Nov 3, 2023 - News

Des Moines garden draws praise from some, but others call it a "homeless camp"

Left: A shelter shade structure at Woodland realm. Right: A bazaar held at the garden. Photos: Courtesy of Woodland Realm

A privately owned community garden in the Woodland Heights area cannot host public events after failing to secure a permit from the city's Zoning Board of Adjustment last week.

Why it matters: Some neighbors disagree with the decision, saying it will diminish community gatherings.

State of play: Woodland Realm, at 24th and High streets in Des Moines, is owned by Ryan Francois, a local home developer.

  • Francois, who lives in the neighborhood, started using the land to garden with his friends in 2020.
  • It grew into a public space, hosting events like community dinners, live music and bazaars selling crafts and produce.

Zoom in: The garden focused on sustainability and has a woodland aesthetic, says Cameron Gale, head of the Woodland Heights Neighborhood Association.

Yes, but: While some neighbors say it's whimsical, it's also generated complaints, including by a local resident who said it looks like a "homeless camp."

  • Others complained parking was already limited in the area.

Catch up fast: Following a complaint, city staff notified Francois he could not hold events or sell items without an approved permit from the Zoning Board of Adjustment.

  • Staff recommended the board approve a conditional permit for one year.
  • But the permit failed at the Oct. 25 meeting, when board members split their votes 3-3.
Left: showing a shelter from the woodland realm, right showing garden from woodland realm
Parts of the Woodland Realm as seen from across the street. Photos via City of Des Moines

What they're saying: Chairperson Mel Pins said he viewed Woodland Realm as "disheveled" and more similar to "Lord of the Flies."

  • He said events and music should not be close to the neighborhood, though Francois contested most events drew about a dozen people.

The other side: Board member Heather Ann Roe said she supported the one-year permit.

  • "I do really like the value of having the community together and having events," she said during the meeting.
  • Gale said he was disappointed by board members' personal opinions on the garden's aesthetics. "There are a lot of other people who are really charmed by that space," he said.

The intrigue: The Woodland Heights Neighborhood Association unanimously approved Francois' request before it went to the zoning board.

What's next: The garden won't be able to join Ingersoll's Peppermint Trail or host its winter solstice there.

  • Francois will have to wait a year before trying for a permit again.

Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Des Moines.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Des Moines stories

Des Moinespostcard

Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Des Moines.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more