Housing projects dominate Area Plan meeting

A plan to turn the former Wells County Hospital at the intersection of South Main and Spring streets into a mixed-use residential/commercial development was brought to the Wells County Area Plan Commission Thursday night, and the APC members liked what they heard.

Chad Kline, Wells County’s economic development director, and Julie Thompson, the administrator and chief nursing officer at Bluffton Regional Medical Center, brought the plan to the APC. They were asking for a rezoning of the site, at 1100 S. Main St., from one residential classification (R-2) to another one (R-3). That change would allow for apartments — up to 65 of them — on the second and third floors of the building because the R-3 zoning allows for more density than the R-2 zoning.

The APC recommended the rezoning and sent it on to the Bluffton Common Council on a 9-0 vote.

The building has been for sale for several years. There are only two medical concerns in the building — BRMC’s physical therapy unit and a kidney dialysis operation.

Currently, they said, less than 10 percent of the building is being used.

There is a developer interested in creating the mixed-use development, which would retain commercial use on the first floor and convert the upper floors to apartments. Kline said the apartments would be in a variety of sizes.

It would also be an apartment complex that, unlike several others in the Bluffton area, would rent at market prices. Several units in the area are subsidized for lower-income individuals and families.

Kline noted that a recent housing study showed it was important to connect residents to community assets. The 4-H Park is across Spring Street, the Jay-Sun Industrial Park is south on Main Street, as is the Harrison Plaza shopping center and various other businesses and restaurants. The Decker Industrial Park is a short drive away.

“We need to create a diversified housing stock,” Kline said. Right now, 80 percent are single-family detached homes. There needs to be more flexible housing options because, right now, he said there are nearly 300 job openings in Wells County listed on the ZipRecruiter website.

A formal announcement of the project could be made within the next six months, Kline said.

A 116-lot subdivision on the southeast side of Ossian received preliminary approval from the Wells County Plan Commission Thursday night.

The development, known as Crosswinds Lakes, will be built in four phases. Brett Miller and Brent Kaehr, representing FHG Development, said the first part of the subdivision to be constructed would be to the south, with 18 single-family and eight duplex lots.

When Jerome Markley, president of the APC, asked how soon the remainder of the proposed subdivision would be built, Miller replied with an economic reality: “How many lots are we going to sell this year?”

In other words, after the first residential facilities are built, the additional ones will follow.

The area is outside the Ossian town limits, but one of the key factors going forward would be an agreement that the town would accept the streets and utilities and would agree to annex the subdivision.

The Ossian Town Council will meet next Monday, Feb. 10.

Another key factor is that the streets connect to The Bridges subdivision.

Much of the discussion centered on drainage. Larry Heckber and Kirby Sink, developers of The Bridges, were concerned that the new construction was going to drain into their drainage ponds.

As the discussion wound down, the matter of drainage was added as a condition to the approval of the project. Representatives of the two subdivisions must come to an agreement on drainage before final approval  can be given to Crosswinds Lakes.

It was one of a series of conditions placed on the approval. Others pertained to a traffic management plan, street lights and sidewalks, a temporary cul-de-sac, and other items. Some addresses for future parcels must be clarified as well.

With the conditions for approval set in place, the APC voted 9-0 to let the project move ahead. 

The secondary plat approval, when it is ready for review, will be conducted by the APC’s Plat Committee. As long as the items in the conditions were resolved, it was decided that the Plat Committee could handle the matter.

Story by Dave Shultz, Courtesy of the News-Banner

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