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The Journal Gazette

Wednesday, January 11, 2017 6:08 pm

W. Jefferson plaza draws opposition

Rosa Salter Rodriguez | The Journal Gazette

Substantial neighborhood opposition has developed against a proposed shopping center along the south side of the 4900 block of West Jefferson Boulevard.

More than 20 people spoke against the commercial development during a standing-room-only public hearing before the Fort Wayne Plan Commission on Monday night. Testimony lasted more than two hours.

Proposed by Peter Franklin Jewelers for 61/2 wooded acres now zoned single-family residential, the center would be anchored by a Peter Franklin store and have three, or possibly four, more stores in two additional buildings. The center would have 37,500 square feet of new retail space with a single entrance on Jefferson Boulevard near the Reckeweg Road intersection. 

Opponents included representatives of the nearby Wildwood Park Community Association, who said the shopping center would damage the character of their neighborhood, which has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 2013.

The shopping center also would back up to properties along North Washington Road in the Westwood Fairway Neighborhood, a National Register-eligible neighborhood associated with a noted landscape architect and containing two historically significant residences, according to Andrea Kern, historic preservation specialist for ARCH, Fort Wayne’s nonprofit historic preservation group.

One home is designated "outstanding" and one "notable" in the Indiana Historical Sites and Structures Inventory, Kern said Tuesday. 

"We felt that the C2 (limited commercial) zoning, that is more heavily commercial, is not appropriate for the neighborhood, as opposed to (professional) office neighborhoods (that exist nearby)," she said, summarizing her remarks at the hearing.

In testimony and in about 20 letters of opposition sent to planners, neighbors said the development would violate longstanding policy and practice to use the south side of West Jefferson Boulevard as a "transitional" area to protect homes from intensive commercial uses.

The land that would be rezoned has been a buffer between Jefferson Pointe and Apple Glen shopping areas and longstanding residential areas to the south, neighbors contended.

"Transitional development has been very successful. The value of homes in Wildwood Park has been largely maintained," Michael Summers, president of the Wildwood Park Community Association wrote planners. "This is a direct challenge that would undo decades of hard work by our residents and the Plan Commission."

In other correspondence, neighbors said rezoning would also go against planning priorities that encourage infill development.

Although the development would use existing infrastructure such as roads and public water and sewer, the site would be the only one zoned limited commercial on the south side of West Jefferson, and the only adjacent neighbors would be residential properties.

Rezoning the site also would violate the Westfield neighborhood covenant, which allows only single-family homes and one garage to be built on lots, according to one neighbor. Also, trees on the site, which contains an unused residence but is nearly entirely wooded, would be cut down, neighbors said. That would disturb wildlife and destroy sight and sound buffering of the busy West Jefferson corridor.

According to Fort Wayne Department of Planning Services staff members, developers offered a written commitment to prohibit many otherwise-allowed limited commercial uses on the land after meeting with neighbors last week.

Developers also have committed to aesthetically appropriate architecture using brick, stone, metal awnings and limestone trim and did not request any waivers of development standards, staff members said.

The commission may vote on proposal at its meeting at 5 p.m. Jan. 23 in Room 35 of Citizens Square, 200 E. Berry St. Rezonings must also be approved by Fort Wayne City Council.