Davenport’s Comprehensive Discourages Sprawl ... Vaguely Print
News/Features - Local News
Tuesday, 05 July 2005 18:00
When the first draft of Davenport’s new comprehensive land-use plan was presented to the public in March, it was intended as a springboard for public discussion. Since then, the committee in charge of the document has released a set of 144 recommendations. But opponents of urban sprawl say the plan doesn’t go far enough to accomplish its goals.

“What it comes down to is a lot of it sounds good on paper but has no teeth,” said Sheila Bosworth, a Sierra Club National Committee member from Princeton, Iowa. “While there are some good study points, it’s basically some nice, dressed-up generalities.”

The comprehensive plan is being spearheaded by Davenport’s Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee, which has chosen to highlight 10 “major ideas” in the recommendations in an effort to make them easier for the public to understand.

The ideas (see sidebar) range from reducing the number of abandoned buildings through adaptive reuse and infill to improving the community’s transportation systems.

The Davenport 2025 Comprehensive Plan (http://www.davenport2025.com) is a document intended to guide city policy in all areas of planning – from land use to zoning to infrastructure spending to transportation to education – for the next 20 years. The final plan, which will be finished later this month, will replace the plan adopted in 1978. By its nature, the plan is a guiding document, because the city council can amend it at any point. (See “Davenport’s Land-Use Plan: Citizen Tool or Map for Sprawl?” River Cities’ Reader Issue 518, March 2-8, 2005.)

William McCarley, a member of Davenport’s Design Center (a division of the city’s Community & Economic Development Department), said one of the 10 ideas the committee has signed off on is the establishment of an urban service area that identifies where city services will likely be available through 2025.

“This is the area we think we can service with utilities like sewer, gas, water, electric, schools, snow plowing, etc. over the next 20 years,” McCarley said. “We recognize that there is a cost to developing our infrastructure and we need to make sure we can balance the amount that we develop against the cost it will take to maintain it.”

According to McCarley, the urban service area would be unrestricted. In other words, while some communities that have used growth-management tools like Davenport 2025 choose to enforce an urban-growth boundary beyond which you cannot build, Davenport has taken a different approach.

“We’re saying that here is where we think we will be able to service you; we would prefer that you build within this line because it would be advantageous for you to do so,” McCarley said. “I think there is still a fair amount of vacant land within the urban service area that we think can be developed.”

This is one area where Bosworth said the recommendations aren’t strong enough to achieve goals such as reducing sprawl and encouraging infill. “We were disappointed in allowing growth in the potential service area but outside of the planning area,” she said. “To discourage sprawl and encourage infill, you have to make your boundaries tight so that people do not have many cheap options.”

Jerry Neff, a Pleasant Valley resident who is also a Sierra Club National Committee member, added, “Why would you want to build outside of the city where you have to supply sewer gas, water, etc., which costs money, when you already have all of those available in the city?”

Another one of the highlighted ideas was to target existing neighborhoods, districts, and corridors for re-development and to reduce the number of underutilized, abandoned, or vacant buildings and/or properties through adaptive reuse and infill.

McCarley said the steering committee recognizes that many of Davenport’s neighborhoods need some kind of help – such as new sidewalks, streetlights, or green space – but the committee was unwilling to go beyond generalities. “The committee is just advocating that research into existing neighborhoods should be done to identify the special needs of them and develop plans accordingly,” he said.

“There are a lot of places in the recommendations where they [the steering committee] talk a lot about encouraging,” Bosworth said, “and no matter how nice they put it on paper, it does not encourage infill and use of abandoned buildings and things like that. It doesn’t suggest any action will be done.”

Bosworth said some elements of the plan are worth commending. “There are a few things that are positive about the plan,” she said. “At least they’re starting the process on some of the things that are happening right now, such as targeting brownfield areas for development.”

McCarley said the committee will have the first final version of what the comprehensive plan will look like finished by the end of July. It will be presented to the Plan & Zoning Commission for approval at a hearing on August 2.

If approved, the Plan & Zoning Commission will forward a recommendation to the city council, which will hold a hearing on September 1. “These will be the last formal opportunities for the public to give input,” said McCarley. “We are encouraging people to tell us their ideas and thoughts about the plan in the months of July and August. If they wait until the September city council meeting to give us their input, it may not get included in the plan.”
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