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Despite earlier ‘no’ vote and opposition, council OK’s Jefferson Blvd. project

May 15th, 2017

By Kevin Leininger | The News-Sentinel

Overturning a unanimous Plan Commission decision and despite vocal opposition from neighbors, City Council Tuesday rezoned 6.5 acres on West Jefferson Boulevard to clear the way for a three-building commercial center anchored by Peter Franklin Jewelers.

The 5-3 decision is expected to spur even more retail development on the south side of Jefferson between Jefferson Pointe and Time Corners, with opponents of the project fearing still more light, noise, traffic and drainage problems but supporters insisting the safeguards and quality of Franklin's proposal will ensure future development is an asset to the area.

Jason Arp, R-4th, represents the area and said he supports the project because the believes the three-building, 38,000-square-foot center will serve as a "great gateway into the city." About 33,000 vehicles travel the major east-west thoroughfare every day, and Arp said denial of the project might make other developers reluctant to invest in Fort Wayne. "The bar has to be pretty high to deny" the owner's right to sell the property, he concluded.

Also supporting the development were Paul Ensley, R-1st; President Tom Didier, R-2nd; Russ Jehl, R-3rd; and John Crawford, R-at large. Opposed were Geoff Paddock, D-5th; Glenn Hines, D-6th; and Tom Freistroffer, R-at large. Michael Barranda, R-at large, who said his law firm had done work for the opponents, abstained.

Freistroffer is also a member of the Plan Commission, which recommended against rezoning the land from residential to limited commercial last month. He suggested a decision should not be made until the Department of Planning Services could complete a study of the entire corridor, which is in the process of transition from residential to shops and offices."Neighbors have property rights too. I've received more email about this than anything but annexation. We have to listen to taxpayers."

Council's vote came after Peter Franklin officials submitted a list of about 100 different types of businesses that would be excluded from the project in order to minimize the impact on neighbors, along with a pledge to exclude all drive-through lanes except for a bank. Developers also agreed to limit the hours of operation, time of trash collection and said a six-foot berm topped by a six-foot fence will shield adjacent homes from the stores. Many of those details were not included in the project when it was defeated by the Plan Commission.

Paddock, however, said he opposed the project because rezoning now "invites the unknown."

Nearby resident John Hoffman said his property already has drainage problems and said more development could exacerbate the issue. But city officials said the project's water-control design should actually reduce drainage from the site, and traffic officials said West Jefferson is more than adequate to handle any increase in traffic, which should be minimal.

The fact that Jefferson Boulevard was previously designated U.S. 24 indicates it is a highway expected to handle commercial traffic, Jehl said.

Crawford said approving the project was the "least bad" option available, and predicted the stipulations approved by council Tuesday will require future nearby would-be developers to meet or exceed the quality of Franklin's project.

The vote pleased former WPTA-TV anchorwomen Melissa Long, who grew up on the property still owned by her mother. Jefferson is almost entirely commercial, she pointed out, and suggested neighbors should have bought the wooded property if they were concerned about future development there.

"Mom waited for two years for an offer from neighbors," she told council. "It's not their greenspace."

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