The first reading of an ordinance to rezone a property intended as a faith-based boardinghouse for formerly incarcerated women may have passed by a 9-1 vote, but it has left members of the Davenport City Council asking questions.
Women in Spiritual Hope, or WISH, Ministries has petitioned to rezone a property on the 5200 block of Division Street to help women get back on their feet and offer a second chance at life.
"We are trying to get this house ready to house women, post incarceration, that have no where else to go," executive director and co-founder Lynn Johnson said during Wednesday's council meeting. "They will not be awarded from court systems."
The boardinghouse could have operated under the current R-4 zoning, Moderate Density Dwelling District, to some extent, but the petitioners were seeking rezoning to R-5M, Medium Density Dwelling District, in order to accommodate more potential clients.
The concept of the boardinghouse is for women coming out of incarceration for nonviolent crimes, such as drug use or prostitution, to apply to live at the home on a 1-year contract. They would be there voluntarily and not placed by any court system.
Johnson said there would be a check-in and check-out system and clients would not be allowed to leave without being accompanied by either a staff member or a friend, even to employment.
Visitors would not be allowed at the home, but various types of programs and services would be brought there for the benefit of clients. In total, the proposal would house one housemother and six clients.
Johnson, who co-founded the ministry less that two years ago, said she saw there was a need for this type of service based on her work in jails. While similar programs exist, she said there were a lack of ones that focus on women's issues.
"We have not done this outreach before," Johnson said. "It's based out of a jail ministry I do and a need that I've seen for the girls in the jail ministry out of Rock Island and Scott County. We based it from reading a book called 'Miss Brenda and the Loveladies,' where she did this exact home down in Arizona and is still working today."
The Lovelady Center Johnson was referring to is located in Birmingham, Alabama.
Sandra Folland, speaking on behalf of her mother, Shirley, who lives a few feet from the boundary line, raised a number of questions including the enforcement of the contract of potential tenants.
"Since this has nothing to do with law enforcement or anything, what does this contract mean?" Folland said. "You can't contain people. Only the law can contain people."
With Shirley Folland expressing concerns during the Plan and Zoning Commission hearings last month about safety, given that the boardinghouse is seeking to house convicts, Sandra also questioned the effectiveness of requiring only a 6-foot fence based upon the terrain.
"You'd almost have to have a 15-20 foot fence for those people to not be looking to my mom's house," Folland said.
Folland also noted that the area was seeing an increase in drug activity.
The Follands' comments caught the ear of Alderman Ray Ambrose, 4th Ward, who cast the lone dissenting vote.
"My concern is just like the neighbors'," Ambrose said. "I've watched for 12 years the 7th Judicial District's halfway house across from Central High School and they continue to have people walk away from that. Our police department is forced to go after them."
Johnson interrupted Ambrose to correct him that it was not a halfway house, but he continued speaking in favor of the neighborhood while thanking Johnson and the ministry for its efforts.
"The hardworking taxpayers pay their property taxes for almost 50 years and we have to be looking out for them first," Ambrose said.
In response to a general question of whether anyone would want this type of service in their neighborhood, Alderwoman Maria Dickmann, 2nd Ward, said she would love to have it to teach her daughter about the importance of second chances and investing in people.
The structure was originally built as a single family home before being converted into a duplex, but after seeing the property, 3rd Ward Alderman Marion Meginnis raised questions about the building's safety.
"I started to have questions not about the use, but about the conversion with bedrooms in a basement area that might not have egress out," Meginnis said. "If it became a rental, it would have be inspected and found safe for up to five adults. If it isn't a rental and goes to a different classification as a rooming house, is it subject to inspection?"
As alderman after alderman spoke, more and more questions arose, including about what type of licensing was needed.
"I think there's a lot of questions that need to be discussed and I'm very concerned if inspections were done," Alderman Mike Matson, 7th Ward, said.
City Attorney Tom Warner suggested that city staff report back to council at next week's committee-of-the-whole meeting on their inquiries.
While the council ultimately voted in favor of moving the process along, there are still two more readings of the ordinance, including four more weeks of discussion, before the rezoning could be approved.