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On a split 5-4 vote, the Davenport Plan and Zoning Commission voted Monday in favor of rezoning land along 53rd Street to make way for Iowa's first Portillo's restaurant. 

Despite opposition from around 60 neighbors, the board recommended rezoning 6.5 acres, south of East 53rd Street and east of Lorton Avenue, from a residential corridor to a planned development district. The property is south of the new Costco Wholesale, which is expected to open in October. Now, the Plan and Zoning Commission will submit its recommendation to the city council.

Developer William Torchia said plans include two drive-thru restaurants, a dine-in only restaurant and a retail building with more than 340 parking spaces. The 8,964-square-foot Portillo’s restaurant would anchor the development and share a signalized intersection with Costco. Nine homes would be acquired and a portion of Fairhaven Road would be vacated for a second entrance into the development.

Thousands of residents have been waiting for the Chicago-style hot dog chain to arrive in the Quad-Cities for years. But others, who live near the proposed development and have already had to grapple with Costco opening in their neighborhood, have concerns. They voiced opinions about the deteriorating and often-flooded Lorton Avenue and Fairhaven Road, increased traffic, a loss of bus stops and safety risks.

“These roadways (Lorton and Fairhaven) were built when this area was unincorporated and therefore not to city standards,” city planner Ryan Rusnak  said. “We would look at those concerns regarding maintenance of infrastructure. There’s a big difference between just rezoning this property to commercial and saying we’ll develop it with city code, and there being plenty of safeguards in the plan that make this a neighborhood-compatible development.”

Eric Longlett, city engineering manager, said there are no current plans to repave the roads or fix drainage issues. The developer’s plans include two underground stormwater detention systems, with outflow headed toward the Fairhaven Road right-of-way ditch, and then the Lorton Avenue right-of-way ditch. Rusnak said Costco water run-off also heads to Lorton Avenue.

Nearly all of the residents who are opposed have cited standing water and flooding issues, arguing the drainage ditches have not been maintained for years. Neighbor Adam Brunner said the city should reinvest the tax dollars it would receive from the Portillo’s development to rebuild the adjacent roads and fix run-off issues. 

Bettendorf attorney Michael Meloy represents around a dozen neighbors who filed a petition against the proposal. Meloy submitted a letter, saying residents would withdraw their petition if the city takes the following steps: vacate the area south of 53rd Street and Lorton Avenue and install a cul-de-sac; repave Lorton Avenue and Fairhaven Road; install a three-way stop at 51st Street and Lorton Avenue; install speed bumps on Lorton Avenue; prohibit commercial trucks from using Lorton Avenue or Fairhaven Road.

Many concerns were left unaddressed. But the developer hired Traffic Impact Group to study the potential increase in traffic with both Costco and Portillo’s opening. Using last year’s Costco traffic study as a base, the group studied 53rd Street traffic in late June.

David Wright, Traffic Import Group, expects the Portillo’s development to add 414 new entering trips and 383 exiting trips during the weekday peak afternoon hours on 53rd Street. During Saturday peak hours, he said Portillo’s will add around 570 back-and-forth trips.

Several residents have argued the development will push more traffic to adjacent streets, plus closing a portion of Fairhaven Road will divert traffic to the deteriorating Lorton Avenue. The study shows closing Fairhaven could add around 17 more vehicles on Lorton during the weekday peak hours and 12 more vehicles on Saturdays.

While Rusnak argued the study shows a minimal traffic impact on Lorton Avenue and Fairhaven Road, residents felt otherwise.

“This traffic study was thrown together in less than seven days’ time and the traffic study is fatally flawed,” Meloy said. “The traffic study, of course, is going to tell you everything is good and rosy and there’s no problems with traffic that will be generated by this development. We believe this is false and misleading. We believe this particular development will cause traffic jams and traffic back-ups.”

Even the handful of residents who spoke in favor of the development requested road and drainage improvements. Next, the city council will hear the rezoning recommendation.

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