I recently submitted my application to Human Resources for two different positions: the City Plan Commission and the County Plan Commission. I first started thinking about participating on the county plan commission during the Cedar Creek debacle.
I called today to check on whether my application had been received and was transferred to the Mayor’s Office. I had to leave a message and figured I would have to call again to get an answer. I was pleasantly surprised when, later in the afternoon, I received a call from an employee in the Mayor’s office. I was not at my desk, so the individual left a message.
I am qualified to sit on the city plan commission but not the county plan commission. The reason? In order to be a member of the Allen County Plan Commission, I must live in an unincorporated part of the county. That leaves out anyone who lives within the Fort Wayne City limits.
I researched the nine members to see if all lived in an unincorporated part of the county. Most fell within the criteria, but one did not. Gonzalee Martin appears to live within the city; however, a loophole allows members who do not live in an unincorporated area. That loophole is that membership is based on certain positions within the country rather than residency. So, a city resident can be a member of the Plan Commission if that person holds an office that automatically puts him or her on the commission.
Five of the nine members are appointed by the Allen County Board of Commissioners. Three additional members sit based on their positions within county government – the loophole positions. Those are the county surveyor, the county extension educator, and a township trustee. The final member is from the Board of Commissioners.
The following are the Plan Commission’s responsibilities:
- The commission is responsible for the Allen County Comprehensive Plan and its implementation through the Allen County Zoning Ordinance, the Subdivision Control Ordinance, and various policies and practices.
- The Plan Commission controls the type, location, and timing of development in unincorporated Allen County and works with the City of Woodburn, and the Towns of Grabill, Huntertown, and Monroeville.
The nine current members are as follows:
- Charles J. Bodenhafer, President (also on Board of Zoning Appeals)
- Allan D. Frisinger, County Surveyor, Vice President
- Susan L. Hoot
- Paul Moss, County Council
- Bill Brown, County Commissioner
- Harold Kleine, Township Trustee
- Gonzalee Martin, County Extension Office
- Ken Neumeister (also on Board of Zoning Appeals)
- Robert W. Young
Susan Hoot has withdrawn due to her run for county council, and that is the spot that I sought to obtain. The commission has to have even distribution of political party representatives. I am disappointed that I do not qualify – even for consideration.
Allen County Sprawl
Part of the Plan Commission’s role involves zoning through the Allen County Zoning ordinance. Interestingly enough, the Zoning Appeals Board includes two members – Ken Neumeister and Charles Bodenhafer – who also sit on the Plan Commission. The five members of the Zoning Board are:
- Ken Neumeister, Chairman (also on Plan Commission)
- Ronald L. Swart, Vice Chairman
- Thomas C. Black, Jr.
- Charles J. Bodenhafer (also on Plan Commission)
- Jacob Delagrange
I find it quite disturbing that members of the Plan Commission charged with implementation of the Allen County Zoning Ordinance also sit on the Board of Zoning Appeals which does the following in relationship to the zoning ordinance:
- provides flexibility to the Allen County Zoning Ordinance by allowing exceptions to the Zoning Ordinance under certain circumstances.
- may allow land uses not otherwise permitted if Zoning Ordinance standards create a hardship for a property owner that relates to the property.
- serves as the forum to appeal certain planning and zoning decisions.
Allen County currently has about 350,000 population with a little over 250,000 located within the Fort Wayne city limits. The county population – minus Fort Wayne – is a little over 98,000. Thus, the criteria for sitting on the commission precludes 71% of the county’s population from participating in decisions that impact not only the county but also the city.
The criteria imposed work in contradiction to the goals of reinvesting in downtown and revitalizing the urban portions of Fort Wayne. The plan commission is currently top-heavy with business interests that rely on new construction and an expanding subdivision plan. Since commission members come from the county’s population, their view is to county issues with little concern to city goals. Add to that the preponderance of those with construction interests and little incentive to control sprawl exists.
The idea that individuals can sit on two bodies that overlap in duties calls to mind the old issue of the fox guarding the chicken coop. So far the fox has pretty much had its way, but it is about time that someone with environmental interests at heart takes a seat on the Plan Commission. Since I am precluded, I hope someone out there will step up and throw his or her hat in the ring.
We need a feisty chicken on the Commission.