County rejects hub rezoning

January 20th, 2016

News Coverage:

January 16, 2016 1:03 AM

County rejects hub rezoning

Opponents made 'compelling case,' commissioner says

Rosa Salter Rodriguez | The Journal Gazette

After months of opposition from nearby residents and others, Allen County commissioners Friday killed rezoning that would have allowed a giant truck and rail transfer facility in Lafayette Township.

After hearing arguments for and against the more than 776,000-square-foot facility from Robert Eherenman, attorney for the Allen County Plan Commission, County Commissioner Nelson Peters moved for approval of the rezoning.

But the motion died for lack of a second from County Commissioner Therese M. Brown, who then moved to deny approval. Peters seconded, and the motion carried unanimously.

Linda Bloom, the third member of the county commissioners, was absent.

Opponents, about 25 of whom turned out for the meeting and applauded after the vote, expressed surprise and relief. 

“I’m thrilled,” said Linda Byrd, a resident who lives on Miramar Cove and attended with her husband, Max. “I never thought this would happen. My faith has been restored.”

The vote voided the Plan Commission’s Nov. 5 action changing the zoning of the 87-acre tract in the 13200 block of Winters Road from agricultural to BTI, or business, technology and industrial.

The change was to accommodate a facility proposed by Crown Enterprises Inc. of Warren, Michigan, to improve just-in-time delivery of vehicle components to the nearby General Motors plant.

The proposed tenant would have been Logistics Insight Corp., which has several truck terminals in the Fort Wayne area.  

Opponents have said the facility, which would have operated on a round-the-clock basis, went contrary to the county’s comprehensive plan and zoning ordinance. They contend that those documents limit industrial development to the south and west of the GM plant, while the Winters Road site is to the north.

Opponents also said additional truck traffic, noise and light would be created near residential neighborhoods, depressing property values. 

Opponents filed a lawsuit against the Plan Commission on Dec. 4 in Allen Superior Court, hoping to have a judge overturn the site’s development plan. The lawsuit maintains that BTI is not a suitable category for the proposed facility’s intensity of use.  

Scott Federoff of Carson Boxberger, Fort Wayne, attorney for the opponents, said they would ask for that suit be dismissed if no one appeals the county commissioners’ decision within the legal time frame.

County commissioners do not have a vote on development plans. The Plan Commission approved the site’s development plan when it approved the rezoning, but the commissioners’ vote, if it remains unchallenged, made that moot, Federoff said. 

The proponents’ attorney, Tom Niezer of Barrett McNagny, Fort Wayne, said through an assistant that he had no comment.

Peters said during the meeting that commissioners probably had done more research on this issue than any other that has come before them in recent years. Afterward, he said commissioners have to weigh industrial and job growth with what homeowners need and want.

“Frankly, the homeowners made a very compelling case,” he said. 

“I just think that nobody is going to say we weren’t supportive of economic development in this county – $1.5 billion in the last 12 months can be a testament to that,” Peters added.

The dollar figure is the the amount GM said in May that it was investing in its Lafayette Township plant – $1.2 billion, plus $300 million in business and industrial development along Bluffton Road, he said.

After the meeting, Jeff Gallmeyer of 11622 Aboite Road, one of the organizers of the opposition, said the scenario that has played out was basically a rerun of 2000 and 2001 when a similar facility was proposed by Crown for the same spot.

That facility, about half the size of the one denied Friday, was first approved by the Plan Commission and then turned down by county commissioners, Gallmeyer said.

“It’s always the commissioners who have to do the true groundwork and find out what is going on,” he said. 

Stephanie Schultz, another organizer, said she wanted to thank the county commissioners “for the amount of time and effort” they put into the decision.

“I know it had to take weeks to process everything we gave them, and I thank you,” she said.