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Public would be shut out of permitting process

A plan to eliminate many of the hoops that developers have to jump through would leave the public out of the discussion in many instances.

Fort Wayne and Allen County officials on Wednesday continued their series of meetings to explain to residents and others proposed changes meant to streamline the area's land-use permitting process. A major goal of the $1.4 million plan is to become more business-friendly.

That, however, will come with a cost: Ending public hearings on projects near residential areas.

As it is now, plan commission members discuss projects that they know have already been approved by staffers in the Allen County Department of Planning Services. Officials and some community members have complained the meetings are a waste of time and money.

Under new land-use procedures, if a developer's project is zoned properly and in accord with local ordinances, a public hearing on the matter won't be needed. That means many public hearings and business meetings on projects will be eliminated.

A tradeoff for having fewer public hearings will be stiffer screening, buffering, landscaping and lighting standards for developers.

Residents, though, won't have a say.

The proposed changes seemed to bother some of the more than 20 attending Wednesday's meeting at Citizens Square. Some questioned how much input residents will have in future developments.

Pat Fahey, senior planner in the Department of Planning Services, said major projects that could affect a neighborhood and require rezoning or variances will come before a public hearing.

Benefits of the streamlining process could be the difference of a project's gaining approval in a few weeks instead of a couple of months, Fahey said.

Shelby Sommer works with Clarion Associates of Fort Collins, Colo., and addressed residents Wednesday. The city is paying the firm at least $170,000 to assist with the new land-use procedures.

Fort Wayne area planners have met with various civic, business and government groups in 26 meetings in the last three days.

Officials expect the new system to be adopted sometime in this summer.

The situation makes no difference to Fort Wayne resident Diane Plotner. She has attended at least one public hearing about the legislative streamlining. Many in her Manor Park neighborhood are upset over traffic and other concerns from Lutheran Life Village's short-term rehabilitation/longer-term skilled-nursing care facility.

The $6 million nursing home at 9802 Coldwater Road is bound to cause congestion on nearby Wallen Road, Plotner said.

"I don't know how they could do this," she said of the complex that opened in June. "It doesn't matter if we show up to public hearings, anyway. I'm not sure the outcomes at public hearings can be changed. To me, it's just for show."