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The Journal Gazette

September 23, 2016 1:03 AM

Work-release closer to new home

Trying to move to former juvenile correction facility

Rosa Salter Rodriguez | The Journal Gazette

Allen County’s plan to move its work-release program from the Byron Health Center property at Lima and Carroll roads took a big step forward Thursday night.

The Fort Wayne Board of Zoning Appeals reinstated a contingent use for nearly 15 acres at 7117 Venture Lane in Washington Township that formerly housed a state juvenile correctional facility.

The move came during a meeting in which board members also approved a playground, a small group home for girls in southeast Fort Wayne, and taller light poles for the World Baseball Academy as the ASH Centre, 1701 Freeman St. 

The juvenile facility had sat vacant since 2010 before county commissioners made an offer to buy it for $1.35 million, but the deal depended on reinstatement of the contingent use.

Jack Bentz, an attorney with Beers Mallers, Backs & Salin, told the board the current facility was “inadequate.” He added after the meeting that, because of its age, the building has undependable heating and air conditioning.

Unlike the new facility, the current one has no kitchen or dining facilities, so food must be transported from the Allen County Jail downtown, Michael Biltz, work release director, said after the approval. 

He said people sentenced to work release at the new facility, which includes a gym, would be housed in two areas containing eight large dormitory-style rooms holding 14 people. The rooms are arranged around two central day rooms.

At the outset, the new facility would house about 90 people, the same as the current facility, Biltz said. But that could expand to 150 or even 200, as the facility would allow more low-level, nonviolent offenders to be sentenced to work release, Biltz said.

State law now requires such offenders be housed in their home communities instead of being sent to state Department of Correction facilities, he said.

Plans include increasing the size of the parking from 86 to 150 cars, depending on the need, to allow residents to use their own cars to travel on job searches or to go back and forth to work.

A baseball diamond on the northwest side of the property could be converted to parking.

Although initial reports had the new facility possibly used for Allen County Community Corrections programs now in a building at 201 W. Superior St., that is not part of current plans, Chris Cloud, assistant to the commissioners, said after the meeting. 

In other business, the board approved:

• A variance that would allow new light poles for reconfigured baseball diamonds of the World Baseball Academy that would be twice as high – 80 feet – as development standards allowed. The new poles would direct more light on the fields and cause less spillover to neighboring properties, academy Chief Executive Officer Caleb Kimmel told the board. The poles are part of a larger plan to expand the fields.

• A special use in a single-family residential zone for a fenced playground at 1033 Fairfax Ave. which is being developed by Bridge of Grace, a nearby church.

• A special use and a setback reduction for a group home for girls 14 to 21 in an existing home at 4311 Plaza Drive; the project is being developed by Fletcher Upshaw of Fort Wayne, who also developed a home for boys, Union House, next door. The girls home would be adjudicated wards of the state.

The board also postponed a decision to revoke a special use for Honest Ade Auto Repair shop at 5810 St. Joe Road, to give the business and property owners time to clean up and screen vehicles on the property and get proper sign permits. The board decided it will take up the matter next month.        

rsalter@jg.net