Leave it alone

It is hard to fully appreciate why the Storm Lake Planning and Zoning Commission is so committed to declaring a block between Methodist Manor and Buena Vista University as “institutional.” The block along Lighthouse Drive, facing Scout Park, is a mix of nice homes and a BVU parking lot. The neighbors want the current residential zoning to stay as it is. Methodist Manor actually prefers the residential designation over institutional. If it were to expand, Methodist Manor will build to the west where the old hospital wing once stood.

So there really is no reason for the zoning change, other than it appeared to make sense on paper.

The proposal initially was to rezone the entire block as institutional. The commission relented in the face of neighborhood opposition to draw in only property owned by BVU as “institutional.” The rest of the block would remain “residential.”

The city council had questions about mixed use on a single block. It sent the plan back to the P&Z to clean it up. The commission responded by bouncing the plan back to the council with no changes.

City officials say neither BVU nor Methodist Manor has intentions to build something on that block. If the university had plans to build something on that block it would have to seek a zoning change. This would allow the immediate neighbors to at least have some forum to voice their concerns or assent. Their present fear is that something could happen that would depreciate their property value or even prevent them from getting a mortgage.

The most important reason to leave the block alone is because of the homeowners. They have showed up at public meetings and made reasonable arguments about why the block should remain residential. We have not heard the same arguments for why it should be changed to institutional, other than that a consultant thought it would be more orderly and the commission agreed.

If the change goes through, a skeptical neighbor could think something is cooking or cooked. It will tell them that their voices are not greater than those not heard. It will suggest that the park, the street and the block will become some sort of institutional zone down the line. People will smell something, and their noses might not be wrong.

The City of Storm Lake has bent over backwards for all non-profit institutions. We are certain that if an institution were to buy all the properties on that block the city council would not stand in the way of development. The people of Storm Lake have sustained these institutions through the hardest of times and have cheered on every step of progress east and west of Lighthouse Drive. Just leave that one block alone until all the ducks are in a row.

The city council should amend the zoning map to leave that block residential. Period.

Too little too late

“You shall not oppress the stranger, for you know the soul of the stranger because you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23:9)

Religious leaders are starting to pressure House Speaker John Boehner to move on comprehensive immigration reform despite the Republican leader declaring such legislation dead for this year. It’s about time, but the effort is likely to be too little too late.

Evangelical and Roman Catholic clergy awoke from their long slumber this week. The Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference over the weekend urged its 16 million members to call their congressperson urging action. The US Council of Catholic Bishops on Wednesday wrote a letter to Boehner in the same vein. Boehner’s office responded by saying that while it is a nice idea, House Republicans don’t trust President Obama to enforce the law. Hence, there is no sense in the effort.

Possibly the Speaker would not be so cavalier had the clerics done something when it mattered. Boehner was allowed to be outflanked on his right by the likes of Rep. Steve King with no cover from the church.

There have been no prayer vigils of which we are aware in Storm Lake, Denison or Sioux City, where large numbers of undocumented immigrants and their children live. No candles lit for the dead and dying in the Sonora Desert, or the 11 dead inside a hot freight train at Denison. No marches on the offices of the congressmen in Iowa who stand in the way of succor for the least among us. No letters to the newspapers or opinions from the pulpit urging New Testament justice.

Where have they been? How committed are they?

Other issues took priority.

It is never too late to make things right. So we are encouraged that religious leaders are identifying the suffering among us and are trying to do something about it. Change may come, but probably not in Boehner’s time.