Proposed Bettendorf comprehensive plan truly would be a game-changer for city development

The proposed "Premiering Bettendorf" comprehensive plan – unveiled at a public meeting this week (4/14) – truly would be a game-changer for community development if adopted as is by the city council.

For starters, the plan would replace the more than two dozen very specific land zoning classifications with three broad land use categories using low- to high-density classifications.

Such a reformatting of zoning would make it much easier for mixed use developments, and, as the plan argues, much better for creation of walkable neighborhoods in the city. Ground floor commercial/office buildings with residential units on the upper floors would be more likely to be acceptable. Higher density apartments or condominium developments could be mixed with single-family or commercial uses more easily than under current classifications tied to zoning of specific parcels.

The majority of land in the city, under the proposed re-write, would fall into three main categories: urban-low intensity, urban-medium intensity and urban-high intensity. The so-called Development Character Areas (DCA) are defined as geographic areas in the city where land uses share common characteristics, such as density, design and types of uses. Some DCAs would allow multiple types of land uses, while others would be predominantly one use.

Urban-low intensity is defined as an area with urban services, including relatively low-density residential and neighborhood commercial and service uses. Urban-medium intensity would be medium-density residential and neighborhood and community commercial, office and service uses. Urban-high intensity would be medium- and high-density residential use along with major commercial, office and service uses, and limited industrial use in "suitable locations."

Other main "zoning" elements include "neighborhood commercial," those commercial developments serving a single city neighbhorhood, and "community commercial," area "dominated by major community and regional commercial developments" with high traffic impact. Remaining land uses categories would include industrial, business park, civic/public, urban reserve, environmental conservation, open space/parks and rural/agriculture.

Here's how the proposed plan defines why more flexible land use designations are needed:

"Compatibility in multiple-use districts can be attained in a more nuanced way by focusing more on the performance (effects) of various uses and designing regulations that allow for more integration of uses. If carefully done, the integration of uses can be achieved so that commute times become shorter, and neighborhoods become more walkable and interesting, all while preserving privacy, security and aesthetics."

If that sounds way too optimistic for developers and residents who see potential conflicts in having commercial and residential uses next to each other, the proposed plan points out "that while the intensity-based concept proposes mixing uses, it does not mean that every land use is appropriate everywhere. Location standards and compatibility requirements for higher impact uses are an important part of the land use system proposed in this plan."

Beyond the significant shift in land use/zoning regulations, the proposal calls for two shifts in residential subdivision development sure to trigger concern, if not outright howls, from developers and homebuilder groups.

The first would require developers of subdivisions to dedicate land for parks. Several other cities, notably Iowa City and West Des Moines, currently require such set asides for housing subdivisions.

However, local developers have objected to state requirements to retain four inches of topsoil on residential lots citing increased costs to them and the eventual homebuyers. Setting aside land, or requiring financial contributions for park land acquisition, would add far more cost to subdivision development than the 4-inch topsoil requirement.

Another item sure to trigger developer criticism is a recommendation to move away from the use of cul-de-sacs in the layout of future residential subdivisions. Dead-end cul-de-sacs make garbage collection, snow removal and other city services much more costly to provide, but they are much loved by developers who can obtain premium prices for homes built on streets with little traffic.

Also impacting developers is the plan's directive the city be involved in locating streets in/through subdivisions, rather than the current practice of leaving such matters to each developer to create a subdivision street layout, usually involving no through streets and as many cul-de-sacs as possible.

On the flip side, developers should like the recommendation the city consider reducing the size of residential lots from the current 70- or 75-foot frontage to a 50-foot frontage in order to enable the construction of more moderately priced homes for young people and older adults.

Also encouraging for riverfront advocates – including most of those much sought-after millenials age group – is the plan's recognition the city does not currently have a "vibrant" riverfront as proclaimed each year in city mission statements.

The new comp plan offers a host of recommendations to redevelop the downtown and riverfront in conjunction with the realignment of Interstate 74 and construction of the new I-74 bridge, from landscaping of riverfront recreation trails to better pedestrian connections from the downtown to the riverfront and aesthetic improvements to downtown streets.

Demolition of two city-owned buildings next to Leach Park is recommended by the plan, along with expansion of the riverfront park and designation of city-owned land (including the old lime pile property) for public-private development projects like a farmer's market and high-rise residential units.

The plan needs approval from the planning and zoning commission and then the city council. If the new land-use classifications are approved, a comprehensive re-write of the city code pertaining to zoning would follow.

To download a complete draft of the "Premiering Bettendorf" comprehensive plan, CLICK HERE.

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