New plat ordinance for special interests, not citizens
Alan Diefenbach - Friends of Cedar Creek - Huntertown
Published in Fort Wayne Journal Gazette
The new Minor Plat ordinance is here and ready for a hearing Oct. 15.
However, it is a shame to bring to this public hearing a rewrite of the
county ordinance without having included any of the groups or individuals
who brought this vague ordinance to the attention of the public.
Eight of the "Study Group" out of 11 are realtors or builders aligned with
the development community and their particular interests. It smacks of
special treatment and continues poor experiences with the Allen County Plan
Commission. No environmental groups were invited. No one from the Cedar Creek
area and the most alarmed citizens were invited (though the commissioners
assured that they would be in their Aug. 22, 2008, meeting).
Not a single word in the ordinance addresses the County Master Plan.
It negates the Plan-it Allen master plan, co-chaired over a three-year
period by Charles Bodenhafer and Marla Irving. None of the environmental
groups who participated in the work groups for that document was invited
This Minor Plat Ordinance is a rebirth of the old Planned Unit Development,
or PUD, discredited in years past. It does not benefit the community at
large and only allows exceptional latitude in development in all areas of
the county. The cost to your community? A changing face of the rural areas,
farms and wooded areas that have made Allen County the place it is.
The input of county residents so well spoken to in the Plan-it Allen
document is eviscerated by this new ordinance. Go ahead and read it ask
yourself, "Can you possibly understand the new ordinance? What benefit is
it to you? Does it grant new park areas and green areas? Is the wording so
complex as to make one wonder whether the county is coming to take some of
your rights away?"
There is no future in patronizing a few for the benefit of a few.
This new ordinance is strictly a land development tool with extremely
low restraint on land developers. Ask yourself it is so onerous to put
some restraints on land developing: do property owners have responsibilities
on their property? Do residents have responsibilities for the way they
drive, the way they play? Sure they do. Property rights have restraints and
It is time to recognize just whose property we really are talking about and
what the assets of a community are when it comes to land development.
Once we develop a concrete paradise it will be outside ou lifetime and our
children's if it ever returns to a natural area.
So do this: Make a decision that this is the time to tell your local
government, county commissioners and the County Council representatives,
that you want to see fair government that really is working for the benefit
of everyone, discussions in the open, with balanced representation in
working committees. You'll be glad you did.
The public hearing regarding the changes to the Minor Plat Ordinance
will be at 1 p.m. Oct. 15 in Room 126 of the City-County Building.
Adverse Development Critics want county plat law repealed, say revisions harmful.
Amanda Iacone - The Journal Gazette
Proposed changes to an Allen County law that was meant to reel in farmland
development would instead encourage urban sprawl, critics claim.
The law, known as Allen County’s minor plat ordinance, governs how farmland
can be divided into smaller pieces – either for city dwellers who want to
build a dream home in the country or for farmers who are retiring or short
on cash and need to sell their land. A plat is a legal record of the land
County planning officials sought the minor plat ordinance after completing
a new comprehensive plan in 2007. The plan is a blueprint for development
that spells out where houses or factories should be built and protects
farmland and natural areas.
While drafting the blueprint, planners learned that carving up and selling
agricultural property led to the development of about 17,000 acres in Allen
County during the past decade.
That land was divided and developed under an old rule that allowed two lots
to be sold from one largertract with no oversight from county planning staff.
That led to sales of land not suitable for building. Homes that were built
are scattered across the landscape, making it tough, critics contend, for
paramedics and police to find residents in need.
The new ordinance allows six lots – one house per lot – that are each
smaller than 20 acres to be split from the larger, original property every
18 months in agricultural zoning districts.
Creating these miniature housing additions requires plan commission approval.
The seller must provide streets, utility easements and street lighting and
control stormwater runoff as part of the process.
Since the ordinance took effect in 2008, a handful of minor plats have been
approved. The controversial Canyon Cliffs estate-style development in
northern Allen County involved five of these minisubdivisions being
developed at once as a single neighborhood, with 28 homes stretched over
Several environmental groups and neighbors fought the development.
They objected to the size and the use of public utilities plus questioned
why the developer could file five minor plats for one development.
The project sparked lawsuits, and the Canyon Cliffs’ developers submitted
different versions of the neighborhood to the plan commission. They opted
to develop the area one house at a time, which will take several years
under county law.
Because of opponents’ concerns, the plan commission reconvened the group
that originally crafted the ordinance to suggest a fix. The group released
its findings this summer, and the plan commission is expected to have
public hearings on the revisions this fall.
But the study group’s suggested changes haven’t allayed concerns of Realtors,
farmers and some residents. Some believe the revisions do not match the
stated intent behind the ordinance and would rather see the law repealed,
For critics, the most important proposed change would pave the way for more
Canyon Cliffs-type projects – those involving several miniature subdivisions
developed as one neighborhood – to sprout throughout the county.
The revisions would allow for more than two minor plats to be developed in
the same area. A third plat to be filed with planning staff would receive
additional scrutiny, Surveyor Al Frisinger said, and developers would have
to meet a higher bar for things like drainage.
That scrutiny doesn’t mean the project would be denied. It would just take
additional work, likely by an engineer, to meet the county’s requirements,
The current law allows two minor plats to be developed in the same area,
but the law is silent on whether several plats, like the five sought for
Canyon Cliffs, is permitted.
Critics like Dennis Baker, who lives near the proposed Cliffs project, and
neighboring farmer Larry Yoder call that “stacking.”
Allowing developers to file multiple minor plats in an area for a single
neighborhood ignores the comprehensive plan. The county’s land use ordinance
should work with that blueprint and ensure that large development occurs
near cities and towns and does not carve up natural areas and farmland,
And Baker believes permitting stacking would ensure that more projects
like Canyon Cliffs are built.
“The way this is worded right now, there could be a 300-home subdivision
out in the middle of the country. Are you going to build that all on septic?
I don’t know that a developer would want to do that, but they could,” Baker said.
Baker also objects to eliminating terms in the law that limit the scope and
size of these small subdivisions. Those terms were a key part of opponents’
fight against Canyon Cliffs, he said, because they felt 28 homes was too
many to fit the definition of “small.”
Also, the Canyon Cliffs project called for public sewer and water to be
extended several miles to the addition. Baker and others said that violated
the ordinance, which called for no major improvements to the land. For Baker,
sewer and water lines are major improvements, he said.
But Frisinger defended removing the conditions from the law, saying that
any construction – such as a house, barn or drainage pond – is substantial.
The committee felt it important to allow public sewer connections because
Allen County’s clay soil doesn’t work well for septic systems, he said.
Frisinger defended the other proposed changes. He said he feels the revisions
would give landowners more flexibility, make the process more appealing and
ensure that property values are enhanced.
“The look we tried to achieve is something that was friendly to the
constituents and residents of Allen County,” Frisinger said.
“It accomplished what we wanted it to.”
Brian Roemke, another committee member and a local farmer, said the group
tried to craft a fair and consistent law that took into account all concerns.
He thinks the proposed changes would help cluster any new homes built in
rural areas instead of allowing houses to be scattered across the county.
That’s key for active farmers who prefer to farm one large tract of ground
as opposed to several small properties broken up by housing, Roemke said.
But another committee member thinks the law has morphed into something
“The intent of the original law was to preserve Allen County land and to
slow down development in the county,” said Jerry Ehle, Realtor and committee
member. “The recent changes, to me, expedite the development in the county.”
Meeting the technical rules required by the law is above and beyond what a
farmer or typical homeowner could tackle. Developers, however, are able to
navigate those rules, Ehle said.
The proposed changes also make the minor plat process more appealing to
developers by allowing them to stack several of these small subdivisions
to create one neighborhood. Those developers could build on rural land more
cheaply and faster than before the minor plat ordinance took effect, Ehle
Ehle favors repealing the ordinance and letting farmers sell two pieces of
ground each year. But he also wants planning officials to review and sign
off on those sales, ensuring that a house could be built there in the future.
“To me, it’s going backward. Here’s an easier way to develop where there is
no public utilities. I just don’t think that’s right. A community should be
built from the core out,” Baker said.