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Davenport’s Land-Use Plan: Citizen Tool or Map For Sprawl? PDF Print E-mail
News/Features - Local News
Tuesday, 01 March 2005 18:00
Under Iowa law, a city’s comprehensive plan – meant to be a community’s primary planning document, particularly as it relates to land use – has virtually no teeth. Because of that, members of the City of Davenport’s “design center” are working to make the city’s overarching planning document as user-friendly as possible.

The expectation is that citizens will use the comprehensive plan as a tool to hold public officials accountable to the master plan.

The document is intended to guide city policy in all areas of planning – from land use to zoning to infrastructure spending to transportation to education – but Iowa law doesn’t give comprehensive plans much bite. As a result, individual zoning cases and city-council decisions on single parcels of land carry a lot more weight than the comprehensive plan.

“The comprehensive plan is only as good as the paper it is written on the day it’s written,” said William McCarley, a member of Davenport’s Design Center (a division of the Community & Economic Development Department). If the city council chooses to go against its comprehensive plan, the only thing it has to do is amend it. In other words, there’s nothing stopping city government from completely disregarding the document.

Still, McCarley has high hopes for the new plan, which after passage will replace one approved in 1978. The aim of the plan is to guide development in Davenport though 2025, and the plan would be updated at least every five years. “We would like our comprehensive plan to have more of a hammer than the current one,” he said.

But how?

The goal is to put an easy-to-understand comprehensive plan in the hands of community members, who in turn will encourage members of the city council to follow it. Instead of having the comprehensive plan available only in a several-hundred-page format, the design team expects to produce one- and two-sheet summaries of the plan’s key points for each of its 15 chapters. Those chapters cover topic areas including housing, historic preservation, neighborhoods, parks and open space, natural resources, education, transportation, and land use.

Ideally, McCarley said, the city’s comprehensive plan will be ubiquitous in public planning discussions. In the City of Chicago, the comprehensive plan was incorporated into school curricula. McCarley doesn’t foresee that happening here, but it’s an example of how public education could give the plan traction.

A final comprehensive plan is expected to be finished this spring, possibly going before the city’s Plan & Zoning Commission in late May, McCarley said. It must also be approved by the Davenport City Council.

A draft land-use plan was released last week, showing an “urban service area” – the area emergency agencies such as the police and fire departments can reach within desired response times combined with the anticipated capacity of the city’s infrastructure – with an additional six square miles compared to a 1986 revision of the 1978 map. Growth is anticipated in the city’s southwestern, northwestern, and northeastern corners.

The plan is merely a first draft, a springboard for discussion in the coming weeks, McCarley said – “a starting point for public conversation.”

McCarley said that based on current density in new housing subdivisions, the amount of residential development in the draft would accommodate population growth of between 30,000 and 40,000 people. Planners anticipate population growth of between 8,000 and 12,000 residents in the next 20 years, using several different models for population growth.

Many of the questions raised by the draft plan are methodological. For one thing, the 18-member Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee has used a larger planning unit; instead of looking at the city parcel-by-parcel, the committee has created a map using planning units several blocks tall and wide. These units typically allow mixed uses – for example, the “general residential” category would allow some commercial development – but are meant to reflect the general character of a neighborhood. “We want to encourage people to look at neighborhoods rather than parcels,” McCarley said, “to look at the community from a more holistic perspective.”

One of the plan’s assumptions is that all farmland within city limits is a “placeholder for development” – development that remains undefined in the comprehensive plan. But the comprehensive plan is not meant to merely anticipate growth; it’s created as a visionary document – in other words, a reflection of how citizens want the community to develop over the next two decades. So the open-ended assumption is a de facto endorsement of urban sprawl over planned infill.

McCarley said that the desire for infill development could become part of the comprehensive plan’s recommendations – for instance, that the City Council should catalog and prioritize parcels and neighborhoods for re-development. But actually creating an inventory of those ripe-for-re-development sites is beyond the scope of the steering committee’s charge, he said; that’s the job of the city council.

For more information about Davenport’s comprehensive plan, visit (http://www.davenport2025.com). The Web site includes draft chapters for nearly the entire comprehensive plan.
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