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The Journal Gazette

Friday, April 21, 2017 1:00 am

Leading the way

Strip mall rejection should spur planning review

A unanimous vote by the Fort Wayne Plan Commission should make for an easy rezoning call by City Council. A petition to allow development of a residential stretch of West Jefferson Boulevard for a shopping center threatens to extend inappropriate development on an important gateway to downtown.

The plan commission voted 7-0 last week to reject a petition allowing Peter Franklin Jewelers to develop a strip shopping center in the 4900 block of West Jefferson. The wooded 6.5-acre-site is a buffer between the busy thoroughfare and a quiet residential area. Hundreds of area residents, rightly worried about the further effects of development there, objected to the plan.

“Approving a commercial development on this site all but guarantees a strip mall domino effect rolling west, swallowing another half dozen parcels between it and the haphazardly configured commercial development surrounding Time Corners,” warned J.R. Tomkinson, who lives nearby, in an op-ed published on these pages. “Most of these parcels – currently zoned for residential use – are owned today not by homeowners but by patient investors. These investors are no doubt watching closely.”

City Councilman Thomas Freistroffer, a member of the plan commission, agreed the vote was about more than the property in question.

“When you look at something like that, you have to look at the development over the past 20 years or so,” he said Thursday. “With most of the (commercial) properties on the south side, there's a pattern of dental offices, doctors, chiropractors. Most are open 8 until 5.”

The rezoning petition would have allowed the jewelry retailer, and also restaurants and other establishments, to be open seven days a week and for many more hours each day. 

“You have to look at the water runoff, the lights, the noise, the possible pollution,” Freistroffer said. “People are wondering why residents who live closer to Jefferson Pointe were coming out in opposition. It's because you are going to affect that whole corridor.”

The vote was twice postponed as the two sides tried to work out differences regarding restrictions and limits on drive-through lanes and fast food and gas station developments. 

The rezoning petition will be introduced at council on May 2, with a vote expected on May 9. The long and careful deliberation that preceded the commission vote, combined with the panel's unanimous decision, should inform the council members' decisions.

More important, however, is what comes next. Development has reached a tipping point throughout the city and county, with recurring flashpoints over projects that potentially change the character of neighborhoods and important city corridors. Sound planning policies can allow for wise development that doesn't harm existing property owners, but those policies are best considered apart from zoning confrontations.