Now, your first impression of this development may be mostly positive, because we all need economic growth, but the neighbors in the immediate area do not see it this way. The public hearing brought a plethora of neighborhood residents, and their claim that there had been a consistent transition of zoning patterns over the years on the south side of West Jefferson Boulevard. This new proposed development could bring additional restaurant or retail growth into their neighborhood, but would then expose the area to higher traffic congestion and noise and light pollution.
The currently tenants are a chiropractor, attorney, insurance and dental office that have what most people would consider, to be normal work hours. These businesses create minimal traffic, noise and lighting at night. All of these offices are considered C-1 zoning. The new proposal will require C-2 zoning to accommodate larger retail and restaurants, that would most likely increase the traffic, noise,and nighttime lighting. The question is: Would a C-2 ruling disrupt the existing pattern and set a dangerous precedent for other nearby parcels?
The applicant claims that if this proposal is passes, it is supported by various articles of Plan-It Allen, the City and County’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan. One opponent of the West Jefferson Project claims that one issue of adjacency in the plan, requires developments to follow a long, recognized pattern of adjacent growth.
There is precedent on both sides of this discussion. In the not too distant past, Brightpoint proposed a development in the West Rudisill residential area. It would have utilized some of the older dorms at the former Taylor University campus area. This would have been rezoning a residential area to C-2 usage. This development would have included 48 units of rental housing that would have been targeted at small business owners, entrepreneurs, artists and artisans. After 45 minutes of discussion, it was voted down 5-3 by City Council because it may have interfered with the existing residential neighborhood in existence for many years. Councilman Geoff Paddock, who represents the 5th District put it succinctly, “If investors are saying they would only invest in a project with proper zoning, the project should be zoned in the proper zone.”
Another recent major zoning change that deserves attention was the relocation of the Fort Wayne Rescue Mission. For the Rescue Mission to change locations from its current location on Superior Street to the new location on the southwest corner of Lafayette and Washington, there had to be a zoning change. This change was to occur from Downtown Edge to Downtown Core. Opponents of the Mission relocating claimed that stretching the zoning of Downtown Core to the south side of Lafayette would be intrusive to the Downtown Edge zoning of the city and have a negative effect on the residential housing in the southeast central corridor. Opponents also said this relocation and change of zoning would go against the overall Downtown Comprehensive Plan. Advocates claimed the mission would now be closer to other social service agencies in the immediate downtown area and this location would be best for future occupants of the facility. This measure, heavily debated, was eventually recommended by the City Plan Commission, then was approved by a 5-2 vote at City Council.
The re-zoning of these and many more areas bring up many significant questions. What will the final decision be for the neighbors of the undeveloped land on West Jefferson Boulevard? Will the heavier C-2 zoning development change the complexion of the neighborhood and cause the disruption that the neighbors anticipate? Or will a new zoning bring new economic development into this area, that can most readily be seen with a larger type of project? Will this project bring more job and services to residents, not only of the area, but of the city? Does the owner of this property deserve a ready, willing, and able buyer, contingent on the zoning change?
Or are the neighbors that live adjacent and around the proposed development correct in saying that this development is wildly out of step with surrounding parcels and plans? Are these neighbors entitled to the transitional zoning that has occurred over the years? The City Plan Commission will most likely be making a recommendation on this change in the coming weeks, and if recommended, the measure will head to the City Council table for possible passage.
Thomas Freistroffer is Fort Wayne City Council At-Large member and a member of the Fort Wayne Plan Commission.