Posted Online: Feb. 26, 2013, 10:51 pm

EM zoning commission approves rezoning land for BHC student housing

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By Anthony Watt,

The East Moline's planning and zoning commission on Tuesday approved rezoning land to help Black Hawk College develop student housing.

BHC is planning a 114-bed, three-story student apartment complex by Bluffstone adjacent to its Parking Lot 4 at the Quad-Cities campus north of 34th Avenue.

The approval shifts the zoning for 39 acres of the location from R-2 (one-family) to R-4 (one- to six-family), according to a report provided for the meeting. R-4 can be used for student housing, described in the report as a "student dormitory."

The vote was 6-1, with commissioner Greg Aguilar casting the dissenting vote. Commissioner Jeff Cornelius was not present. Commissioner Don Sproul listened by speaker phone but, because he was not physically present, could not vote or contribute toward a quorum.

Before the vote, the commissioners heard from a number of people who said they live near the area. None spoke in favor of the project, instead raising concerns over noise; health and safety issues, the potential of student residents creating a nuisance or trespassing and the city's police, firefighters and utilities' abilities to handle the addition. With rental properties near BHC, it was asked if the housing was needed.

Kelly Young, of Bluffstone, and BHC Trustee David Emerick attempted to address the concerns. They said the apartments only would be for single students -- not families or couples -- and the student residents would have to meet a grade point average minimum, Ms. Young said.

Staff and resident assistants will be present at the facility, she said, and there are discussions about an office for the Black Hawk College Police Department being incorporated into the structure.

Bluffstone will pay to extend utilities to the site, she said, and some sort of noise barrier is being consider.

Tim Kammler, the city's director of engineering, said East Moline's services can handle the additional demand. He said there are hundreds of feet of woodland between the site and the neighborhoods to the east and west, although neither he nor Ms. Young could say how many trees would be removed by the project.

Mr. Emerick said BHC had been, and will continue to be, a good neighbor. BHC currently places students in surrounding rentals, he said, but there are not enough to meet the need.

The potential of at least one other apartment building has been discussed as part of Black Hawk's revamp of its master plan, but only in a very preliminary way, Ms. Young said.

After Tuesday's meeting, Bill Floyd, who lives west of the proposed site, said he thought there were spots on campus that would work better.

"We're definitely not happy with it for the simple reason that it is in our back yard," he said.

At its Monday night meeting, the Black Hawk College Board of Trustees voted to transfer the land for the project into the keeping of the college foundation for the Quad-Cities campus.State law prohibits a community college from owning or operating student housing, so the foundation must contract with Bluffstone.

Originally, BHC and Bluffstone proposed a site on BHC property in Moline west of BHC Building 3. That was changed when Moline aldermen failed to adopt the total tax abatement package Bluffstone said it needed for the project.

A similar abatement request recently received tentative approval at an East Moline committee-of-the-whole meeting. It must still be presented at a city council meeting.

If it receives final approval, the abatement will be over 10 years with no property tax being paid the first six years and incremental increases during the next four until the abatement expires.