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The Journal Gazette

Tuesday, July 17, 2018 1:00 am

Councilmen listen to opposition of Slocum

DAVE GONG | The Journal Gazette

Residents of the Frances Slocum neighborhood near the Parkview Randallia campus northeast of downtown Fort Wayne aren't quite ready to give up their fight against a planned affordable housing development on Curdes Avenue. 

Dozens, including three Fort Wayne City Council members and a state representative, turned up Monday for a meeting of residents opposed to the Solcum Pointe development slated for the former Frances Solcum Elementary School, which has been owned by Parkview Hospital for several years. Parkview plans to sell the site to local nonprofit Brightpoint, for an $8.4 million development that will involve 42 one- and two-bedroom affordable apartment units across two buildings, 20 percent of which will go for residents with disabilities who receive services from Turnstone. 

Fort Wayne-based Keller Development is developing the project.

Residents opposed to the plan contend that the development does not fit within the surrounding neighborhood, which residents say lacks the necessary infrastructure to support 43 more apartment units. Residents are also concerned with street parking and increased traffic levels and in some instances the type of tenants an affordable housing development might attract.

Several residents in attendance Monday said they only became aware of the development within the last couple of weeks, despite posts on social media and in the Slocum Pointe Neighborhood Association newsletter last year alerting the neighborhood of upcoming hearings with Keller Development. 

The Fort Wayne Plan Commission approved a setback waiver last month for a building that already exists at the site. Plans call for construction of a second building at that location. Because the waiver request did not involve a zoning change, City Council did not have to sign off on the development.

The City Council members in attendance – Paul Ensley, R-1st, Russ Jehl, R-2nd and John Crawford, R-at large – stressed that although they appreciate the neighbors' concerns, there is nothing the City Council can do to stop the project, which meets all existing zoning ordinance requirements. The site was zoned for multiple-family use in the mid-1980s when plans were developed to turn the former school into office space. 

Ensley reiterated previous comments that he does not personally support subsidized housing, but voted with the rest of the Plan Commission to approve the waiver because he believes the body is bound by law to approve requests that meet the application criteria.

However, Ensley said he would do what he can to help opponents moving forward. 

Jehl represents the district where the project is located and is a member of the Brightpoint board of directors. Ensley is the City Council representative on the Plan Commission. As an at-large councilman, Crawford represents the entire city. He is also running in the 2019 Republican Party primary for a chance to unseat Mayor Tom Henry. 

Jehl noted that City Council did approve a tax abatement for the project in October, but added that at the time of the vote, he had not heard any complaints from area residents opposed to the development. 

“I want to let you know in good faith that when it did come to council, I had no opposition, nobody on council had opposition. It was unanimous with the administration. We were told you had been met with multiple times by the developer,” Jehl said. “Now in this instance when you've asked me to oppose it, there is not anything on the table I can oppose.”

Jehl also told the crowd he will help facilitate meetings between neighborhood leaders and the project's stakeholders to further discussions about neighborhood concerns.

Crawford told the assembled crowd that the neighborhood's only option at this point would be to hire a land-use attorney to appeal the Plan Commission's ruling. However, Crawford said he recently spoke to a land-use attorney who told him the neighborhood has only a slim chance of overturning the waiver approval. To be successful, the neighborhood would have to prove the Plan Commission acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner, Crawford said. 

“I'm not sure what you can do to stop it, at this point. I don't want you to waste your money with a land-use attorney, but that is the only thing you could do right now if you want to try,” Crawford said. “The other thing you could try to do is get them to voluntarily make it a little nicer for you.”

Although there may not be much legally the project's opponents can do, representatives from Keller Development and Brightpoint plan to attend a Frances Slocum Neighborhood Association meeting July 25 to discuss the project with residents and answer questions.