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City Council approves new zoning ordinance

The Fort Wayne continued its historic move toward an aligned zoning law with Allen County when City Council members voted unanimously Tuesday to approve a new zoning ordinance.

When the process is complete – the Allen County commissioners must still vote on the county version of the law and the Plan Commission must approve the slew of amendments City Council members adopted – both governments will have adopted total rewrites of their zoning laws for the first time in decades. And for the first time ever, the two laws will be as similar as officials can make them.

"This is a big move forward," said Kim Bowman, executive director of the Department of Planning Services.

The laws replaced were so old they included provisions for haberdasheries and millinery shops. The city and county had already combined their planning and zoning departments into one entity, but until the updates become law, that department oversees two separate, different ordinances. Officials believe that having two nearly identical laws will make it easier for development because the rules will be the same no matter where they locate.

Four years in the making, the laws were also written to streamline the approval process. Under the current law, hearings are required for some things that should be handled administratively, and protections for residential neighborhoods that should have been built into the law instead required separate approvals. The new law was also designed to be more user-friendly, and now features charts and tables.

Council members proposed 17 amendments to the 440-page document.

"I think the council did their job," Bowman said. "They proposed good amendments. …It was very positive, a great discussion and good suggestions."

Most of the amendments dealt with seemingly minor details, such as whether less intensive uses would be allowed on land zoned for industry. Russ Jehl, R-2nd, pointed out that the new language, if not amended, would not have allowed the new Costco or Kelly Chevrolet on Lima Road without rezoning or an exception. John Crawford, R-at large, proposed amendments to allow billboards on gateway corridors into the city – the new law had prohibited them – but only when five square feet of billboard is removed somewhere else for every one square foot of new billboard put up.

Not all of the zoning package fared well, however: Controversial airport overlay districts around Fort Wayne International Airport and Smith Field were put on hold so a timeframe for airport officials to comment on proposed development could be inserted.

Council members also removed the property tax breaks for seven businesses that didn't keep their promises for jobs or investments, were sold, or did not file the paperwork required, despite several notices.

The abatements terminated were for Progressive Hospital of Fort Wayne, Keefer Printing, RMD Resources, Aptera Software, Aptimise Composites, Advantage Direct 365, and McDonalds Corp.

dstockman@jg.net

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