Four community meetings last week revealed a strong public sentiment: The City of Davenport should sell the property it owns at 53rd and Eastern but ensure that the new owners develop the land responsibly and create green space. Meetings on September 12 and 14 (held concurrently at two sites) were designed to explain six land-use options developed by the 53rd and Eastern Ad Hoc Committee. (See this week's editorial for an explanation of the options.) At the end of the meetings, people who attended were each asked to distribute six stickers among the options; they could, for instance, put all stickers on one option to express a strong preference or spread them out among several.

Of 277 "votes" given to meeting facilitators, 120 (43 percent) favored the Option F, in which the city would sell all but 40 of the 220 acres it owns on the northwest corner of 53rd and Eastern. Under that option, the city would also impose zoning requirements to force developers to create some green space and ensure adequate public facilities before construction.

After that option, residents favored building a city park with such features as an outdoor pool and baseball, softball, and soccer fields. Some people favored Option C, keeping all the land for the park (14 percent of the stickers), but a larger number (26 percent) preferred Option D, selling some of the land along 53rd Street for commercial development.

None of the other three options got more than 10 percent of the stickers, including Option E (8 percent), in which the city would keep all the land and contract with a developer to build a public golf course.

"I don't think there need to be any more community meetings like this," said Davenport Budget Director Alan Guard, who moderated two of the sessions. "I think the ad-hoc committee has all it needs."

Guard was also somewhat pointed in saying that somebody needs to make a decision soon; deliberation cannot last forever.

The 53rd and Eastern Ad Hoc Committee (which includes River Cities' Reader Editor Kathleen McCarthy) is supposed to give its recommendation to the city council in mid-October. Mayor Phil Yerington has made it clear that he wants the committee to present a single option, not multiple possibilities.

The City of Davenport purchased the land as part of a planned 660-acre mixed-used development, which was effectively stopped by a lawsuit by the citizens group Citizens United for Responsible Vision. Once a new council was elected in 1999, the mixed-use development appeared to die, and the city was left with 220 acres and no plans for it.

At the meetings last week (attended by approximately 70 people), citizens seemed skeptical of the more ambitious proposals - particularly the golf course and the park. At the Tuesday meeting at McKinley Elementary School, moderator Dave Geisler of the city's finance department fielded numerous objections to the proposed public-private partnership to build a golf course. "I'm sensing we still have an issue with golf courses in this city," he said. Even Ward 6 Alderman Bob McGivern, a golf-course proponent, had difficulty justifying the option, suggesting that the only way to determine whether it's a good use for the land is to ask for proposals from developers. "Let the market dictate whether it's feasible," he said. At Thursday's meeting at Hayes Elementary School, one audience member got right to the issue before any of the options had even been discussed: "Let's talk about the golf course."

Some residents who attended the Hayes meeting clearly felt bitter about what they perceive as a dearth of city investment in their west-side neighborhoods. Attendees complained that no city park has had as much money poured into it as is being discussed for the 53rd Street property. But Guard stressed that there is virtually no green space - let alone parks - north of Kimberly. "Zippo," he said. "No public parks at all." One obvious factor was the fact that people on the west end are so far from 53rd and Eastern. Another is that "west-enders are still feeling isolated, taken advantage of," Guard said.

Guard said it was important for citizens to look at the proposals as ideas rather than detailed proposals; although rudimentary cost analyses were included in handouts listing the options, he refused to explain or discuss cost or revenue projections for any of the options.

"I don't think anybody really knows" how much any of these proposals would cost, or how much money they might bring in, he said. "I don't want anybody focusing on any set of numbers. I think this is a narrowing-down process."

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