(Note: This issue comes before the Fort Wayne City Council tomorrow in the form of a public hearing and vacation request. This post explores the opposition to the plans, while a second post explores the work in which the Charis House engages. It is my sincere hope that you will read both posts. Comments will be accepted for both posts, with no moderation or restrictions.)
Above is a rendering of the proposed building for the Charis House.
This would be the view of the building from Wells Street.
The rendering is the property of Design Collaborative and the Charis House.
I recently posted about the Charis House plans to build a 94 bed (with the potential to be expanded to 132 beds) facility on Fairmount Place. I say “on” because the bulk of the facility’s placement would necessitate vacating most of Fairmount Place. There have been a couple of meetings between Charis House officials and the Wells Corridor Business Association (WCBA) to discuss the plans.
I attended the most recent meeting on February 4th. Leading the meeting were Judi Wire, WCBA President, Reverend Patty Crisp, Charis House President, and Derek L. Frederickson, Engineering Resources, on behalf of Charis House. Also in attendance, were many business and property owners in the corridor, City Councilman John Shoaff (D-At Large) and Councilwoman Liz Brown (R-At Large), and Fort Wayne Police Deputy Chief Marty Bender who is also a City Councilman (R-At Large), although he was obviously not there in that capacity. At this meeting, the latest plan for the project was unveiled and concerns and comments were allowed.
The concerns voiced included questions about whether or not men would be housed at this facility. The answer was no, only women with children or single women. The question was asked about what the women staying in the facility would be doing during the day. The answer was that the facility provides programming which is structured and holds the women accountable. There were other questions asked as well, mainly about the impact of such a facility to the neighborhood.
One of the responses from Rev. Crisp was that the facility attracts a lot of volunteers. These volunteers could be potential customers for businesses along the corridor as they travel to and from the facility. Rev. Crisp also mentioned that the women and children residing in the facility had the potential to become customers and residents as well after being exposed to what the neighborhood has to offer.
The focus then shifted to design questions. Included were questions by John Shoaff regarding the materials that would be used, plus the design in general. Also mentioned was the fact that a 70-spot parking lot would be constructed in front of the building and how this conflicted with the look and feel of the existing corridor and near-downtown.
When this project is discussed, the bigger issue for most, is that it is considered to be prime riverfront property. There is not much available and developable riverfront property in the downtown area. The question then becomes, “Is this project what is desired or envisioned for a piece of highly visible riverfront property?”
The area in question has always been popular for its eclectic shops and services offered. The WCBA sees the potential for further growth and greater popularity of the area. Across the street, is the almost completed Firefighter/Law Enforcement Memorial along with several growing businesses on the other side. Next to the memorial is a building which used to be the stables for the Fort Wayne Police Department’s Mounted Division and most recently as a training facility for K-9 dogs and officers. A local microbrewery is considering opening a pub/mill house in this building. The potential plans for such a facility in this location are only limited by the vision of the owners. It could include a deck or patio overlooking the river. A lighting project is also on the books for the Historic Wells Street bridge.
A recent post on this site asked for people to share their visions for riverfront development. Ideas ranged from an Aquarium to more of the smaller locally-owned mom and pop eclectic stores which make Wells Street what it is today. This property is at the start of the southern end of the WCBA corridor. A corridor, which I might add, has 8 social service type or non-profit agencies in it’s 10 block area. (For comparison, the 2.5 mile long Broadway Corridor has only a fraction of these types of agencies.) This 10 block area has had, as Jerry and Linda Vandeveer stated, “â€¦too much time and money [â€¦] spent on the plan to reinvigorate the Wells Corridor to let the “final link” between uptown and Wells slip through the City’s hands.”
When you talk about non-profit organizations acquiring property, you must also keep in mind that such properties are taken off the tax rolls. In other words, property taxes are no longer paid on the properties which means the City looses property tax revenue which must be made up by other property owners. To some, this is a small trade-off when the return to the greater good of the community is considered.
Separating the good from the bad
Battles over these sorts of projects can be unpleasant for all parties involved. In this situation, the WCBA – which is staffed by volunteers – has worked hard the last three years to come back from inactivity and near-extinction. Plans are underway, which will be realized this summer, to clean the corridor up with new sidewalks, signage and other features. Behind the scenes, the WCBA has written by-laws, held numerous meetings, spent countless hours planning and executing these projects as well as invested many hours of time to evolve itself into a winning corridor/gateway.
On the other side, the Charis House is part of an organization that serves many in our community who cannot help themselves. The Charis House provides housing, food and clothing to the most vulnerable segment of our community – homeless women and children. This is also the segment in our community that has the least amount of resources available for help. No one questions the good this organization does, nor the need for it in our community. It is the right thing to do and a needed piece of the fabric of our society. The Charis House staff has spent countless hours devoted to acquiring the land and developing this project. This is a project that is desperately needed, not just by the Charis House, but our society as well.
However, there are some that feel this good only clouds the greater issue which is the community’s desires, goals, strategies and visions in regard to development of this riverfront property. This good should not allow an organization to develop at will without regard to community desires/visions. And opposing such a project should not mean you are against the homeless or most needy in our society.
Where does it go from here?
A group affected by such projects has little recourse in trying to stop them. A Land-Use Attorney can be hired, but this often requires financial resources a group such as WCBA doesn’t have.
At this point, the only way the project could be derailed is for the City Council to deny the request by Charis House to vacate Fairmount Place. This goes before the City Council tomorrow with a public hearing followed by review and discussion by the Council in its Committee Session and would require 5 of the 9 Council members to vote no on the ordinance.
A valid reason not to grant the vacating is it would cut off easy access to the property to the west of the proposed development. Access to that property would only be gained by an alley from Commerce or High Streets. This would probably make it unattractive to potential developers.
If the request is approved by the City Council, it will then go before the City Plan Commission on March 9th. If the request is denied, the project wouldn’t be completely shelved. Plan B for Charis House would be to convince the Norfolk Southern Railroad to sell it the no longer used Right of Way on the southern edge of the property. When approached by the City in 2008, NS officials refused to discuss the sale of land to the City in the downtown area. (Read this post or this one.) Â Charis House will probably face a considerable delay if this option has to be pursued.
Whatever direction this takes, it brings to the forefront the need to balance the desires, goals, strategies and visions of a community against those in our society who need help, have nowhere else to turn and often have no voice when it comes to the desires, goals, strategies and visions of the community at large. This is an age-old battle with no simple, easy solutions – and unfortunately, no winners.