The developers for the $65 million Headwaters Lofts project believed they had all their bases covered when they prepared to present their primary development plan to the Fort Wayne Plan Commission on Sept. 9.
Then they heard from the Rotary Club of Fort Wayne.
A seemingly minor detail turned into an issue — how the project will affect the street trees along Clinton Street.
Headwaters Lofts is a mixed-use development consisting of 232 apartments, 15 town homes, retail space and a three-level parking garage that will have 633 spaces.
It will be built on 2.9 acres where the parking lot is behind Club Soda, which will remain open at its current location.
Boundaries include Clinton to the west; Superior Street to the south; Barr Street to the east; and Headwaters Park to the north.
At 540,000 square feet, the project is a behemoth, using every bit of real estate to make everything fit. Doing so requires altering the streetscape — specifically removing 19 ash trees that the Rotary Club had purchased and planted as part of its Avenue of Trees project back in 1994, shortly after Headwaters Park opened.
At Sept. 9’s meeting Randy Roberts, a past president of the Rotary Club, explained the history of the trees. The Rotary Club raised and donated $21,500 to create an Avenue of Trees along Clinton from the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Bridge south to near Superior.
The trees matured and now form a canopy along both sides of Clinton.
Over the past three years the Rotary Club has spent $6,000 a year treating the Ash trees to protect them from the emerald ash borer, which has killed scores of trees in this area.
Rotarians were not pleased to learn their trees were going to be cut down.
Over the weekend several stakeholders, including the law firm representing the developer, someone from the city’s redevelopment commission and a Rotarian spoke on a conference call to work out a solution.
The 19 ash trees will still be cut down, but the developer will replace them with eight Celebration maple trees.
The developer will reimburse Rotary for the $18,000 it spent over the past three years to save the ash trees.
The developer also has agreed to incorporate into the project an as-yet-to-be-determined acknowledgement of Rotary’s contribution to the Avenue of Trees.
The developer also promised to plant the most mature trees possible to replace the ash trees.
Given these changes, Roberts said Rotary was in favor of the project.
Ben Hall, a member of the ownership group that owns Hall’s Gas House and Takaoka restaurants, spoke in favor of the project, saying they see an uptick in business with so many more people living downtown.
Several people opposed the project as well. Ed Welling, president of Friends of the Parks of Allen County, said the building was “too big for this site. The building needs to be scaled back.” He urged plan commissioners “to vote no to this project in its current form.”
John Shoaff, an architect, former City Council member and president of the Headwaters Commission from its inception in 1987 until it completed its work 12 years later, likened the Avenue of Trees to downtown’s “central nervous system.” He criticized the developers for not including surroundings in their renderings to give a better representation of how it fits into the area. In Shoaff’s opinion, “it’s too much bulk.”
He also objected to the narrowing of the sidewalk along Clinton as proposed by the plan. Shoaff pointed out that the sidewalk along Clinton has heavy pedestrian traffic, especially during festivals, and a narrower sidewalk would make it even more congested.
Resident Marcia Heymann pointed out that Clinton is also U.S. 27, a truck route.
It’s a busy road with a lot of traffic.
Tom Trent, an attorney representing the developers, Barrett & Stokely Development Group, after listening to the comments and complaints, especially regarding the size of the project, said, “We respectfully disagree with them.
“It’s just, I guess, a difference of opinion.”
No action was taken at the meeting. On Sept. 16, the plan commission will recommend a do pass or a do not pass at its meeting beginning at 5 p.m. in Room 30 of Citizens Square, 200 E. Berry St.
Fort Wayne City Council will have the final vote in a few weeks.