Timothy's House of Hope

Timothy's House of Hope, a community meal site, relocated to 1602 Washington St., Davenport.

The battle between the city of Davenport and Timothy's House of Hope appears to be over.

Timothy's House of Hope will reopen its doors at 8 a.m. Monday after the city of Davenport agreed not to enforce the current zoning regulations while it changes the scope of its Planned Institutional District–Housing and Supporting Services zoning law, its attorney said.

Attorney Mike Meloy, representing Pastor Jim Swope and Compassion Church, confirmed the development after meeting Tuesday with Building Inspector Manager Mike McGee and Davenport Fire Marshal Mike Hayman.

Timothy's House of Hope, a ministry within Compassion Church, recently moved from 1407 W. 4th St. to 1602 Washington St., but because of zoning issues, the city issued a cease-and-desist order on April 19 after it found the ministry was offering services that were not covered under the property's C-2, General Commercial District, zoning.

Its previous building also was zoned C-2, but in 2012, the city passed a code amendment and Timothy's was grandfathered in.

While Davenport issued the cease-and-desist order on April 19, internal emails between the Community Planning and Economic Development Department and Public Works showed that the city knew of the prospect of a zoning problem a week in advance.

After a meeting with Pastor Nick Cantwell during the afternoon of April 18 to discuss occupancy and uses, the city thought that Timothy's House of Hope's "primary function is to provide services to the homeless."

The decision to the issue the cease-and-desist order sparked criticism from the community directed at city staff and 4th Ward Alderman Ray Ambrose, who opposed Timothy's House of Hope's presence on Washington Street and made remarks about its clientele that many deemed insensitive.

Throughout the process, Ambrose has cited his desire to protect the neighborhood after he received complaints from his constituents.

Although current issues persist in the neighborhood, Ambrose said those illustrate how fragile the neighborhood is and that it cannot take much more.

Within the council, Aldermen Mike Matson, 7th Ward, and Maria Dickmann, 2nd Ward, were caught off-guard by the city's decision and questioned City Administrator Corri Spiegel why the council was not consulted in emails on April 20.

In an email to Matson, Spiegel responded, "The Ward Alderman was the source of the complaint and has been directly involved. If there is an expectation for the entire Council to be advised of every operational issue in each ward, perhaps a Council-level discussion is in order."

The following day, Alderwoman Rita Rawson, 5th Ward, asked Mayor Frank Klipsch, Spiegel and City Attorney Tom Warner if they intended to speak to Ambrose about his comments.

Ambrose wrote in an email to his fellow aldermen that the "Council should consider allowing Timothy's House of Hope to do homeless outreach in City Hall and the River's Edge along with converting (the Rhythm City Casino) barge into a homeless center. This would be much easier on the good people sleeping in the park shelter and behind the band shell on our beautiful river front."

As to offering an apology, Ambrose told Rawson, "Don't hold your breath," but after hearing about the stories about how the church has helped those in need, he somewhat changed his tune.

"That had a big impression on me," Ambrose said. "It wasn't a threat of a suit or some comments an alderman made. My heart goes out to these people."

During a work session, members of the council asked staff to look into making changes to the zoning ordinance so that issues like this would not arise again.

Ambrose sought clarification from Warner, who wrote in an email that "my direction to staff is/was to hold off on enforcement while the change winds through the process. There is no real justice in enforcing a zoning law that will soon be changed. Recently, as the Urban Chicken Ordinance was winding through its process, we were not prosecuting those who came forward and confessed to already having chickens."

While Ambrose offered an apology to Timothy's House of Hope during the City Council's May 3 meeting, he took aim at his colleagues the following day after several businesses and residents spoke about the potential impact on their neighborhood.

"Last night we listened to several business owners on Washington Street, pleading to this Council their fears this will destroy their businesses and neighborhood," Ambrose wrote in an email. "Now the zoning is being compared to the chicken zoning, so a tax exempt nonprofit can be given special consideration! How can we except any recognition from the state for being supportive of small businesses, when Council members turn their backs to long time businesses pleading for help and support."

After Tuesday's decision by the city, Ambrose was left disappointed, not by the church, but by the actions of the City Council and his perception that businesses on Washington Street are being discriminated against.

"I think to be given direction at a work session is not supposed to be done," Ambrose said. "To give the poor staff direction by not standing up to the plate and to ignore a zoning ordinance against the pleas of the businesses is not right.

"At best, it's unethical. At worst, it's illegal."

As Ambrose promised earlier in the day, he brought up the subject during Wednesday's City Council meeting, which also featured comments from business owners upset by the city's actions.

Business owner Rick Piatt said the church did not do its due diligence when purchasing the property and called it a bad fit given the presence of a liquor store across the street.

"Is that going to help them on their recovery when they walk out the door and found God and here's the devil right across the street?" Piatt said.

Piatt, along with James Gross, also told the Council about what they had to do in order to get their businesses up and running.

Business owner Karen Elfman-Gross followed and told the Council it was promoting confusion because the enforcement of zoning regulations applied to some businesses, but not others.

"All of the businesses on historic Washington Street have had to adhere to zoning ordinances and codes in order to open and operate our businesses," Elfman-Gross said. "We followed the rules. Timothy's House of Hope did not follow zoning ordinances and codes even though they are aware of them having opened sites elsewhere in Davenport."