There's a way around a wholesale rewrite of Davenport's zoning rules, now under fire because of the city's short-lived shuttering of Timothy's House of Hope.
Make the church-run homeless center get a special use permit.
Emotion hijacked the policy debate about Timothy's and its new site in northwest Davenport. The blame falls to a member of Davenport City Council who just couldn't resist belittling the poor.
But at its core, the real issue is one of proper zoning. It's about neighborhood input. It's about upholding appropriate oversight of fire and food safety code.
Davenport regulators shuttered Timothy's because it offered food service, which, as of 2012, no longer squared with Washington Street's C-2 commercial zoning. The classist rants of a certain elected official doesn't change that.
Businesses owners within a stone's throw of Timothy's have concerns. And at present, their only course of action is to issue general gripes to the City Council, as the city mulls retroactively legalizing the food operation at Timothy's. They're left asking questions about how this would all play out once Timothy's resumed operations, potentially as early as Monday morning.
The council must balance two equally important matters here. Timothy's House of Hope serves an important and noble function. But it's also true that, as with most zoning changes, nearby property owners have a vested interest in what's going on up the block. Property values, by and large, are a function of neighborhood.
The special use permit process is well established. It would guarantee a full vetting and a forum for a necessary community conversation in front of the Davenport Zoning Board of Appeals. And perhaps of greatest import, it would ensure that Timothy's House of Hope doesn't receive special treatment not afforded to other organizations, religious or not.
The operators of Timothy's, Compassion Church, would have a strong case in such a forum. The building it now occupies was formerly Mohassan Grotto, which operated a kitchen and then some. The site's recent history should bode well for Timothy's if it were to seek a site-specific exemption from existing zoning.
The special use permit would require Timothy's to adhere to fire and occupancy regulations. It would be contingent on the facility meeting basic standards of upkeep and maintenance. It could dictate hours of operation. It would exist only as long as Timothy's inhabits 1602 Washington St. and keeps its kitchen running. And it would leave Timothy's the option to adjust its operations in the future and simply seek a new permit.
What's now proposed is tantamount to taking a framing hammer to a deck screw. Blunt force isn't always the answer. The special use permit is the appropriate tool here.
Unfortunately, an elected official's crassness sent the reasonable conservation about Timothy's and its place in the community off the rails. It's imperative that Davenport City Council segregate the ugly rhetoric from the policy at hand.
Conflating the two does no one any good. But that's what's now happening as the City Council considers rewriting its zoning code in order to accommodate one organization.
It's an unnecessary overreaction when a better solution already exists.
Correction: The original draft misidentified which board would handle a special use permit application. It would go before Davenport's Zoning Board of Appeals, not Plan and Zoning Commission.