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Zoning—What’s Good for the Goose Isn’t Good for the Gander PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Guest Commentaries
Tuesday, 03 October 2000 18:00
Don’t you just love a good “I told you so”? At October 2's Committee of the Whole meeting, Davenport Aldermen Moritz and McGivern were given a solid dose of their own medicine, much to the amusement of those watching. Citizens protesting the rezoning of property adjacent to them at Pine and 59th Streets, for the development of condos, presented the Council with a petition containing 69 signatures, complete with names and addresses, for the record.

In an unprecedented display of hypocrisy, Aldermen Moritz and McGivern had the gall to question the petition and its signatures. Moritz asked how the city actually validates the names on petitions, and whether they were legitimately within the protest area. She further inquired if a system could be implemented to ensure such validation, such as requiring the petitions to be on city forms and returned in city envelopes. This way, the city could prevent people from “just taking a petition around and having anybody sign it and say whatever.”

Could she possibly be referring to the petition Alderman McGivern personally submitted to the Council protesting the rezoning of Nicky and Tom Bowles' property, several months ago? Does she mean the 10 typewritten signatures that accompanied the letter that has no identifiable author, and whose signatures are outside the protest area? Is she worried that signatures could be presented in protest that are not legitimate, like five of the signatures on Alderman McGivern’s submission, who admitted to having no knowledge that their names were placed on the petition? I can see why Ms. Moritz would be concerned about such tactics, especially when a fellow alderman is employing them. However, where was Alderman Moritz’s concern then? As I recall, she fully supported receiving the questionable petition as presented by Alderman McGivern without so much as a whisper of concern for its “validity.”

McGivern also chimed in at Monday’s meeting by inquiring if city policy, traditionally speaking of course, didn’t require that the city’s form be included as part of the protest-petition process. To both Aldermen’s questions, a resounding “no” was given—both from community development and from the legal department. As stated in a memo from Clayton Lloyd, director of community development, the composition of the official protest rate includes signatures of persons on petitions within the protest area. No specific forms are required. The legal opinion on the matter concurs. City forms aren’t necessary for petitions to be valid. Petitions protesting rezoning are valid if they contain signatures, and addresses to identify that the signatures are within the protest area or as residents of Davenport. The petition must also identify the rezoning and specifically state its opposition. Period.

So where does that leave Alderman McGivern’s petition, organized and submitted as a spiteful act against a constituent of his ward, insofar as it is not even remotely valid? Yet it influenced the council vote on the rezoning of Tom and Niky Bowles' property. It also set a new precedent in the City of Davenport that all citizens have a right to protest rezoning, regardless of their proximity to the property. Alderman McGivern did it, so it must be okey dokey.

But, wait a minute. Alderman McGivern was heard questioning that policy when a petition was submitted with 60-plus legitimate signatures, wasn’t he? And Alderman Moritz certainly expressed her suspicions as to the petition’s validity by questioning the process. Did Alderman McGivern ask himself whether or not the petition he was submitting was on an “official” city form? Did either McGivern or Moritz bother to consider the legitimacy of the 10 typewritten, not signed mind you, signatures protesting the Bowles rezoning? Nope. You see, it’s perfectly all right for Alderman McGivern to pull such ploys, but not the public. And Alderman Moritz has demonstrated that she will endorse just about anything Alderman McGivern cares to bring to the table.

Zoning appears to be a major area of city business that the public should be concerned about. Zoning and rezoning are huge things, especially where land use changes and greatly impacts upon people’s property values. It should not be taken lightly. Zoning should be given the most careful, diligent scrutiny possible, by all parties involved. And when public officials act upon zoning where it is clearly personally driven, whether positively or negatively, then it is an abuse of power and should be sanctioned.

Exactly what is going on with the Kasini zoning and the claim of mispublishing legal descriptions, causing it to be tabled, is yet to be determined. But there appears to be a discrepancy about what constitutes a protest area, said to be 200 feet in the Kasini case, but 300 feet in the Pine & 59th case. So which is it and why is it different? These are not small issues because the protest radius can mean the difference of a less than or greater than 20 percent protest rate, which in turn means a super majority vote of the council versus a simple majority. Land mass is also a factor. If legal descriptions are incorrect (in the Kasini case, the area to be rezoned was published as smaller than it actually is), it too can affect the protest rate—the smaller the radius, the smaller the area of eligible protestors. These things are vital to making sure that the parties involved are dealt with fairly and reasonably. Without the watchful eye of the public, especially those neighbors who are too intelligent to be fooled or merely victimized by mistakes, many significant decisions would go unchallenged. By not closely scrutinizing zoning information, we risk forever changing the composition of the community for the benefit of developers at the expense of families and property owners, who have the right to participate in the process because it is their investment—each individual home—that has made commercial development attractive in the first place.
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