The Charis House challenge comes before the Fort Wayne City Council tonight for a vote on their request to vacate a good portion of Fairmount Place. Over the last few weeks, the controversy has heated up with both sides passionately presenting their cases.
In the meantime, in Saturday’s Journal Gazette, a, Chair of the Fort Wayne Rescue Ministries, Inc. While I’ve no real stake in this controversy, outside of it being fodder for the blog, I thought I’d point out a few things about his letter.
Mr. Hopkins writes:
At a recent City Council meeting, opponents of our new Charis House project objected for a variety of reasons, but the two most recurrent reasons were: 1) by vacating Fairmount Place, we would be cutting off development of the Rivergreenway, and 2) the building is too big.
The first reason is misguided. Fairmount Place is the proverbial road that leads nowhere. It dead-ends into a chain-link fence on our property line. In addition, our property does not abut the Rivergreenway. What’s more, we are unaware of any plans to extend Fairmount Place.
I guess I’m a bit confused about this – Development of the Rivergreenway? The issue talked about the opponents of the project is Riverfront development. True, the property in question does not abut the St. Mary’s River, but it is close enough in proximity to be considered riverfront property. There is very little riverfront property left in the downtown area to be developed. In addition, this is at the start or end, depending on how you look at it, of a historic business corridor that is poised on the verge of rebirth. Some exciting projects are in the pipeline, especially involving the area directly surrounding the Fairmount Place/Wells Street intersection.
As far as being the “proverbial road that leads nowhere,” this road does lead somewhere. There is a property on the west side of the Charis House property that is in even closer proximity to the St. Mary’s River. Commerce Drive also ends at this property’s line, however it ends just north of it. This property would be poorly served, by vacating Fairmount Place as it is the only direct way into the property.
Whether or not there are any current plans to extend Fairmount Place, vacating a good sized portion of it and then building over it makes any possible future extension impossible. And that’s partially the point of not vacating any portion of Fairmount Place.
As to his second item, he continues in his letter,
The second reason borders on being offensive, in the absence of a verifiable plan to serve the women and children who would otherwise have been served under the current Charis House project. Fort Wayne has a homelessness problem. Charis House has to turn away women and children in need virtually every day.
[â€¦] The “building is too big” objectors apparently feel they are best equipped to make the decision on how many of these homeless people Charis House should serve.
When it was mentioned that the proposed building was, “too big”, it was mentioned that one of the largest buildings currently on the corridor is the Sloan Funeral Home. You would have to take the Sloan building and enlarge it approximately nine times to compare it to the proposed Charis House. This is was the point made when saying it was, “too big”. The question then becomes if the proposed Charis House would acclimate to the character of the corridor and surrounding area. No one ever suggested limiting the size of the Charis House so as to limit the number of women and children who could be served there.
Mr. Thompson goes on to state that, “Since July 1, we have had to say no to more than 250 women and 225 children.” While interviewing Charis House staff for this blog, I was given this chart.
My understanding was that the numbers listed on the chart were annual numbers. According to this chart, only 77 women and 70 children were turned away – in all of 2008.
“Not in my neighborhood!” Should people not have a say about whether or not this project is allowed when it goes against the very design plans and guidelines they have worked so hard to adopt for their neighborhood? Should the community at large not have a say in matters involving riverfront development?
Let us imagine for a moment that the situation were reversed. Let us say that compromises were arrived at and in 2010, the Charis House opened operations at this location. Then, let us imagine a year or two later, an investor purchasing the property behind the Charis House all the way back to Sherman Boulevard and clears the land completely. His plans? To build a casino.
This might seem a little far-fetched, however, it could happen.
The other thing to remember is that if the City Council’s denies the request to vacate part of Fairmount Place, this does not kill the project. It would mean that the Charis House would have to either acquire the former Norfolk Southern right-of-way on the south side of the property, or reexamine their design to determine if the project could be built without the vacation of the street. This in itself would not be a bad thing because it would afford the opportunity to blend the facility with its surrounding area in a much more seamless manner.
Opposition to this project DOES NOT translate into opposition of homeless women and children in our community. Opposition to this project DOES NOT translate into opposition of the Fort Wayne Rescue Mission Ministries or the good it does. Opposition to this project DOES NOT translate into placing economic development over human development.
There really are no winners in this debate. No matter the outcome, someone is not going to be happy. Our community has been placed in the delicate predicament of having to choose sides; if the chosen side is the opposition, you run the risk of being labeled as against the most vulnerable, helpless of our community – the homeless.
The debate really comes down to this: riverfront development and the desires of a neighborhood. If this project fits our dreams of riverfront development and the plans implemented by the neighborhood associations, then it is a no-brainer. What will determine the true winner is what happens after the vacation decision is made by the Fort Wayne City Council.