Promoting Sustainable Development in Davenport’s 53rd & Eastern Area: Print
Commentary/Politics - Guest Commentaries
Thursday, 26 October 2000 18:00
In communities across the nation, there is a growing concern that current development patterns are no longer in the long-term interest of our cities, existing suburbs, small towns, and rural communities. Though supportive of growth, communities are questioning the economic costs of abandoning infrastructure in the city, only to rebuild it further out. They are questions why they are witnessing physical growth in their communities, such are new strip malls or industrial parks, but do not see a corresponding growth in city revenues. They are questioning the wisdom of encouraging development that requires new infrastructure investment while their community struggles to find funds to repair existing infrastructure in and provide services to older neighborhoods. However, these increased fiscal concerns, increased documentation on the effects of demographic shifts and the economic costs of fringe development, and a strong environmental ethic have spurred new views on growth and effective community development. The result is both a new demand, and a new opportunity, for adopting more sustainable development principles.

Sustainable development recognizes the connection between development and quality of life. “Smart growth” describes the application of the sustainable development concept to land use issues. Smart growth means smart management of resources in both growing and declining communities. Smart growth, like sustainable development, is fiscally prudent and environmentally, economically, and socially sound while enhancing the choices people have for housing, jobs, recreation and transportation. The long-term needs of people, business and the environment ultimately define what is smart growth and sustainable and what is not.

The features that distinguish smart growth in a community vary from place to place. Minnesota statute, Section 4A.07(1) defines sustainable development as:

“... development that maintains or enhances economic opportunity and community well-being while protecting and restoring the natural environment upon which people and economies depend. Sustainable development meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own need.”

Davenport is no different than other communities across the nation. We may not be a full-fledged “sprawling” community, but we do not need to be to recognize the impact that poorly planned growth is already having on our City and to learn from the lessons that hundreds of communities have already learned the hard way. All across the country, we see cities and states incorporating sustainable development principles into their economic development and planning policies. Davenport has not formally adopted nor informally followed any sustainable development principles, the costs of our not doing so are beginning to reveal themselves.

The symptoms are similar to those in other communities who have experienced the negative effects of urban sprawl. While our City experiences a period of unprecedented growth, we are concurrently experiencing the demands of a deteriorating infrastructure, increased vacancies and declining tax base in our downtown and center city area, and an increased need for additional city services without the revenue to cover these general government purposes. In an August 18, 2000 memo to Aldermen, Finance Director Kent Kolway, after consultation with City Assessor Nick Donges, concluded that “there will not be a two percent growth in City taxable valuations for general government purposes (re: FY2002 budget). You will remember the 300 residents who protested, less than a year ago, increases in the assessed valuations of their homes of over 40% in some cases, learning from Donges that similar “re-assessments to 100% valuation” occurred throughout Davenport over the last five years. In the same memo, Kolway reported, re: the City’s Trust and Agency Fund deficit, “a subsequent levy increase and/or other alternative actions will be required sooner”. And referencing the City’s application for a federal grant to support more police officers and the City’s need to fund these officers once the grant monies expire, he states: “No funds can be identified at this time, especially in light of the above information. Further requests for City funding, particularly involving the General and Trust and Agency Funds, must compete with this grant application and other identified Council goals.”

Abnormal increases in assessed valuations accompanying a period of unprecedented growth and still we can’t find the funds to repair our existing infrastructure, can’t find the funds to increase our police force to prudent staffing levels - in general we can’t find the funds to support or improve the things that are most vital to our quality of life in Davenport. At this point, anyone should be able to understand that all this hub-bub over sustainable growth has absolutely nothing to do with “anti-growth” policies, and everything to do with sustaining and promoting growth that improves the quality of life in our community, growth that is revenue producing, not growth who’s cost outweighs any derived benefit.

Those who have dictated the direction of growth in our community in the recent past have pursued policies have encouraged huge residential expansion on our periphery while the population of Davenport is actually less than it was in 1975. Any number of studies will support the fact that a City spends more tax dollars to support new residential development than it collects in tax revenues from the residential property. Without a growth in population to support new residential development, we merely displace residents from other areas of our community, creating abandoned houses and declining property values in these areas.

Those who have led the charge for growth in our community have supported tax incentives and policies that promote commercial development in undeveloped areas requiring huge expenditures in new infrastructure and the provision of city services for these areas. Much of this is not new development at all, but rather development that has been relocated from other areas of the city without any new businesses filling the void left by these relocations. What development we have seen has been largely national chain and big box retailers that have corporate headquarters out of state, put up new buildings on cheap open land only to leave when their ROI is not met, or pay paltry wages and offer 35 hour work weeks that do not provide insurance or support families. Those who have dictated development policy in our community have promoted bidding for business with other communities where the high bid usually wins, and ends up costing the victorious community more in lost government services or higher taxes than it receives in benefits from increased private investment. And it is no surprise that most, if not all, new commercial development in Davenport has occurred in tax increment financing districts. Those who have directed the policies for development in Davenport have directed this development to TIF districts where general fund revenues will not see a penny from this development for the next twenty years.

Those who have directed the recent development policies in our community have failed us. The antiquated development policies of our recent past have produced results that are proving to be a burden on our community. It’s time that we recognize the policies that don’t work and look to other communities that have faced situations similar to ours and learn from their successes as well as their failures. Across the country, communities have faced these same negative effects of unmanaged growth and have overcome them by adopting and promoting sustainable growth principles. Davenport is not unique in the challenges it faces, but we must be prepared to view our patterns and policies of growth in a different light if we are overcome these challenges.

With the 53rd and Eastern Area of Davenport, we are presented with a unique opportunity to re-focus our vision of how Davenport is to grow and develop. We have the opportunity to promote a direction of development that grows the things we must - jobs, productivity, wages, education, housing, and recreational opportunities, opportunity and knowledge, and not grow such things as waste, government spending, and disinvestment. It is not, nor has it ever been, about “anti-growth” - it is about growing the revenues of our City so that we can invest in improving our quality of life.

I have chosen as a blueprint for policies promoting sustainable development a September, 2000, document produced by the State of Minnesota as a framework for action on smart growth for Minnesota communities. Minnesota began a comprehensive examination of it’s planning and development policies in 1993, culminating in many new legislative amendments that promote sustainable development principles, including comprehensive tax increment financing reform in 1996, and the most recent implementation of the “Minnesota Sustainable Development Initiative”, of which the document “From Policy to Reality: Model Ordinances for Sustainable Development” is an intrical part. By utilizing these principles promoted by the State of Minnesota, I hope to show that the promotion of sustainable development principles is not driven by environmentalist wackos and anti-business activists. Rather they are principles adopted through the cooperation of community, government, and business leaders who recognize their benefit to the long range vitality of communities.

I hope that you will review these documents I have provided prior to our 53rd/Eastern Committee meeting this Wednesday, as I will be presenting sample resolutions to our committee that I would like to review for adoption by the committee to forward to City Council. I am also enclosing a draft of these resolutions for your review. However, I would hope that you first review some of the supporting documentation I have provided in order to fully understand the content of these resolutions. Given that there appears to be support for the City disposing of some of the real estate within the 53/E area, and that the purpose of our coming together was to provide a strategy for the growth and development of this area, I feel it incumbent upon us to address these issues.

Please direct any questions you might have regarding this information to me at my home (326-1738), or my e-mail address ( This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ). I will make every attempt to address your issues prior to our meeting. A Pledge to Support and Promote Sustainable Development Principles in the City of Davenport’s 53rd & Eastern Avenue Area Whereas, economic prosperity and quality of life are both necessary ingredients to securing the long-term future of our Davenport community, and; Whereas, the 53rd & Eastern Avenue Area of Davenport has experienced rapid growth and development that has adversely affected the economic vitality and quality of life of our Davenport community; and, Whereas, unplanned, unmanaged growth is a burden on local government because it forces limited resources to be allocated to the creation of new infrastructure rather than to maintaining existing infrastructure; and, Whereas, current development policies within the area have encouraged large expenditures of government spending on new infrastructure and increased spending on city services to the area, the cost of which has not been covered by the resultant development; and, Whereas, the absence of revenue from the resultant development to substantially cover increased costs to the city has proven a burden on the city’s general government funds; and, Whereas, current planning and zoning practices do not provide the adequate mechanisms that would promote sustainable development as development occurs within this area; and, Whereas, current development policies that isolate different land uses cause people to travel greater distances to work or shop, increase highway usage, reliance on the automobile, and energy consumption; and, Whereas, unplanned, unmanaged development creates a loss of place and sense of community that destroys the unique character of urban neighborhoods, creating undifferentiated new development; and, Whereas, unnecessary and unplanned development encourages populations to move outside of our older established communities, and businesses to relocate from one area of our city to another, decreasing the tax base in these areas and creating a burden on the remaining population; and, Whereas, current economic development policies that create competition among local governments for tax revenues are detrimental to the economic vitality of our community and encourage poorly planned developments; and, Whereas, the agricultural landscape which surrounds our city is vital to the economy of our city, our county, and the State of Iowa; and, Whereas, current planning and development practices encourage development that unnecessarily converts agricultural land to development property; Be it therefore resolved, that, the 53rd & Eastern Ad Hoc Committee of the City of Davenport strongly encourages the City Council of the City of Davenport to enact sustainable development policies for the future development of the 53rd & Eastern Avenue area that will: ... promote a community-based planning process with broad citizen participation in order to build local capacity to plan for sustainable development and to benefit from the insights, knowledge, and support of local residents; and, ... promote cooperation among local governments, City neighborhoods, and business interests within our City to work together towards the most efficient, planned, and cost-effective delivery of government services to the area, while planning to ensure the compatibility of one areas development with development of neighboring areas; and, ... revisit and revise the City’s current zoning classifications and subdivision process to ensure that sustainable development goals are met in new development; and, ... provide a framework for water resource protection and stormwater management policies that encourage the participation of developers in planning for long-term stormwater management solutions for the area; and, ... allow for the development of the area consistant with traditional town and village character, promoting the development of neighborhood districts while limiting commercial or civic uses that replicate or directly compete with the central business district of the City; and, ... incorporate an Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (APFO) that provides a link between land use planning, budgeting for capital improvements, and zoning ordinances for the area by requiring new development to locate where public facilities and infrastructure have capacity, avoiding wasteful duplication, reducing infrastructure maintenance costs, and protecting natural resources for future generations; and, ... incorporate growth management ordinances that define areas where growth will be encouraged and resources protected, will promote design standards and development densities that maximize the community’s investment in area infrastructure, and will protect, preserve, and enhance the natural resources of the area and encourage recreation and open space areas; and, ... pursue innovative development alternatives such as the Purchase of Development Rights and Transfer of Development Rights Programs; and, ... create sustainable economic development strategies and provide economic opportunities that will achieve a balanced distribution of growth citywide; and, ... strengthen our entire community by promoting the prinicples of livable community design in development, including integration of all income and age groups, mixed land uses and compact development, affordable and life-cycle housing, green spaces, access to public transit, bicycle and pedestrian ways, and enhanced aesthetics in public spaces; and, ... assist in, not compete with, the provision and preservation of an adequate supply of affordable and life-cycle housing throughout the City; and, ... focus attention on the movement of people and goods, rather than on the movement of automobiles, in transportation planning, and maximize the efficient use of transportation infrastructure, the mobility and safety of pedestrian traffic, and increase the availability and use of appropriate public transit throughtout the area through land use planning and design that makes public transit economically viable and desirable; and, .. account for the full environmental, social, and economic costs of new development in the planning process, including infrastructure costs such as transportation, sewers and wastewater treatment, water, schools, recreation, and open space, and adequately plan the funding mechanisms necessary to cover these costs; and, ... provide a better quality of life for all residents of Davenport while maintaining nature’s ability to function over time by minimizing waste, preventing pollution, promoting efficiency, and developing local resources that will revitalize and energize our local economy; and, ... establish this area as the framework for community-based development that will be the basis for future actions and decisions related to the future land use planning of our City.
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