Despite impassioned pleas from neighbors, the Davenport City Council voted 6-4 Wednesday night to approve St. Ambrose University's athletic complex rezoning request.
“We’ve spent four years listening and studying and designing this complex,” said Mike Poster, the university’s vice president of finance. “It’s very gratifying that we got approval tonight.”
He added that the university is committed to continue to work with neighbors surrounding the St. Vincent’s property.
Betzy McLeland, who lives on Gaines Street, said she was disappointed in the vote but said she believes that neighbors did all that they could over the last six weeks to make their case.
"We'll continue to participate in the process," she said. "I think we owe it to the city to educate them on the important risks involved (in this project)."
Alderman Mike Matson, 7th Ward, unsuccessfully moved to table the vote until a committee could be formed to explore other location options for the project.
Alderman Jason Gordon, at large, debated whether to abstain from voting because he works for the Quad-Cities Chamber of Commerce.
"The chamber did submit a letter to us (city council) prior to when my employment started," he said.
When there is a concern about conflict of interest, he said, the city's code of conduct on conflict of interest gives guidance.
Since neither he nor the chamber stand to gain or lose anything through the vote, "the code of ethics allows me to vote this evening."
St. Ambrose is requesting that a portion of the St. Vincent’s property be rezoned from moderate density dwelling district to a planned institutional district, or PID, so it can build an athletic complex that will include a 2,500-seat football stadium and track, along with parking and other athletic fields.
There are 23 conditions — such as making sanitary storm sewer improvements — that the university must fulfill as the project moves forward.
Around 170 people packed the small council chambers Wednesday night. Those who could not fit in the room stood in the hall.
Sixty-five speakers marched up to the microphone to make a last-minute plea to aldermen.
“This complex is essential as we look to the future of St. Ambrose and its vitality,” one of the first speakers, university president Sister Joan Lescinski, told aldermen.
Many of the speakers opposed the project and, as they have at other meetings, cited concerns about traffic, noise, littering, lights and stormwater runoff.
Jim Welch, chairman of the Neighborhood Relations Council and one of the most outspoken opponents of the project, said neighbors have hired Bettendorf attorney Mike Meloy and are “willing to consider legal action to stop the university.”
Welch said a decision on legal action likely won’t be made until Mayor Bill Gluba decides whether or not to veto the ordinance.
If Gluba wants to veto it, he would have 14 days to do so via a written communication to aldermen, according to City attorney Tom Warner.
Aldermen then would have 30 days to override the veto, which would take a two-thirds majority, Warner said.
Meloy, the first speaker of the night, reiterated neighbors’ position that they are not opposed to the stadium. Instead, they disagree with the proposed location.
“Opposition to (the project), as you can see it from tonight’s turnout, grows daily,” Meloy said.
Poster said before the meeting that if the request was approved, the university would hire an architect to finalize the plan. All plans would need to be approved by Davenport city staff.
Phase I of the $25 million project would begin with the practice fields, he said.
"We would like to start in the fall, if possible, but we'll begin no later than the spring of 2015," Poster said.
The stadium would be phased in over time due to fundraising, he added. The university would like to have the field and track started in 2016. The earliest football would be played at the stadium would be in 2017, provided it is completed.
Poster told aldermen that St. Ambrose has worked with the neighbors and the city to address all the concerns about noise, safety, stormwater runoff and sewer issues during the four years it has taken to design the project.
For neighbors, he said, the stormwater situation will be better once the university completes the project.
“You have problems; we’re offering you solutions,” he said.
Davenport resident Kevin O’Brien said the university demonstrated its unwillingness to compromise with neighbors by not offering a “Plan B.”
“They’ve only offered 31 flavors or conditions of a Plan A that gives them all they want and, the neighbors, nothing that they want,” said O’Brien said.