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Church wants to build on wooded land, but code says otherwise

KIFI

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    DAVENPORT, Iowa (Quad-City Times) — A Davenport congregation that’s been meeting in a gymnasium for the last three and a half years wants to build a permanent home in the woods.

Davenport zoning code, city staff, and Plan and Zoning Commission members say otherwise.

“It’s changing people’s lives,” said Rock Church Ministries member and project architect Joshua Arguello, of Davenport. “Our church is doing amazing things with that little building. And for us to be able to have a facility that will be operational seven days a week and not just on Sunday mornings, we know that we are going to grow and we know that it will instill a value in the community around it.”

Davenport City Council will meet Wednesday to consider a request from Rock Church Ministries to rezone a 3.53-acre wooded lot south of the Davenport public works facility off East 46th Street and north of Davenport Memorial Park cemetery from open space to single-family residential in order to build the church.

Senior Pastor Dan Lorentzen purchased the property more than a decade ago and donated the land to the church in 2020 for the purpose of building a permanent home for the congregation of 150 to 200 members.

At the time Lorentzen purchased the property, the site was zoned for residential use, which allows for places of worship. However, a 2019 rewrite of Davenport’s zoning codes and ordinances, intended to clarify permitted land uses for future development and improve some of the city’s older corridors, resulted in the property being reclassified as open space.

The new zoning designation prohibits most development, including places of worship.

“It was kind of a shock to us,” Lorentzen said of the 2019 zoning change.

As a result, Davenport’s Plan and Zoning Commission voted 5-3 last month recommending denial of Rock Church Ministries’ request, requiring an eight-vote super majority of the Davenport City Council to approve the rezoning.

The commission determined the proposed church is incompatible with the city’s future land use map, showing the area is intended for developed parks, recreation areas, golf courses and cemeteries.

Mt. Calvary Cemetery, Davenport Memorial Park, Pine Hill Cemetery and Mt. Nebo Cemetery are directly to the south and also zoned Open Space District.

City staff as well said the proposed rezoning “does not promote the orderly development of Davenport” in accordance with its comprehensive plan and adopted land use policies.

“The established character of the area south of 46th Street and west of the railroad tracts is predominately open space,” according to city staff. “While there is residential to the east of the site, there is a clear delineation of uses separated by the railroad tracks. Directly abutting the subject parcel to the north, west and south are undeveloped wooded areas and creeks. Removing vegetation to construct a building, off-street parking and an access drive to 46th Street will diminish the natural characteristics of the area.”

Davenport aldermen, the commission and city staff have also raised concerns of the church’s ability to suitably develop the steep, wooded property, which lacks any street access and lies near Deere Creek.

In order to develop the property, church will have to purchase additional property or create a new private easement along the west lot line for access to East 46th Street, according to city staff.

Arguello said the church is in the process of obtaining easement agreements from neighboring properties to facilitate access and extend utilities to the property.

He and Lorentzen said the church has raised shy of $40,000 of a $200,000 fundraising goal to proceed with construction of the estimated $1.5 million church project, with the church providing the remaining funding.

Some Davenport aldermen last week during council’s Committee of the Whole meeting also questioned whether the rezoning and extension of utilities would open adjoining wooded lots to the north to development.

Arguello said the operator of Davenport Memorial Park has expressed interest in redeveloping nearby properties to expand the cemetery, but has “expressed no interest in developing it for residential” use.

“I think this is a great project … and I hope your congregation continues to grow,” Alderman Ray Ambrose, Ward 4, told Arguello and Lorentzen at last week’s city council meeting.

While not rejecting the church’s request “on its face,” Alderman Kyle Gripp, at-large, said “there’s a lot of details that have to be worked through to make this a suitable development.”

“Obviously, there are some big concerns that have brought up by our staff and by P&Z,” Gripp said in an interview. “The question is do we really want development there?”

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