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Council vote advances plan for city-county zoning match

– 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 being replaced are so old, they include 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 could be handled administratively, and protections for residential neighborhoods that could 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 ordinance, if not amended, would not have allowed the new Costco or Kelley Chevrolet on Lima Road to be built 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: Contentious airport overlay districts around Fort Wayne International Airport and Smith Field were put on hold so a time frame for airport officials to comment on proposed development could be inserted.

Also Tuesday, council members ended property tax breaks for seven businesses that either didn’t keep their promises for jobs or investments, were sold or did not file required paperwork 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.