Heated Voices in Zoning Fight

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After an applicant verbally sparred with opponents last week at a public hearing of a county zoning appeals board near Fort Wayne Indiana, board members voted to give more time to the operator of a proposed climbing gym.

Acording to the Journal Gazette, applicant Derek Wetli, sought a use variance to build and operate a new sports facility on a residential property Wetli and his wife own since 2009.

The facility would sit on 2.78-acres and would consist of a 4,800-square-foot manufactured steel building that would contain climbing walls with 12,900 square feet of climbable space.

Because the facility requires a 50-foot height, Wetli proposed digging the foundation down 10 feet to comply with a 40-foot height limit. Start-up costs were placed at $857,000.

Wetli told the Journal Gazette the structure would serve as a nonprofit center for recreational climbers as well as emergency personnel who might find the skills useful in their work. It also would certify instructors and offer programming for nonprofit youth groups.

The closest similar facilities are in the Indianapolis area, which now has three climbing gyms.

He said he wanted to “start small” with the aim of getting a larger commercial recreational facility in Fort Wayne and scaling back the use of the smaller one to educational purposes.

One person at the meeting supported the plan. But more than a half-dozen nearby residents opposed it in written correspondence or at the meeting. They said it would bring light, noise and more traffic to an already crowded two-lane road in an area scheduled for additional residential development and would decrease surrounding property values.

They also said Wetli had provided them different information than he gave the board or none at all. One questioned whether the applicant had sufficiently investigated other commercial sites and lined up sufficient partnerships for the project to work.

“It’s a residential area and has been a residential area for years,” said one resident, David Seel. While the idea is “commendable,” he said, “I don’t think it fits with the area. … I don’t think this is the place to put it.”

Wetli said choosing another location would be an “unreasonable hardship” because he is a stay-at-home father of two children, ages 3 and 5. Other homes along West Hamilton Road contain businesses, he said.

The two sides left the meeting room with raised voices.

The Allen County Department of Planning made no recommendation on the project, and board members at first proposed rejecting it. They then voted to resume the hearing at the next meeting so Wetli and neighbors can get together and more evidence can be presented.