Palmer College of Chiropractic's plans for major campus improvements will advance to the Davenport City Council despite objections from two Fair Housing Act experts.
The Plan and Zoning Commission has unanimously recommended the approval to rezone more than 38 acres near Palmer's campus to a Planned Institutional District subject to six conditions.
Palmer's master plan envisions $50 million in campus investments over the next 10 years to help make it more competitive in the "arm's race" that campus facilities have become.
Prior to Tuesday's decision by the commission, Palmer's application to rezone the land into a PID had been tabled since Sept. 5 so that a disparate impact analysis could be completed.
Disparate impact is when policies appear to be neutral, but in reality impact a protected group disproportionately.
The city of Davenport awarded the contract for the analysis to Mosaic Community Planning at a cost of $11,680. It found that Palmer's plans to tear down 12 historic properties would not have a disparate impact.
After the analysis was completed, it was sent to the Civil Rights Commission for review, but two experts, including one whose legal review article was cited in the analysis, found the study to have its faults.
"There are significant racial/ethnic disparities between the student and non-student segments of the (planned institutional district) population," Calvin Bradford wrote in notes provided to the Davenport Civil Rights Commission. "That is, the PID represents two distinct impacts for two very different populations. The Mosaic report fails to develop a separate minority percentage for the current non-student population that is the only segment of the population negatively impacted by the PID."
Jack Cann, an attorney with the Housing Justice Council in St. Paul, Minnesota, also found "There are several problems with the analysis and the conclusion that there is no disparate impact. The argument that there is no disparate impact is clearly flawed and I don't believe the analysis includes sufficient data to permit a conclusion."
While the PID process was more work than Palmer expected, Chancellor Dennis Marchiori thanked city staff for going through the process and said the investment would be significant.
"At every turn, the city's planning staff have demonstrated the commitment to an objective process, one we can be very proud of, open communication as we are seeing this evening and professionalism," Marchiori said. "The Palmer community is certainly excited about our planned changes and improvements. We think these improvements are going to be embraced by everyone."
Outside of Marchiori's comments, the lone support voiced Tuesday came from Hilltop Campus Village Director Scott Tunnicliff.
Most of the comments made during Tuesday's meeting asked for the commission to pump the brakes on sending forward its recommendation.
Olivia Williams, an affordable housing scholar and professor at Augustana College in Rock Island, said Palmer's project worried her because she had seen similar projects elsewhere cause detriment.
Williams mentioned that Mosaic completed an analysis in Tallahassee, Florida, and years after development, businesses were displaced and affordable housing decreased.
Besides questioning the Mosaic analysis's conclusions, Civil Rights Director Latrice Lacey brought up the need for procedural changes since renters were not informed of the hearings and were not provided notice to voice how they would be impacted.
Community activist John De Taeye also worried Palmer's PID would become a template that other large institutions would use to eat up Davenport's central city.
De Taeye specifically mentioned Palmer, St. Ambrose University and Genesis Medical System, which has acquired 36 acres of property in his neighborhood but has not yet triggered the need for a PID.
"Someone would have to be blind or not aware of Davenport's history to say that this does not have a disparate impact," De Taeye said.
Despite the Plan and Zoning Commission's decision, the Davenport Civil Rights Commission will discuss the analysis at its Feb. 13 meeting.