The City of Davenport has rolled out its master plan for the area north of 53rd Street at Eastern Avenue, and the Prairie Heights development (as it's now called) features a park and more than 1,100 new residences over 630 acres, 220 acres of which are owned by the city.

The question now becomes whether the plan can become a reality. The city unveiled the proposal at a public meeting on June 3, and City Administrator Craig Malin anticipates a July 2 vote on the plan. It is expected to be before the Plan & Zoning Commission on June 12 and 17, the Community Development Committee on June 26, and the Committee of the Whole on June 30. A final version of the proposal was not available at press time.

The mixed-use plan includes some retail area on the 53rd Street side, a 126-acre public park, and environmental/green-space corridors throughout. Roughly 60 percent of the residences in the plan would face green space in at least one direction, Malin said.

This is the second go-round for the city-owned property at 53rd and Eastern. The first plan - involving a golf course, residential area, and public park - was blocked by a lawsuit. An ad-hoc task force then took up the issue, looking at a range of options but failing to come up with a preferred alternative.

Malin spearheaded the process this time, putting citizen input at the forefront. The process included a community design-preference workshop - at which citizens were presented a range of images and selected their favorites - and a hands-on community design workshop, at which people drew sketches of what they might like in a development. Malin said there are "really strong, identifiable ties" between the community design workshop and the final plan.

"The most important leg of the stool is citizen input," he said.

The city administrator is planning a soft sell. In essence, he claims that the development sells itself. He unveiled the proposal in a Power Point presentation and told the River Cities' Reader last week that it wasn't going to get any glitzier than that.

When asked whether he thought the city council would approve the plan, Malin said, "I think it's likely. ... There's no city resident who loses in this."

The "new urbanist" premise of Prairie Heights is to create old-style neighborhoods that encourage connections between people. The development would also include the use of "authentic vernacular architecture" - meaning housing styles that are distinctive and associated with a certain place. Malin said this would create "a great architectural dialogue" between the three different styles planned for the development. The "new urbanist" model also stresses open space, environmental sustainability, "neighborliness," and lasting value.

Houses in the development would be priced from $150,000 to $525,000, and occupancy could happen as soon as 2005.

The $280-million project involves municipal costs of more than $2.6 million a year spread over 20 years - primarily for infrastructure - but Malin thinks the public and city council will buy into it without a public-relations push. No funding mechanism has yet been identified.

A fiscal-impact analysis prepared by Planning & Design Institute, Incorporated, claims that the City of Davenport will realize a net annual benefit - primarily through an anticipated increase in the property-tax base - of $551,000, and the Davenport Community School District will benefit to the tune of $1.58 million a year. The analysis also said the city will get a one-time windfall of $2.43 million, primarily from the sale of the property.

Although it might take this plan longer to come to fruition than a typical housing development, Malin said that's one advantage to a big chunk of the project being city-owned. "The city is more patient" than private developers, he said.

No matter what, though, the city is going to need buy-in from both the community and the property owners, especially considering the history of this piece of land. For one thing, citizens will need to believe that the financial projections are accurate.

As for the other property owners, they would be bound by certain architectural and landscaping standards that would be adopted as part of the plan. If they're hesitant or unwilling to go along, there's a good chance the entire plan could get hung up.

When asked how the other property owners who would be affected by the plan would react, Malin said, "They have been brought in at the earliest opportunity. I cannot fathom what their legitimate complaint would be."

Malin added that the proposal must be voted on largely as-is. "It's up or down," he said.

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