The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, June 11, 2019 1:00 am


Property lines

Process in place to protect developers, public

Two years after a contentious zoning battle, another proposed commercial project along West Jefferson Boulevard has ground to a stop – and rightly so. A building originally proposed as a garage addition to a residence suddenly morphed into a restaurant and retail plaza. Halted by a stop-work order, the project serves as a good reminder of how regulations protect all parties.

Martin Quintana last month asked the Fort Wayne Plan Commission to rezone property at 6626 W. Jefferson Blvd. from single-family residential to general commercial property. He also sought a waiver from development standards because the building is too close to the property line.

“This is not new to us where people tell us they are building one thing and it becomes another thing, or they try to rush something through,” said Allen County Building Commissioner John Caywood. “My first concern is with the standards as they currently are. It was approved as a residential garage, and the setbacks reflect that. ... How is a fire truck going to get back there if there's a fire? How will (emergency crews) get to the back of the property if someone's injured?”

Indiana's state building laws, patterned after international standards, allow for a property to be converted for commercial use, according to the building commissioner. But it was intended to allow reuse of existing buildings, as in converting a home to a dental office.

“It's disappointing to me because there is a method in place that grants citizens their right to know what is going in their neighborhood and that is through the board of zoning appeals and other steps,” Caywood said. “To have the building put out there and then ask for permission kind of goes against my principles as to the rights of the public having input.”

The proposed Quintana Plaza is on the north side of West Jefferson, just south of Covington Creek condominiums. Elsewhere on this page, a resident questions why the building department ever issued a building permit for “an 8,800-square-foot garage.”

But Caywood cites another case involving a pole barn on Wheelock Road presented as a large “man cave” for the property owner.

“We had concerns it looked very commercial, but they assured us the owner had hobbies,” he said. “My theory is that if you want a loading dock on your man cave, it's your right – maybe you restore cars. It's not the building department's intention to interfere with your constitutional rights. However, when the building's finished and neighbors call to say there's a semi-trailer backing up ... then we get involved. That person's occupancy permit was revoked.”

Likewise, Caywood's office shut down work on the West Jefferson project on April 24, over a question on a subcontractor's license. The request for commercial zoning didn't come until after work was stopped, throwing its fate to planning officials.

The process works best when property owners begin with good intentions. Allen County offers a biweekly meeting to provide information about doing a project the right way, Caywood noted. Much cost, time and grief can be avoided if rules are followed from the start. 

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