CHARIS HOUSE – CLASSIC NIMBY SYNDROME

Tuesday night’s City Council chambers became the scene of the classic Not in My Backyard (NIMBY) nonsense that tends to surround the location of many group homes and shelters.  While many genuflect and pay homage to helping others through shelters and homes, when it comes to locating such an establishment in a neighborhood, the generosity tends to take a flying leap out the window and the NIMBY syndrome rears its head.

Such was the case when Charis House decided to relocate its women and children’s shelter to a vacant, littered piece of land on the west side of Wells Street just to the north of the Wells Street bridge.  The current shelter located on W. Washington Blvd. is unable to keep up with its mission of providing for homeless women and children.  The new shelter will double the bed capacity from 44 to 88, but the choice of location has caused Wells Street business organizations to cry foul.

In order to build on the location, the City Council must approve of the vacating of Fairmount Place – a short, not quite dead-end street that is surrounded by dirt, grime, and overgrowth – located at the southern end of the Wells Street business corridor.

Using potential future development along the banks of the St. Marys River near the Charis House location – albeit hidden by an earthen levee – as the reasoning behind their opposition, the merchants argued that City Council should not approve the vacating of Fairmount Street on the theory that vacating the street would destroy the only way future business and development could reach the undeveloped river bank property.

charis-house-location1

What really is going on is the dislike for the idea of a shelter being built in the area.  The Google image above shows the location of  Fairmount Place with Commerce Street just to the north.  The Charis House building site – composed of a 30,600 square foot shelter and its surroundings – would straddle the vacated street and extend to the north of the street.

The Wells Street business owners argue that the completed site will cut off access to future river bank development; however, what has to be kept in mind is that an earthen levee prevents a view of the river in the area to which the business owners refer.   Even though the levee stands between a view of the river and any development that might arise in that area, reference was still made to the deck at Hall’s Gas House and Club Soda, presumably to create in the minds of those to be swayed of the potential for a similar view along the strip of land in question.

Frankly, I don’t get the connection since the wonderful Hall’s deck – better known as Nick’s Lounge – is built right on the edge of the St. Marys River with no intervening levee, and Club Soda was not originally a restaurant with a view.   But the connection I do get – whether the Wells Street business owners want to admit it or not – it the connection between a shelter and the all-to-alive-and-well NIMBY syndrome.

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About Charlotte A. Weybright

I own a home in the historical West Central Neighborhood of Fort Wayne, Indiana. I have four grown sons and nine grandchildren - four grandsons and five granddaughters. I love to work on my home, and I enjoy crafts of all types. But, most of all, I enjoy being involved in political and community issues.
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10 Responses to CHARIS HOUSE – CLASSIC NIMBY SYNDROME

  1. If they have an interest in that property, why don’t they make an offer to buy it? While it is impossible to prove motive, I think that you are probably right about the real reason that there is opposition to the project. I’m starting to wonder if riverfront development is simply a red herring. People only seem to bring it up during discussions of other development. I first heard about it as an alternative to Harrison Square, and now it’s being touted as a reason to keep this shelter from being built. Is anyone actually going to build a restaurant along the river?

  2. jason says:

    While the “not in my back yard” mentality exists in many similar situations, I am certain this is not the case here. It is my understanding that the Wells Area Merchants are more concerned with the design of the structure. After reviewing the proposed plans for the complex grounds, it appears to be a “suburban” style building with a parking lot directly in front. Anyone familiar with the city’s recent attempt to re-zone areas of town would understand why this poses a problem. If the Charis House project were to be designed to fit into the urban model (quality buildings up to the street, parking in back, ect..), I think this would be a totally different matter.

  3. Jason:

    If you drive down Wells Street, you will see the disrepair of many of the older buildings. It really doesn’t look like much upkeep is being undertaken.

    I also think it is great of Charis House to use geothermal energy as an energy source. The building was set back – if I am remembering correctly because the Wells Street merchants initially did not want the building at the front of the lot. Besides, again, drive along Wells Street, and you will see a number of businesses with parking in the front.

    Why is it that Charis House is falling victim to that criticism when others have parking in the front?

    And as to the main theme – that of river front development – realistically the rivers are almost completely hidden which I believe decreases the value of any development.

  4. Scott Greider says:

    Charlotte,

    Bravo for focusing attention on this issue. I’m not that informed on this one, but the merchant’s riverfront arguments do seem just a tad suspect. That said, I support arguments against the design. It’s undeniably suburban and has no place even remotely close to downtown. And as to why there’s criticism when that type of built environment already exists on Wells Street, I would say that fortunately they’ve learned from their mistakes and don’t wish to repeat their wicked ways. Fair enough! I say vacate Fairbanks (is it really a street anyway?!?), build the shelter, but build it right!

  5. Scott:

    I originally had mixed feelings about this issue. We had Judi Wire as our guest speaker at our last WCNA general meeting, who, along with the Wells Street merchants, opposes the shelter. I thought about the issue for several days. One of the concerns I had was that we did not invite anyone from Charis House to speak.

    We bent over backwards to make sure the Thieme Drive traffic calming issue involved all concerned. In fact, we stopped our previous plans which had already gone to the City. We brought in Shan Gunawardena to talk about alternatives, etc. We ended up resolving the issue with a lot of input. I wonder why we didn’t have the same curtesy in this case?

    At a minimum, I believe someone from Charis House/Rescue Mission should have been invited to present their point of view. Nevertheless, it is too late to go back and undo that situation.

    The design is suburban in nature, but it sets back from Wells Street some distance and will have the requisite landscaping around the parking lot and the structure. The drawing is deceptive since the lot size is quite large compared to the size of the building itself.

    I find most, if not all, the arguments advanced by the Wells Street Merchants flawed.

    Here are my thoughts:

    1. Argument – it will preclude river front development – the river is hidden behind a levee. Any buildings would have to be at least 2 or 3 stories high to have any chance at a view of the river. Besides, this land has been vacant for years. It is unkempt – to put it mildly – and is full of overgrowth and litter. If the merchants were truly concerned about the land, why weren’t efforts made to clean it up, develop it, or buy it? Why wait until now to raise concerns about its occupants when action could have been taken years and years ago?

    2. Argument – it is suburban and does not fit in – the Wells Street area is not in an historic district. As I noted above, many of the shops are in need of major upkeep and no disrespect intended because this happens, particularly in the urban core. The Wells Street corridor also contains a mix of different building styles from side-by-side shops to mini strip malls. In fact, I think it is quite possible that the Charis House structure will spruce up the look of the corridor and may very well stand out because it is a clean design with no look of disrepair.

    3. Argument – its parking lot sits in front of the building and can be seen from the street – I counted at least 10 businesses where the parking lot is either in the front of the stores or at the sides extending to the edge of Wells Street. In either situation, the parked cars are completely visible from Wells Street.

    As you noted, perhaps the merchants just don’t want to make mistakes again, but I have to say there are a number of store fronts that really detract from the Wells Street corridor. I wonder when these businesses went in whether or not the merchants demanded a say in how the store fronts looked?

    As Robert said, it seems like river front development has become the red herring that has been used when some issues are raised such as the Charis House.

    I love our rivers – muddy look, flooding, and all – but let’s face it, we do not have the necessary environment to develop the river banks to the degree that some people would like to see. There might be one or two locations such as the Omni Source site or the City parking site where more development will take place. But even then the development is set back from the river and usually protected by walls, levees, or berms. The entire length of land lying on each side of of the St. Marys River is in a flood zone. Development is to be prohibited in these areas, so I fail to see how we can develop the river banks.

    So when people talk about developing the river banks, I grow concerned and I wonder how they think they will accomplish this feat. The best thing that could happen to our rivers is to clean the banks of brush and overgrowth so the limited number of river drives (Thieme of course being one) can truly be enjoyed by joggers, bikers, and drivers. Take a drive around Fort Wayne and count the number of locations – other than driving over bridges – where one can truly see the rivers flowing.

  6. Iceironman says:

    I think the city govt should step up and donate a vacant building or land. Seems like a good cause and who knows how many buildings there would be with easy bus access for travel to school and work. Maybe the Charis House is smart by going after this property in hopes no one will want them there and the city will make them a great offer for an alternative location.

  7. Ice:

    I imagine the land was purchased for a very reasonable price. I am going to the meeting Tuesday night when the City Council will begin discussion of the issue.

    I have two group homes just one block behind me, and I rarely notice that they are there. I am sure they also caused issues when they were established. One difference is that the two homes on W. Washington are in old homes that were refurbished.

    The Charis House is building anew, so that is one of the criticisms from the Wells Street merchants. I have seen the plans and the architect’s drawings, and it is a nice looking building albeit suburban in look. I think it is set back far enough, though, that it will not be as noticeable as what people think.

  8. Steve "Tiny" Michaels says:

    Why would you want to build in the floodplain? Isn’t that why the homes were vacated, and leveled, in the first place?

    Better to, say, strike a deal with St. John’s for their unused buildings along Broadway for this project. Keep a vital neighborhood intact (that block of B’Way has been threatened for years,)use the properties for something with a charitable/Christian bent, recycle historic buildings for a current use….sounds like a win-win to me. Similar to the homes on Washington, or the CURRENT Charis House location…if you didn’t know they were there, you wouldn’t even notice–let alone protest.

    Plus then you don’t end up with something that looks like it should be on a suburban hospital campus, in the middle of a flood plain, as an endcap to one of the only thriving mixed use neighborhoods in town. It may be NIMBY, but I wouldn’t want the currently proposed structure in the Wells Street neighborhood, either.

    My .02.

    My .02.

  9. Steve:

    A flood plain is different than a flood zone. A floodplain is a fairly level area where the river spreads out after it tops its banks. The flood plain contains the flood way and the flood fringe.

    A flood zone is an artificial designation created by agencies – the main one being FEMA.

    http://msc.fema.gov/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/FemaWelcomeView?storeId=10001&catalogId=10001&langId=-1

    The area where the Charis House is seeking to build was removed from a flood zone designation due to the levee that runs along the north side of the St. Marys River. The flood plain is still a natural feature and always will be, but the area doesn’t flood anymore because of the levee.

    As to the St. John’s buildings, there isn’t any where near enough space to put in a 140-150 bed facility. The church still operates, and the only buildings available are the two on the west side of Broadway. These wouldn’t even come close to being satisfactory.

    Scott Greider has purchased one Broadway location and is restoring it, and a couple of other businesses are still located in the same block.

    I do somewhat disagree on your description of Wells Street as one of the only thriving mixed use neighborhoods in the City. Have you driven the Bloomingdale neighborhood lately? Since the start of this dispute, I have spent quite a bit of time driving around the neighborhood and the Wells Street corridor. Given the condition of many of the homes in the neighborhood close to the corridor and the businesses themselves, I don’t see how Charis House would be detrimental.

  10. Mark Andrews says:

    Why didn’t the Charis people think about that in the first place? How about the area on Jacobs where the 2 houses were for the YWCA! Nice area and the Imagine People are all about giving people a 2nd chance!

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