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Opening a new neighborhood bar could become more difficult

Quad-City TImes

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    DAVENPORT, Iowa (Quad-City Times) — A temporary pause on the opening of new neighborhood bars in certain parts of Davenport in an effort to crack down on nuisance establishments could become permanent.

Davenport aldermen will meet Wednesday to consider approving the first of three readings of a proposed ordinance amending various city zoning codes.

Among the recommended changes is removing bars and minor vehicle repair services as a special use in neighborhood commercial zoning districts, mainly clustered along Locust, Harrison, Brady and Washington streets and parts of Rockingham Road.

Existing neighborhood bars would not be impacted by the zoning change. They would be considered legal nonconforming grandfathered uses, said Laura Berkley, city development and planning administrator.

Berkley noted the proposed zoning changes would not preclude the opening of restaurants that serve alcohol. For example, Iron + Grain Coffee House of East Moline plans to open a new location in June in what was a former Wells Fargo bank branch at 1618 North Main St., serving breakfast and lunch, coffee, tea, specialty drinks, beer and wine.

“There’s other, more family-friendly and neighborhood friendly ways to do a bar,” Berkley said. “Something that is for the whole neighborhood and not just the population that is able to drink, and so they provide a service to the entire neighborhood.”

The proposed ordinance would make an exception for re-establishing bars in certain neighborhood commercial areas, such as the Hilltop Campus Village

Small business owners could open new drinking establishments in commercial spaces that once held a class C liquor license in the last 10 years, Berkley said. Owners would have until July 1, 2031 to re-establish eligible neighborhood bars. The areas include Harrison Street from 14th Street to Locust Street; Washington Street from 14th Street to Locust Street; and West Locust Street from Fillmore to Division streets.

“There are some vacancies, particularly on Harrison, for space that had been bars,” Berkley said. “We don’t want to punish those areas” that are more commercialized and have traditionally accommodated bars.

Davenport aldermen in January approved a moratorium until July 13 on special use permits for bars and minor vehicle repair services in neighborhood commercial districts, as well as the conversion of single-family residences to duplexes in residential areas. The latter would also become permanent under the proposed zoning changes. New construction of two-family homes would still be permitted.

Davenport officials rewrote the city’s zoning laws in 2019, aimed in part at reducing the prevalence of bars and retail alcohol sales along certain commercial corridors “to enhance neighborhood compatibility.”

However, Aldermen Marion Meginnis, Ward 3, and Rick Dunn, Ward 1, have argued special-use permits have created a loophole that renders the new zoning code ineffective.

The permits, granted by the city’s five-member, quasi-judicial Zoning Board of Adjustment, provide exceptions for specified uses otherwise prohibited by the city’s zoning code.

Meginnis has argued the special exceptions have led to problematic businesses operating in close proximity to homes, creating a nuisance.

Scott Tunnicliff, executive director of the Hilltop Campus Village, supports the zoning changes.

“It’s been made evident that the potential to … rezone (residential areas) for the sale of liquor has become prevalent,” Tunnicliff said. “And that there’s a lot of people who think that that’s not a good idea — that it generally leads to a deterioration of neighborhoods. That’s why this concept of (specific carve outs for) a neighborhood bar is a worthwhile praise, because neighborhood bars are social centers. They are gathering points.”

Tunnicliff said the Hilltop has a cluster of five properties along Harrison Street that were formerly saloons, “but we’d like to have the option to have one or two of them to be able to apply again” for a liquor license.

“Practically speaking, neighborhood bars are an important component of the amenity base of any community,” Tunnicliff said. “We don’t want to limit former bars in their creative re-use. (But), we’re not crazy about having residential areas become saloons.”

Alderman Matt Dohrmann, Ward 5, who represents the Village of East of Davenport and parts of the Hilltop Campus Village, echoed Tunnicliff.

“Overall, I think it’s a great compromise to address the concerns … (that) some neighborhood bars not being the best neighbors within residential areas,” Dohrmann said.

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