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The Journal Gazette

Trails advocate, developer clash at plan board

– Residents near a proposed $20 million housing addition are split over the project that could be an economic development boon but override a portion of Pufferbelly Trail.

About 30 people attended the Allen County Plan Commission public hearing Thursday that featured a few passionate pleas for businessman Mike Thomas to alter his 197-unit subdivision on the south side of the 100 to 400 block of West Gump Road.

He needs approval of his primary plan and rezoning from agricultural to single-family residential.

“There are options out there for the trails, but we’re not one of them,” Thomas said.

Lori Rose, executive director of Fort Wayne Trails Inc., spoke out against Thomas’ Whisper Rock addition, where crews would break ground immediately if it’s approved.

She said the residential project cuts through about 3,200 feet of path planned for Pufferbelly. Rose appealed to Plan Commission members to delay making a decision for 30 days to give her time to possibly seek grant funding from the state Department of Natural Resources.

Plan Commission member Therese Brown said she lives in the area and was in favor of allowing the monthlong continuance.

“It’s not too much to ask,” she said.

Brown, however, later withdrew her motion to delay a decision and decided to let the process play out.

Vice President Ken Neumeister said he appreciated what Fort Wayne Trails is trying to do but doesn’t see how 30 days will make a difference.

“There’s economic development and a number of other things in play,” Neumeister said.

Thomas agreed and said he was offended that Rose would oppose his project “because we are trails people.”

The developer said his firm has a history of working to foster and preserve natural walking areas.

He called Rose’s suggestion insulting.

“She is wrong, wrong and wrong,” Thomas said. “Let’s just call up the DNR and see if they have (money). Come on, folks.”

After the meeting, Rose apparently tried to converse with Thomas, but he was not having it.

“This is the real world, young lady,” Thomas was heard saying. “We are done talking.”

In the next two weeks, Fort Wayne Trails intends to ask the Allen County commissioners for a $100,000 loan to help get started on another phase of the Pufferbelly Trail. The trails organization has raised $200,000 toward the project and has agreed to repay the county within two years.

Fort Wayne Trails is a nonprofit founded in 2011 when Greenway Consortium, Aboite New Trails and Northwest Allen Trails combined. Fort Wayne Trails is in the midst of a 2-year-old plan called Countdown to Connectivity to secure land and money for more than 250 miles of proposed trails in Allen County.

The goal is to link trails for uninterrupted travel or with key destinations so the paths can be easier to access.

The Allen County Plan Commission will vote on the matter at 1:30 p.m. Thursday at Citizens Square.