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County OKs housing in contentious meeting

February 2, 2019

Friday’s Allen County commissioners meeting turned contentious after the commissioners passed a rezoning measure enabling construction of 150 additional homes near the 7700 to 7900 blocks of Schwartz Road in St. Joseph Township.

Residents from a neighborhood group, Protect Schwartz Road, have been fighting development there since last year.

Friday, residents told Commissioners’ President Nelson Peters they felt he wasn’t listening to their concerns, with one charging he has been “untruthful” and another decrying what she characterized as pro-developer bias and a “pay-to-play” system.

Peters countered he took “offense” at those remarks and called “disingenuous” an early claim by the group that the developer planned to bring in Section 8 federally subsidized housing.

At issue was a twice-amended plan for the Lakes at Woodfield single-family-home development advanced by Northeastern Development Corp. of Fort Wayne, represented by Ric Zehr.

Originally proposed as an 89-lot Lakes at Woodfield single-family-home development with 65 single-owner rental duplexes called The Village of Woodfield, the developer scrapped the duplexes when nearby residents objected and the commissioners unanimously voted against the needed multifamily zoning.

However, residents continued to oppose a new plan for single-family homes for the duplex site : a plan that brought at least 15 more homes than the plan for duplexes would have.

The new plan’s rezoning received a unanimous do-pass recommendation Jan. 18 from the Allen County Plan Commission. That vote came after a request for a waiver of development standards that would have allowed five additional lots was withdrawn by the developer.

Residents Friday said the single-family homes proposed were not comparable with others nearby in size and price, while continuing to raise other concerns, including increased traffic and lack of green space in an area that had been zoned for agriculture and that borders an expanse of farms.

Residents have expressed concern those farms are largely owned by members of the county’s Amish community and have presented a petition signed by the Amish opposing the development.

The commissioners’ 3-0 vote was taken without discussion. Residents spoke during the public comment section just before the meeting was adjourned.

Taryn Willis, a member of Protect Schwartz Road, said the group was “super disappointed” and members “have lost faith” in the system.

But she pledged they would remember when it comes time to vote.

“We have lost in the pay-to-play game because we did not have enough in our basket to win,” she said, adding: “We know we have passed the ball for others to follow. ... This is not right. (You) put corporate (interests) above the public.

“You should all be ashamed of yourselves.”

Peters countered he had been listening and said he told the group last February that he would be “hard pressed” to vote against any rezoning where there wasn’t clear-cut evidence that neighbors would be adversely affected.

He said 20 percent of signatures on a petition against the development did not live near it, with some from out of state.

Schwartz Road resident Darrell Gerig, who has been corresponding with Peters, said he believes property values will be adversely affected.

A survey he did of the tax records for residences on Schwartz Road within a half mile of the development showed an average value of 325,000 will be the top value, with most homes less than that.

A $100,000 difference amounts to “30 percent, and that’s not reasonable. That’s my opinion,” he told commissioners.

Residents have repeatedly said that single-family zoning does not represent comparable development and that the developer has previously said demand exists for homes at the $325,000 price point and has been involved in local developments at that level.

Willis said after the meeting the group is not certain of their next move. They have begun searching for an attorney to challenge the case in court but have not found one, she said.

rsalter@jg.net

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