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Supporters, foes of State Boulevard widening face off

Wednesday, November 14, 2012 - 12:01 am

Supporters and foes of a polarizing street project in a historic – but flood prone – Fort Wayne neighborhood faced off Tuesday as each side implored City Council for support.

The public input session at the end of Tuesday’s council meeting showed how sharply the State Boulevard widening project has divided neighbors who live in the residential area just west of Clinton Street. The 16 people who spoke to council were split fifty-fifty, for and against.

Opponents of the project – which would straighten and widen State to four lanes between Clinton and Cass streets – say it would destroy the historical charm of the Brookview neighborhood, lower property values and increase truck traffic.

Brookview vice president Scott Simmons told council that city planners never gave neighborhood residents a real say in the project’s design, a complaint that has been raised frequently by Councilman John Shoaff, D-at large, a chief critic of the project.

“We’re not opposed to the project as a whole. We’re opposed to that consideration has not been given to our way of thinking,” Simmons said. “We just want an equal voice in this situation.”

But others say the project is long overdue. Supporters pointed to flooding risks and safety concerns about traffic that zips around the tight curve.

“We are desperate for a resolution that this project speaks to and solves,” said Susan Haneline, who lives in the 100 block of East State. “We’ve had a horrible hardship related to the flooding in this area.”

Haneline passed around photos that showed how low-lying homes have flooded over the past 30 years, saying that the problem has lowered her property value, driven up her insurance premiums and forced her to spend money on flood cleanup.

For city planners, a key objective of the project is to raise State by seven to eight feet and get rid of the most flood-prone houses to help protect neighboring homes.

Another woman, with her little boy in tow, came forward and told council members that she won’t let her son play in their yard out of fear that a careless or drunk driver might take the curve too fast and slide onto their property.

But for every supporter, an opponent approached council with concerns that traffic planners would turn State into a truck route, or that a four-lane thoroughfare would destroy the historic beauty envisioned a century ago by landscape architect George Kessler when he first designed Fort Wayne’s park and boulevard system.

Before construction begins on the project, it must go through a series of hearings and get approval by council. The city is now working with neighborhood residents and historic preservationists to come up with ways of minimizing the project’s environmental impact, said city engineer Shan Gunawardena.

After finishing the historic and environmental impact studies, which could take another two or three months, the plan would go to a public hearing in spring or summer 2013, Gunawardena said.

Shoaff, meanwhile, has introduced a resolution that would urge the city to start from scratch with a new focus on public input and neighborhood impact.

“There’s only been one design that has even been put forward, and it has caused problems,” Shoaff said. “It’s clear we have a community in conflict.”