes to special interest club sport facilities and the Events Center there is more public meetings that you can shake a stick at, but when a 422 page zoning and ordinance document changes, there seems to be a din of silence from city hall. Move along, nothing to see here . . . yeah, right.


#1 Pathloss on 03.19.13 at 11:41 am

I’m not gonna read 422 pages. I’ve read prior city ordinances relative to what affects me. What I discovered is that there are many rules conflicting with another code such that either is unenforceable. When you read ordinances, the city regards things (ie trees) on your property theirs. Subject to their interest. If these things are corrected, this document works. Of course, if Mayor Eminem discovers this works, he’ll do his “aren’t you glad I’m mayor” rap. Irregardless, the city has no civil authority unless/until they allow due process and the courts will hear their cases.

#2 Tom H. on 03.19.13 at 1:35 pm

I don’t want to put a wet blanket on your pity party, but information about Shape Sioux Falls has been available online for at least a year. I know, because I’ve been following it. The ordinance itself has been up online, with summaries and explanations, for at least a few months now.

As far as the content goes – it’s a small step away from the standard use-micromanagement zoning code to a form-based code, which I’m all in favor of. The best part is that it has some mixed-use zoning districts, and loosens the ridiculous parking minima that have choked this city with parking lots for decades.

It could be a lot better, but it’s a whole lot better than what we’ve been operating under for the last, oh, 60 years or so.

(Aside: why not just repeal the zoning code? Many traditional, successful neighborhoods – downtown, McKennan Park, Cathedral district, etc. – were built without zoning codes. The answer, of course, is PARKING. It always comes back to parking.)

#3 Detroit Lewis on 03.19.13 at 1:43 pm

I know that it has been online for awhile. My complaint is that there has been any PUBLIC discussion about it. I would agree, there needed to be changes, I just don’t agree with all of them.

#4 Testor15 on 03.19.13 at 5:34 pm

What good is putting it on line if there is no public meetings so an open discussion could be voiced or heard?

#5 Detroit Lewis on 03.19.13 at 9:33 pm

No kidding.

#6 Tom H. on 03.19.13 at 11:12 pm

#7 rufusx on 03.19.13 at 11:29 pm

Yeah – there were quite a few opportunities for public input over the more than two-year long process. There were both live meetings and written input opportunities. Even I – as a non-resident found a place to provide input on-line. Your complaint about the city not having public hearings/input – simply not true. You all just haven’t been paying attention and aren’t as “involved” with the city as you imagine yourselves to be. Sorry.

#8 Craig on 03.20.13 at 9:23 am

Tom: “why not just repeal the zoning code?”

Correct me if I’m wrong Tom, but couldn’t this result in having retail and industrial areas mixed with residential neighborhoods? That doesn’t exactly seem ideal to me, but I’ll admit I might be understanding the premise here.

As to parking, in most areas parking isn’t a huge issue, but the problem you have is when a slumlord takes an old Victorian house and chops it up into four legal apartments (and often one or two illegal apartments in the basement or attic). Then all of the sudden you have anywhere from 5 to 10 licensed drivers each with his or her own vehicle – and they all need a place to park.

I’ve even seen the problem in more modern apartment buildings that were build to be apartments. I know of one building that has four apartments, but only four off-street parking spaces. That is great if each apartment only has one adult, but there are couples living there which results in cars parked on the street. That in itself isn’t a huge issue until it snows – then those people have no place to go and it is a big nightmare.

Perhaps there are rules surrounding parking that should be tweaked I won’t argue that – but obviously it is still a major concern and needs to be factored in to any such discussions.

#9 Craig on 03.20.13 at 9:25 am

“understanding the premise” should have been “misunderstanding the premise”, and build should have been built.

As Rick Perry once said… “Oops”.

#10 Tesot15 on 03.20.13 at 11:04 am

It’s always amazing how there are always apologists for the actions of the status quo without full understanding of the depths of the issues at hand.

We have an issue in this little town requiring input but the city ‘leaders’ only give lip service to accepting input. The ‘leaders’ constantly play slight-of-hand games to make it look like they will take input at the last minute but really have made up their ‘minds. long before the issue was brought up or voted on.

Many of us see the games being played but just as DL and others have discussed here. Go in front of this council and see how hard it is to change or sway their votes. These are people by and large who have preconceived ideas of what is good for their particular agenda and citizens be damned.

Post City Attorney ruling on citizen input last week, what games will the Erp, Diamond Jim and SubPrime lead the rest into believing? How will they shutdown input or citizen participation?

#11 Tom H. on 03.20.13 at 12:49 pm


This is obviously a complicated issue, but I’ll respond with a few points.

1) Zoning codes were, indeed, originally instituted to separate hazardous industrial uses from other uses – nobody wants a lead smelter next to an elementary school. In the post-WW2 suburban extravaganza, zoning laws (based on use) were extended to almost comical proportions. Not only are commercial uses separated from residential, but big apartments are separated from small apartments are separated from duplexes are separated from single family… It is, frankly, probably the largest intervention of the government into private property rights that most of us ever experience.

2) Your statement about “retail … mixed with residential” suggests that total use separation is somehow beneficial, or even mandatory, for a functioning community. Centuries of human urban settlement have shown that mixing uses – shops, apartments, restaurants, schools, houses – is a very healthy and efficient way of organizing our built environment. In fact, the modern suburban experiment of total use separation is quite young – 70 years or so – and is beginning to show signs of not being able to financially sustain it’s own infrastructure needs.

Mixed-use neighborhoods, of which we (sadly) only have one in Sioux Falls (DT), tend to be pleasant, efficient, resilient, and economical (in terms of being able to pay for their own infrastructure). Honestly, can you name a single traditional corner store in town? The only one I can think of is just south of the USF arena, and it’s a laundromat now.

3) Parking – indeed, this is a real issue, but the current zoning code silently reinforces our total automobile-dependence by mandating excessive parking minimums. By forcing new developments (like Dawley) and redevelopments (like the example of house-to-apartment conversions) to provide huge amounts of free parking, we are doing three things: (a) intentionally devaluing our neighborhoods; (b) implicitly taxing ourselves; and (c) increasing autmobile dependence.

I’ll explain:

(a) Look at a typical neighborhood, anywhere in Sioux Falls. How much of the surface area of that neighborhood is devoted to parking? In commercial areas, it’s likely well over 50%. In residential areas, parking lots (for apartments) or driveways and garages (mandatory for new developments) take up a large fraction as well. We are essentially saying that our city is so productive that we can afford to allocate a huge fraction of it to a totally non-productive use – storing cars. This obviously drives down the potential value of our neighborhoods.

(b) By forcing a new business (e.g., the new pizza place at Dawley) into having a certain minimum for parking spots, we are driving up their development costs by requiring more land than would otherwise be needed, and inflicting maintenance costs on the owner as well. As always, business costs get passed on to consumers, driving up prices, making this a de facto tax. And you can bet that it’s bigger than the 13 cent increase for a pizza due to Obamacare.

(c) By requiring vast amounts of parking, we hollow out our city, making it harder (and much less pleasant) to get anywhere except by car. (Ever try walking on the sidewalk along 41st St?) This requires everyone to have a car, which requires everyone to have parking spots everywhere they go. One simple solution to this, that many cities are taking, is to switch from parking minimums to parking maximums. Let the free market decide how much parking is needed.

(P.S. Many similar arguments can be found at, e.g., StrongTowns or in Donald Shoup’s book, The High Cost of Free Parking.)

(P.P.S Sorry for the massive post. I should just get my own blog.)

#12 l3wis on 03.20.13 at 2:12 pm

Public Testimony went about 70 minutes last night on the Shape SF topic. Besides Lora Hubbels rant about George Soros and Hitler, in which Erpenbach asked her not to talk about Hitler. A great comment from a private citizen was about how ‘Developers have figured out how to game the system in their favor while private citizens are not listened to, and that needs to change.’ (SIC)

#13 Tesot15 on 03.20.13 at 2:20 pm

Tom H hits on what an actual city is all about. The mix of the community is the ability to walk down the street or go down to the first floor of the building you are living in to visit a retail environment.

This little town tries too hard to be sterile. If we let people walk to the store, out life is not complete. Why should we allow people to venture off their property or out of their apartment without requiring a vehicle? Oh gosh, our leaders require to drive five miles so we can park the car, then walk a mile in an enclosed mall.


#14 rufusx on 03.20.13 at 3:01 pm

leis and testor – IF you two whiners had been paying attention to this process over the course of the last two plus YEARS, you would understand that

a. This revision of the SAF zoning ordinances – which are almost 30 years old IS a break from the status quo.
b. Much of the changes to the ordinances are based on community feedback that has occurred over that two-year period – and NOT from “developers”.

Tom, the actual impetus for use-based-zoning was NOT separation of industrial from residentisal. It went something like this. Two owners of lots in New York – originally, of course, each contained a single residence. One of the lots’ owners (on the South side of the two) decided to build an 8 story building – right up to the lot line. Result – lot to the north got ZERO sun, little air circulation – became – essentially USELESS to its owner for the purposes that owner wanted to make of it – DUE ENTIRELY and EXC LUSIVELY to the actions of his neighbor to the south. Zoning laws in general are intended to protect one neighbor against adverse impact of the actions of other neighbors.

If you are a property owner – they are to protect YOU from an idiot that might live next door – not to control you by some nefarious “power tripper”.

To understand how social regulation actually works – you need to drop your own egocentric perspective. Now go in the corner and meditate.

#15 Tom H. on 03.20.13 at 3:22 pm

rufus –

Indeed, I’m not arguing that no zoning laws are needed – just that maybe no zoning laws are better than what we’ve currently got! 🙂

The example you gave is a good example – adjacent property owners do indeed have a vested interest in the condition / appearance / etc. of their neighbors. This is exactly why I’m in favor of FORM-based zoning codes, i.e., codes in which the physical form (setbacks, quality materials, etc.) of the development is regulated. Regulating use (for instance, you can’t legally rent out an extra bedroom in your house without a conditional use permit. Why?) is, for the most part, over-reaching.

There’s always a balance. NIMBYism always has to be set against the greater good for the community and the neighborhood.

And by the way, I’d bet that ugly, weed-infested parking lots reduce property values every bit as much as hulking 8-story buildings built up to the property lines.

(Am I out of time out yet?)

#16 Tom H. on 03.20.13 at 3:24 pm

And PS, the owner of the lot that was deprived of sunlight could certainly have made his case in court through tort law. There are existing legal avenues to deal with these things.

#17 Testor15 on 03.20.13 at 3:46 pm

Rufusx, there are some people in this small town who actually are trying to get people to consider the center city concept of urban planning versus the suburban sprawl model. Why should we allow the town to grow with natural resource abuse as the model for future generations to repair?

#18 Detroit Lewis on 03.20.13 at 4:18 pm

I agree with Testor. We need to concentrate more on the core. I have said it before, but I wouldn’t live anyplace else besides DT.

#19 rufusx on 03.20.13 at 11:41 pm

Believe me – I am as much an anti-sprawl urbanist as there is. That is why I view the new SF zoning ordinances as a step in the right direction – as Tom said – they do engender a more flexible, almost, but not quite form-based approach. They do remove the automatic necessity for many conditional use applications for example. You really ought to read them FIRST before complaining.

#20 Craig on 03.21.13 at 9:32 am

Tom: “It is, frankly, probably the largest intervention of the government into private property rights that most of us ever experience.”

(1) That may be true, but I suspect it has been driven by citizen demands. For instance, nobody (or perhaps a very small number of people) wants to build or own a house near commercial property, and the value of homes that back up against multi-family property is always less than those that are in neighborhoods composed of single-family homes.

I can’t really blame cities for zoning things according to what citizens actually want, and I’m first to admit I would not want to live near a retail center, commercial property, or even a large multi-family apartment complex. I also wouldn’t want to live on a major road or next to a bar that is open until 2:00am and where patrons are known for peeing on lawns in the neighborhood after closing time. I have lived next to apartments and condos in the past and it was less than ideal.

So that is a long way of saying I understand why they put multi-family on the outside of developments near the busier roads, and then on the interior they slowly transition from things like twin homes and condos into single family homes. Retail and commercial space is associated with primary roads and specific “shopping” areas as they are destinations and distinct from homes.

(2) Now I’m not suggesting we can’t have mixed use neighborhoods. The idea of having apartments stacked on top of retail property is a good one, and it is a more efficient use of parking lots since retail stores benefit from the lot during business hours, while the apartments benefit at night. That is a good thing, but I don’t think we will ever convince people that higher density neighborhoods is the way to go unless land prices get to the point where it is necessary. For the most part humans enjoy having their own space and not being on top of one another. There are exceptions to the rule obviously and some people are never happy unless the can walk to work and shun any form of an automobile, so we need to have all options available for residents. There is a lot more to personal happiness than things being efficient and economical, and I’m the first to admit I’m willing to pay a bit more to be in a quiet neighborhood with a larger lot than I could get if I was to live in a loft or apartment downtown, but others disagree.

The great thing is that we should be able to have both. Not everyone wants a yard or a white picket fence. Some people love the atmosphere of the urban center where they can walk to buy groceries – so I support any zoning changes that will allow that to happen. It is all about choices, so I certainly hear your argument. The thing is, the number of people who want that white picket fence far outnumber the number of people who want to live above their local bodega. That explains urban sprawl, bedroom communities, and suburbs. Human nature and desires are a challenge.

(3) Not sure what the alternative is. In this area it isn’t reasonable to limit parking and expect people to use other forms of transportation to the nearest store. I think we need to keep in mind the metro area includes just as many people as actual Sioux Falls proper, which means these people need places to park when they come to down and do their shopping.

Maybe in a perfect world we would have a subway system and tram system to get us every place we need to go, but since we don’t have $45B to invest in underground mass transit anytime soon… I’m thinking the asphalt parking lots in front of your local Walmart are here to stay. It is difficult to change human nature (but I won’t fault anyone for trying).

(b) The parking requirements are based upon need are they not? They are based upon how many cars are expected to be there, and if they don’t allocate the proper amount of spaces where do the cars go? I’d rather have business owners foot the bill that be forced to widen streets to afford on-street parking. The taxpayer should not have to providing parking for a private business when possible.

(c) In a true urban city where land prices are thousands of dollars per square foot and with high population density and an effective mass transit system coupled with a LOT of taxis running around (that rarely actually park) this can work. In an area where land is as cheap as it is here it just isn’t going to happen.

You are talking total paradigm shifts here. I hate to sound pessimistic – but this simply will never happen in our lifetimes. It is a pipe dream and has no basis in reality. The automobile is a significant part of the American lifestyle, and the only way to get people to shift the mindset in terms of parking and population density is to force them into it. One day perhaps it will be required when we “run out” of land and we are forced to allocate all available land to food production etc. I just don’t think this is realistic in the next few hundred years.

Finally – why is it always suggested that using cars is a bad thing? Personally I enjoy driving – I enjoy the separation between work and home and wouldn’t want to be able to walk back and forth in 10 minutes. I’m excited for the future of transportation and think there are a lot of new technologies that will make individual people transportation more efficient and easier (I think many of the Hollywood sci-fi movies aren’t that far off in terms of automatic vehicles). I really don’t think cars are the evil they are so often presented as.

P.S. I’ve read some of the StrongTowns website in the past and although it has a nice utopian feel to it, I don’t think it is very realistic as it requires us to change human mindset. I could be wrong.

P.P.S. I’m likely more guilty than anyone of posting massive responses… I should probably summarize with a TL;DR sentence at the bottom since I’m fairly sure nobody has time to read all this – but oh well. At least DL doesn’t charge me by the word.

#21 Tom H. on 03.21.13 at 11:27 am

Short response:

SF is an auto-dominated city, built up in the suburban style.
Historically, this is very anomalous, and takes a LOT of money and resources to keep up.
You’re undeniably correct that changing this layout will not, and cannot, happen overnight.
However, I don’t think the suburban pattern is going to fare well over the next few decades as fossil fuels (which are the only thing that make suburbia possible) begin to go into depletion.
Traditional urban spaces have a long track record of being resilient and productive – much longer than our suburban experiment.

That’s my whole argument. I agree, suburbs are really nice places to live (I grew up in them), and I like driving too – it’s really convenient. I just think it’s a living arrangement with no future (to quote James Howard Kunstler).

#22 Craig on 03.21.13 at 1:04 pm

Tom you may have a point about fossil fuels impacting city design – although I wonder if other replacement technologies (electric and hydrogen fuel-cell powered vehicles) will supplant traditional fossil fueled powered vehicles and possible cancel out any potential impacts to city design.

Hard to say what the future will hold – either way it will be interesting. There is no doubt our current usage of automobiles (and the infrastructure required to support those automobiles) is extremely inefficient and costly.

#23 Tom H. on 03.21.13 at 1:35 pm

I used to be optimistic about replacement technologies for fossil fuels (and I’m a scientist by trade), but not so much anymore. We had a good stretch there when we had so much excess energy ($10/barrel oil) we could afford to spend a lot of it on energy research (fusion was, and is, the Golden Egg), but we need more and more of our energy just to run the economy at an anemic level. Once we get to the other side of the Hubbert curve (and we may be there already), it’s too late for alternative energies and replacement technologies. It’s time to start restructuring.

#24 Tom H. on 03.21.13 at 1:37 pm

May I suggest, for the interested reader, Jim Kunstler’s great books The Long Emergency and Too Much Magic. It talks in much, much greater depth about what a post-oil economy must look like.

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