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Allen County Commissioners approve rezoning for controversial proposed Schwartz Road housing development

Allen County Commissioners voted today to approve rezoning for a proposed housing subdivision that has been opposed by neighboring residents. (Courtesy of FreeImages.com)

Editor’s note: This story was updated Friday afternoon to clarify information about Schwartz Road-area residents’ petitions against the rezoning request and proposed development, as well as to correct information about Allen County Commissioners’ attendance and vote at their May 11 meeting. News-Sentinel.com regrets the errors.

Allen County Commissioners voted this morning to approve rezoning for a proposed housing development opposed by neighboring residents, but the decision may not be the end of the matter.

There is a chance developer Ric Zehr of Northeastern Group, who proposed the project, may have to make changes in the plan for the development. If Department of Planning Services staff determine the changes are significant, Zehr may have to reapply for Allen County Plan Commission approval, a planning staff member said.

Residents also told Zehr after the meeting that, unless he works with them, they likely will continue to fight against his original plans to develop two housing subdivisions in the 7700 to 7900 blocks of Schwartz Road.

As of 2:30 p.m. today, 735 people had signed an online petition against the proposed developments, and neighborhood residents’ Protect Schwartz Road group said more than 150 people have signed a paper petition.

The rezoning the county commissioners approved this morning involves 24.2 acres in the 7700 to 7900 blocks of Schwartz Road, which now has been rezoned to single-family residential use from agricultural land. Zehr proposed constructing as many as 89 homes in the subdivision.

However, the plat for that project was connected with a development plan for a 65-unit duplex subdivision in the 7700 to 7900 blocks of Schwartz Road, for which Zehr previously sought rezoning approval.

County commissioners voted to deny rezoning for the duplex project at their May 11 meeting. That created questions about whether a school bus would be able to get into and out of the single-family subdivision that received rezoning approval today.

If major plan changes are required to accommodate school buses, planning services staff will have to decide if the changes are significant enough that Zehr must go back to the Allen County Plan Commission for approval, a staff member said.

Zehr’s two Schwartz Road housing projects originally came before the commissioners May 11 for rezoning approval after each had been approved by the plan commission.

Commissioners Therese Brown and Linda Bloom voted to deny rezoning for the duplex project, while commissioner Nelson Peters voted for it. The commissioners took no vote on the single-family housing subdivision, even though it was on the agenda for action.

Commissioners hoped all three members of their body would be present to vote on the single-family rezoning, Peters said during today’s meeting, but Bloom was absent. If commissioners didn’t vote on the project today, the plan commission’s approval recommendation would have taken effect in the near future, and commissioners had promised people they would make the decision by voting, Peters told those attending today’s meeting.

Before voting to approve rezoning for the single-family housing subdivision, Peters said that, during meetings and conversations with residents living near the proposed developments, he sensed their main concern was the duplex housing and that they would accept the single-family housing.

Brown said providing new housing is important to efforts to grow the local population and bolster economic development.

During the public comment portion at the end of the commissioners’ meeting, however, people living near the proposed development accused commissioners of failing to listen to them and of letting them down.

“We rely on you to protect us from the greed of big business,” Taryn Willis told Brown and Peters. “Today, you failed us.”

Willis, who was one of about 20 neighborhood residents present, said she and her neighbors have a number of concerns about Zehr’s proposed projects, and that commissioners should have considered all of them as a whole rather than focusing in on whether or not residents could live with single-family housing.

“The fact we couldn’t agree on one issue strengthens our argument,” said Janese Latimer-Pierson, adding that there are too many questions about what the development may look like.

Resident Darrell Gerig said during a meeting with Peters held in an Old Order Amish community member’s barn, Schwartz Road residents voiced two key concerns — opposition to the duplex housing and opposition to single-family housing with small homes on small lots.

Small homes on small lots aren’t compatible with the existing housing, Gerig told commissioners.

Most other homes in the area of Zehr’s proposed developments are larger houses on large lots, residents said.

Zehr also attended the meeting and spoke briefly during the public comment period to try to clarify some of his plans.

He said he intends to draw new plans for the land for which rezoning was denied to convert it to a single-family housing development. He hopes to bring that proposal back to the plan commission by late next year.

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