WINDSOR HEIGHTS, Iowa – To be clear, residents along Carpenter Avenue like Layna Shield aren’t upset the Windsor Heights Lutheran Church next-door is expanding.
“It’ll do a lot of good, we don’t begrudge that,” said Shield.
But the $4.5 million dollar expansion project – approved by the city – includes a new driveway off Carpenter Avenue. That violates the city’s zoning code, according to resident Mickey Neily, who says the code requires a 10-foot “buffer yard” between the commercial and residential properties.
“It should be free of access-way(s) and paved area,” she said. “It says very clearly.”
Residents Neily and Shield represent a group along the avenue who want to see the city correct what they believe is a mistake. A buffer yard would require landscaping, serving as a “barrier” between the church facility and the avenue. They say it would prevent devaluation of their property, remove the “eye-sore” they currently see from their front doors, and make the residential street safer.
“We already had increased traffic on Wednesdays and Sundays,” said Shield. “And now, for us, it’s just going to increase tremendously because it’s a 300-person event facility.”
Shield says it’s not just going to create more traffic from those who frequent the new church parking lot; the driveway now connects Carpenter Avenue with a shopping center on the other side of the church. These residents say they’re concerned their street will become a “short-cut” of sorts to get to that shopping area.
“We’ll have increased non-residential traffic in a small, residential street,” said Neily.
And for Shield, who has three small children – all who enjoy riding their bikes up and down the street – she just wants a buffer yard to replace the driveway.
“It’s a safety concern for us, basically,” she said.
The city originally defended the driveway as crucial for the new facility to meet fire code; it allows 360-degree access to the building. But the concerned neighbors countered that argument with the fact that other new buildings in Windsor Heights, like Hy-Vee and Re/Max, don’t have that 360-degree access, and they are considered within fire code.
“I appreciate the ability to get all the way around the building, but I don’t appreciate that it would have met fire code without putting this driveway in,” said Shield.
Neily, Shield, and a few others from the neighborhood brought their concerns to a city council meeting last Monday. Before then, they said they kept getting the run-around from city officials on the dispute. After presenting their case, they asked the council what the next move would be. Neily says City Administrator, Jeff Fiegenschuh, told her group he would speak with the city attorney and get back to them the following day. According to Neily, she hasn’t received a call since.
“I’m disappointed,” she said. “And I just feel that now they are hiding behind the city attorney.”
We reached out to both the church and the city for comment. Neither wanted to speak with us on-camera, but the church assured us everything they’ve done was pre-approved by the city. City Administrator Jeff Fiegenschuh said the city feels it’s a neighborhood issue.
But Neily and Shield say it’s not a neighborhood issue – it’s a city issue, and they want it corrected.
“I’m not here to point fingers,” Neily said. “There was an error made, and I would just like them to implement the buffer yard requirement.”
Neily and Shield say they’d like to work with the church and the city to find a solution, but at the very last resort, they would consider hiring an attorney.