Less than a year ago, Electric Works' future looked dim. Today, the former General Electric plant on Broadway is a bustling redevelopment site, and zoning officials and nearby residents are looking to a second phase of development. If there's anything we've learned from the massive undertaking, it is that patience and cooperation pay off. Electric Works' neighbors have taken the lesson to heart.
Discussion over parking and traffic details were at issue during a public hearing this week before the Fort Wayne Plan Commission, but instead of the not-in-my-backyard comments rezoning requests often bring, about a half-dozen neighbors shared specific concerns about what the next phase might mean for their historic neighborhood. West Central residents have been staunch supporters of Electric Works and now are working to ensure that the project is both successful and compatible with the neighborhood.
A letter shared with members of the plan commission is a textbook example of how to approach such a project, in addressing issues “in the planning and approval process to ensure the best possible outcome for all affected parties.”
West Central Neighborhood Association President Brandon Steffen urged the commission to examine architectural compatibility, transportation and neighborhood parking in the association's message:
“We very much want to see Electric Works succeed in its effort,” he wrote. “At the same time we enjoy the present historic qualities, livability and character of West Central. Rezoning this site opens the door to adverse impacts not permitted under the current zoning and this is why we ask these issues be examined, so that the devil in the details can be ferreted out and leave a winning project for all parties.”
The $106 million second phase of redevelopment, which seeks no city funding, focuses on the north side of the former GE campus, west of Broadway. RTM Ventures LLC and partner Ancora, of Durham, North Carolina, seek rezoning of 2.58 acres from two-family and multifamily residential to urban core. Phase II development is at the southern and eastern edge of West Central, bounded by Broadway on the east, the CSX railroad tracks on the south, Union Street on the west and Lavina Street on the north. Rezoning is required to accommodate an eight-story parking garage with 1,144 spaces and five, five-story apartment buildings with 293 units in more than 293,000 square feet.
West Central residents emphasized their concerns at Monday's plan commission meeting.
“This is going to have a significant impact on residential homeowners,” Steffen told the members. “Overall, we want this project to succeed. We just ask that you take into consideration our concerns.”
Traffic generated by Electric Works tenants, including hundreds of employees at Do it Best and Ruoff Mortgage offices, undoubtedly will have a significant impact on West Central and the Broadway corridor. Parking in the area also will be affected.
In the neighborhood association's letter, Steffen requests a study of the impact on on-street parking and suggests the city revisit a transportation study that proposed a roundabout at the intersection of Broadway and Taylor. He also asked for a study of the effect of a proposed new road connecting Jefferson Boulevard at Swinney Park to the southwest entrance of the proposed parking garage.
Mike Hoffman, an attorney for the developer, said changes in traffic patterns are under discussion. Lavina Street will be widened from Jackson Street to Broadway and might become two-way, with a traffic light at Broadway, he said.
“We think this is a well-thought-out plan that complements the entire west campus,” Hoffman said Monday. Kevan Biggs, one of the partners in RTM Ventures, pledged to keep in contact with neighbors.
Plan commission members should be pleased by the proactive approach residents are taking with the Electric Works project, as well as the collaborative effort of the developers. Both will go far to ensure a bright future for both the development and its neighbors.