Given what appeared to be widespread neighborhood opposition, it was good news when a developer Monday pulled its proposal to build a gas station complex at Hessen Cassel and Paulding roads.
Word came just before the matter was to have been heard by the Fort Wayne Plan Commission. As The Journal Gazette's Rosa Salter Rodriguez reported, about 50 opponents who came to the meeting expecting a battle cheered when they heard the news.
Citizens including themselves in the decision-making process on projects they think may affect their lives and homes is always a positive part of our democratic process.
The uproar over this proposed station and a plan for a station on South Anthony that was withdrawn last month also offers yet another learning moment for those who seemingly don't understand the aspirations of southeast Fort Wayne.
Residents of that area have long asked for more attention from those who decide where new businesses are going, and they've been clear that the types of businesses matter as much as the number. Like the rest of Fort Wayne, southeast residents realize that this is a city on the move, and they want to share in the convenience, job availability and general excitement that economic development is bringing to the community as a whole.
“We see development happening throughout our city, which is a good thing,” Cherise Dixie, one of those who spoke at Monday's plan commission meeting, said in an interview Tuesday. “But we don't see these types of development happening in the southeast quadrant.
“Gas stations – it's an easy out,” said Dixie, a licensed clinical social worker who served for several years as the mayor's liaison to the southeastern area. “We understand gas stations are necessary. What we are saying is that we have our fair share of them.”
“We've done the math – within a five-mile radius of where they're proposing to put up this gas station there are already 15 gas stations,” Paulette Nellems told Rodriguez in April. Nellems lives near the site where the proposed gas station/food mart on South Anthony would have been built.
The objections to gas stations vary. Some believe they draw crime; some resent the unhealthy food gas stations tend to sell.
Dixie says it's about the area being offered nothing but establishments that are just “good enough.”
She said the southeast simply wants more of the kind of amenities the rest of the city enjoys – grocery stores, financial institutions, places to go to eat or for family entertainment, and more access to health care.
In 2015, a city-sponsored study by the Birmingham, Michigan-based Gibbs Planning Group presented a survey of 1,500 residents who live south of downtown Fort Wayne. They told the researchers, “We don't need any more gas stations, convenience stores, dollar stores.”
But the study also identified a huge potential for growth in the area, which it said could accommodate 74 to 97 new retailers and 16 to 23 restaurants. A contract with a consulting firm to bring in new business ended last fall without tangible success but with the city vowing to keep up the fight.
Can Fort Wayne become the great city it aspires to be without more progress on the southeast side? Dixie offered an analogy appropriate to a challenge highlighted by questions about gas stations.
“It's like a car,” she said. “If one wheel isn't inflated properly, it's not going to be a smooth ride.”