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Neighbors oppose new Schwartz Road plan

January 11, 2019

Last year’s controversy about a proposed housing development just west of Schwartz Road in St. Joseph Township resurfaced Thursday during a public hearing of the Allen County Plan Commission.

More than a dozen people, many wearing ”#Protect Schwartz Road” T-shirts, said they remained opposed to the developer’s amended proposal.

Residents said new plans for 155 single-family homes still did not represent compatibility with the nearby mostly rural and metes-and-bounds neighborhoods.

The controversy began in February when developer NWM Group, represented by Ric Zehr, proposed The Lakes at Woodfield, a single-family home project, and The Village of Woodfield, a rental duplex complex with a single owner, for 46 acres zoned agricultural. Together, the projects would have meant 219 new homes.

Both plans were approved by the plan commission, but the Allen County commissioners turned down a rezoning that would have allowed the duplexes.

The new proposal, from North Eastern Development Corp. also affiliated with Zehr, combines the two developments into one.

The proposal scales back the number of single-family homes in the original Lakes of Woodfield area from 89 to 74. The duplex area now has 81 single-family units.

Lots in The Lakes area are somewhat larger than before. But residents pointed out the rest of the homes and lots are smaller and will likely be of lower value than the average for surrounding homes.

One resident, Jon Havert, said the new proposal also has less green space.

“Originally, there were pockets of green space available for residents. These are just packed homes,” he said.

Just because an area is zoned single-family residential, that doesn’t mean it will be like other nearby areas also zoned that way because of differences in lot and home size, Taryn Willis said. She said she was speaking for a group of opponents.

Zehr said homes likely would average 1,100 or 1,300 square feet or more and cost between 325,000; residents said the average value of nearby properties was $324,000.

Christine Renbarger, another resident, expressed continuing concerns about increased traffic on Schwartz Road.

She said the road is a major thoroughfare used by the Amish, who have a large settlement to the east, which is almost entirely rural. 

She said in two days she collected 89 signatures from the Amish on a petition against the development.

“They are concerned about their children,” who drive buggies, and “cars in buggy lanes,” she said. “Look at the injustice this decision is bringing to the Amish in our community.”

Willis also asked the commissioners to continue the public hearing because of a pending decision to allow the development to have only one entrance even though 155 homes were being proposed.

That’s five over the limit set by the ordinance.

That proposal will have a public hearing and vote at the county’s Board of Zoning Appeals meeting at 1 p.m. Wednesday. But no one on the board advanced such a motion.

If the BZA turns down the request, the plan commission can only approve a plan with 150 lots, and the developer will need to amend the development’s layout, according to a report prepared by staff members of the Department of Planning Services.

Opponents said they’re planning to attend the BZA meeting. 

The plan commission will vote on rezoning for the development and its primary development plan at its business meeting at 1 p.m. Thursday.

All rezoning decisions also must be approved by the county commissioners.

rsalter@jg.net

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