hand for oped

About the authors

Mike Hand, center, is a long-time resident of Allen County and has lived on Feighner Road since 2017. Mark and Tami Solak have lived on Feighner Road for the past 35 years.

On the southwest side of Allen County is a little stretch of chip-and-seal called Feighner Road. Over the past year, Feighner Road has become famous – much to the chagrin of those who live here.

Feighner Road has become a battleground for local government, developers and residents. Unfortunately, the actual chain of events is more complicated than represented in The Journal Gazette’s May 27 editorial “Poor planning.”

Now for the rest of the story.

Feighner Road is in Lafayette Township in the Southwest 4 (SW4) district. SW4 is a part of the larger “Southwest Land Use Study,” an amendment to the comprehensive plan in 2016. A comprehensive plan is what a city or county uses to direct growth and development.

This current land-use study provides direction for the future use of each separate and distinct area by considering the unique conditions and character of that district. The study currently provides that the rural residential and agricultural character of SW4 should be maintained. It also provides that industrial development should be expanded and encouraged in districts SW 1, 5, and 7.

There are efforts under way to revise the comprehensive plan for all of Allen County. The contents of the plan are speculated to be available to the public this year.

In the fall of 2021, our community defeated a proposal to change a portion of the zoning along Feighner Road from agricultural (A1) to industrial (I1). The proposal sought approval for a large multi-building industrial complex located directly across from a residence and mere feet from a church, school and many other homes.

After an exhausting door-to-door campaign, meetings in yards and kitchens, public hearings, and letters and petitions, the Allen County Commissioners agreed with nearly 350 residents and voted against the industrial rezoning.

At the same time, a petition to rezone to residential (R1) for a 207-home subdivision (Cedar Groves) was on the table, off the table, then lurking in the background for a few months before it resurfaced in January.

In early 2022, public hearings took place on the Cedar Groves subdivision, and public comment was taken. Those objecting correctly stated that this development is not consistent with the character of our area and that there will be drainage and traffic problems.

The decision from the commissioners was delayed to determine the contents of the coming revisions to the comprehensive plan.

The contents were apparently not revealed, and a decision was to be made. On May 20, the commissioners unanimously voted to approve Cedar Groves during the legislative session when public comment was no longer available on any issue.

The time frame to make this decision was a matter of public record and local law.

Over the course of the past year, our community has been similarly hoping the contents of the plan would be revealed to us as well. Recently, representatives from the planning department graciously met with our residents, at which time we again respectfully made our opposition to industry known.

We were also given an opportunity to invite single-family residential development consistent with an agricultural area. Given the denial of the industrial rezoning in 2021 and the acknowledgment that “industrial and residential do not get along,” we remained hopeful that that plan for SW4 would at least exclude industry.

Unfortunately, all signs have pointed toward the planning department advancing a comprehensive plan for industry in SW4.

At the same time, the commissioners have been transparent with our residents about the future of our community. Thus, we have had to come to terms with the fact that development is coming our way, whether we like it or not.

The unfortunate choice was to support the lesser of two evils. We have implored the commissioners that we don’t want to lose our community and potentially our home, and they have graciously listened to us.

What has really happened on Feighner Road and SW4 is much more complex than has been represented.

So is the decision of the Allen County Commissioners really “poor planning,” or has a decision been made for the welfare of people? Have they “broken the trust between elected leaders and constituents” or have they proven we can trust them?

We have drawn our conclusions and will rejoice in the victory of homeowners.

Of course, we are not pleased with a major subdivision on Feighner Road. There is a reason that the Allen County zoning ordinance calls for “minor subdivisions” in agricultural areas.

We urge Granite Ridge Builders to be a good neighbor, recognize the challenges with development on this scale and invite them to problem-solve with us. This subdivision will certainly exacerbate existing drainage issues, for which many residents already pay an additional sum on their taxes for improvement to stormwater drainage ditches.

We would also ask Granite Ridge to please recognize that our families use Feighner Road for walking, running and biking. This development will add more than 2,000 vehicle trips a day on this narrow stretch of road. We need a sidewalk to keep our kids and loved ones safe (along with a lower speed limit).

People are nice to their neighbors in the country. Granite Ridge has the chance to prove it is the kind of company it professes to be.

Moreover, we hope the message has been received that industry does not belong in SW4 as the precedent has been officially set for residential. As we have maintained, it has been a mere six years since the 2016 land use study that called to maintain the rural residential and conditions of our community.

Those conditions have not changed – perhaps only the desires of those who do not live here.

We accept the possibility of future development. However, the county must first exhaust those resources already available and zoned for industrial and residential development.

Further, any development should truly be “adjacent growth” and “infill” as required by the comprehensive plan; those conditions do not exist here.

This is a nice community with nice people, but we are also savvy, informed and educated on what is happening in our community. We are fighting to preserve our way of life and to ensure the truth be told.