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Brookview Beautiful 2: the City responds
The City of Fort Wayne talks about why the changes in the Brookview neighborhood are necessary and what they are doing to address residents’ concerns
By Michael Summers
Fort Wayne Reader
FWR #124 featured a cover story on improvement and development projects in and around Fort Wayne’s historic Brookview neighborhood, and the efforts of the residents there to have a say in the various changes the City of Fort Wayne and the Indiana Department of Highways have planned for their area.
We were contacted by the City just as the next issue of Fort Wayne Reader (#125, with YLNI on the cover) was hitting the stands. FWR had not talked to the City in the original story, and the City wanted the opportunity to explain why the development taking place in the Brookview area was necessary, what they were doing to address residents’ concerns, and how the historic characteristics of the neighborhood figured into the overall plans.
Just to recap: the Brookview neighborhood is located just North of downtown along Spy Run Creek, in between Wells and Spy Run Avenue. A winding section of State Boulevard cuts through the area. It’s one of Fort Wayne’s oldest planned neighborhoods, designed by nationally-celebrated landscape architect and city planner Arthur Shurcliff back in the early 20th century.
A number of construction projects are taking place in the area. First and foremost is the Westbrook Flood Control Project – the removal of Westbrook Drive between Edgehill (just south of State) and Clinton Street and the installation of a rain garden there. At least one house was bought with FEMA money; others were bought using money from a City Utilities Stormwater Bond. Another rain garden may go in on Eastbrook, since houses there have already been demolished.
There’s also the INDOT-led project on US 27/Clinton, which will straighten Clinton between State and Science Central and raise the bridge over Spy Run Creek by seven or more feet. Westbrook Drive has already been closed.
In the future there’s the Puffer Belly Trail, a planned biking/walking trail that will run on the path of the old New York Central railroad tracks from Lawton Park to Fernhill Avenue with a spur to Franke Park.
Also in the future is the State Boulevard project, which calls for the section of State that curves through the neighborhood to be straightened between where the old railroad tracks used to cross State Blvd. and Spy Run Avenue. (you can find the original “Brookview Beautiful” story at www.fortwaynereader.com).
While Brookview has remained a vibrant, inhabited neighborhood since it was first created in 1917, it has had some problems, primarily the regular flooding of Spy Run Creek. David Ross, the City’s engineer since 1993, says that was the driving force behind the two current projects. “It’s been a chronic problem,” he says, adding that the City started applying for federal aid funding to do some of the buyouts in the Westbrook area years ago. There was a study done during the Helmke administration that offered a number of alternatives, such as a dam across Eastbrook and Westbrook, or a “trough” like you might see in the Western states. “The neighborhoods didn’t like those,” Ross says. “They were way too intrusive and really destroyed the character of the area. Also, creating a dam would exacerbate the problem.”
The City began signing up volunteers for buyouts of some of the homes in the flood hazard area, and in 2006 started acquisition of the houses. Residents of the frequently flooded homes were obviously eager to move on. “People didn’t want to stay in these houses,” says Zenovia Pearson, the Mayor’s advocate for the Northeast area. “Every time we had a major storm, they would lose property, they would be displaced. They were begging us to buy the properties.”
Because federal aid applications can take a long time, the City largely funded the buyout via a utility bond approved by the neighborhoods and city council in 2005. One property was bought with FEMA funds.
“Our primary goal in developing a flood-fighting project was flood protection for Edgehill,” says Ross. “We developed that, and came up with the new concept of rain gardens; it doesn’t really help with flood-fighting, but it’s more of a filtration process, where you take the surface water, run it through a rain garden, it filters out the impurities and has a deep root system that helps the water go to the ground rather than running off into the street. It also helps beautify the vacant lots.”
The project on Clinton Street and the raising of the bridge over Spy Run Creek were undertaken for similar reasons: the very low bridge often floods, causing street closures. “To keep it from flooding, they had to raise the bridge seven or eight feet, which means the approach on Eastbrook and Westbrook was blocked,” says Shan Gunawardena, Traffic Engineer for the City.
There were also traffic problems with the intersection. “Westbrook was a hazardous area,” David Ross adds. “People would cut through off of State to do a short cut to Clinton and avoid the State/Clinton intersection. We were seeing a fairly high accident rate, because it comes in at a very bad angle. So we thought we were addressing a number of problems by cutting off those streets and creating a garden area.”
The State Boulevard project slated for sometime in the future will lessen the curve of the street as it goes through the area — a necessary change because of the huge amount of traffic on the boulevard. It’s a major east-west artery that handles, according to the City, over 20,000 vehicles (in two lanes of traffic) daily. And the small bridge across Spy Run Creek is one of the county’s lowest rated bridges, says Shan Gunawardena. “It has to be replaced. If we kept the curve, we’d probably have to raise (the bridge) a good ten feet. If we raised it that much, the impact to the neighborhood would have been substantial. By moving it further away and creating the bridge diagonally across Spy Run Creek, you can create a much bigger opening without having to raise the bridge too much.”
Early proposed sketches for the area include plans to make State Boulevard more like a… well, boulevard, with trees lining the street, areas for pedestrian crossing, and a meridian. Part of the street’s current curve will remain, creating (for example) a cul-de-sac. While stressing the State Boulevard project is still in the future and that the City has not even begun to take the necessary steps to begin, the City says that working with the residents and preserving the area’s historic characteristics are a priority. “There are ways in which historic layouts can be preserved,” says Gunawardena. “If you can’t preserve the entire roadway, there are ways in which you can provide either some sort of row of trees or a water feature or a curve line or what the original layout was supposed to be that is consistent with historic preservation efforts.”
But perhaps the biggest bone of contention among residents was the fact that elements of the Westbrook Flood Control Project came about more quickly than expected, and without their input. Many of the changes to the plan — maintaining lighting in the area, saving trees that were slated for removal, and a few others — happened as construction equipment was parked on the street, ready to go.
David Ross says that once the City was made aware of the concerns, they were happy to accommodate the changes. And though Ross concedes that it’s sometimes a challenge to make sure everyone in the affected area is notified, Zenovia Pearson says the City basically did everything it normally does to process the projects — sent out notices to all the property owners adjacent to the project; did a legal notice; and had meetings with the Northwest Quadrant to announce the improvements (the Brookview neighborhood is currently in the process of re-activating their neighborhood association). “This project was brought up as a part of the North River plan,” adds Pearson. “It was brought up as the Bloomington Neighborhood Association plan. So it’s not as if it’s ever been a surprise. Anyone who is really active with the city government and with the neighborhoods would know that these are out there.”