BZA Grants Variance For Arnolt Property To Become Housing

The former Arnolt Corp. property (pictured) on East Durbin Street will be deeded over to the city of Warsaw. The Board of Public Works and Safety on Friday approved for the city to take ownership of it. Photo by David Slone

A use variance granted by the Warsaw Board of Zoning Appeals Monday will allow petitioner Real America to proceed with plans for a multi-family housing development at the former Arnolt Corp. property.

The property is at 2525 E. Durbin St., Warsaw, in an Industrial-2 zone.

Assistant City Planner Jonny Latsko told the BZA Real America’s proposed project “features two three-story buildings with 60 units, as well as a community building, parking and other amenities for tenants.” Along with the Arnolt building, the location also is occupied by several smaller vacant lots, and the I-2 designation does not allow for residential development. Properties to the north, west and east are zoned Commercial-2 and Residential-3, which allow for multi-family housing.

The city’s comprehensive plan identifies the corridor as a target for “community vitality,” Latsko said. “An Argonne Corridor Vision Plan is currently in the works by the Kosciusko Economic Development Corporation in partnership with Warsaw and Winona Lake. The vision plan identifies the Arnolt property as a potential catalyst site for private investment in the corridor. The general corridor vision is to encourage a mixed-use neighborhood.”

He also pointed out that a residential market potential study conducted this year identified a demand for rental housing in Warsaw.

The Warsaw Building and Planning Department received a letter against the use variance request from Jim Weaver, owner of Warsaw Engineering and Fabricating Inc., 2780 E. Durbin St.; and two letters supporting the petition, one from Greg Cobb, managing member of Freedom Oil, and George Clemens, managing partner and member of Pelonite LLC.

“It is the recommendation of the planning department that the board approve this request,” Latsko said.

BZA President Tom Allen asked City Planner Jeremy Skinner to expound on the vision plan for the property.

Skinner said, “Obviously, we’ve been working on this for a couple of months now. The Redevelopment Commission approved a portion of their study that they’re paying for; Winona Lake also has paid for this study that’s being done to look at redevelopment opportunities in this area. Obviously, with the Gatke property, the Redevelopment Commission has been trying for years to create some redevelopment options.”

The city took ownership of the Arnolt property about a month ago with the intent of working with Real America to redevelop the property into housing, he said.

“You might ask, ‘Why this location?’” Skinner said. “Obviously, accessibility is huge when we’re talking about rental housing. The accessibility to commercial, the accessibility to a grocery store, accessibility to educational opportunities. All of which this site affords us as we continue to work on our redevelopment plan in that area. There are other industries in that area that we’re also working with that will probably change the face of the Argonne corridor over the next 10 years. It’s not going to happen over night, but obviously this would be the first step in that direction.”

He said there’s still lots of industry in that area and the city wants to protect that industry, which is why the city is recommending a use variance instead of a rezoning – to protect the existing businesses.

“The mixed-use corridor plan will have a variety of different commercial, professional, some light industrial uses as a part of its whole as we redevelop some of these under-utilized buildings or demolish some of those that are no longer useable, especially when we’re talking about industrial sites that have some cleanup that will have to be done,” Skinner said.

The site has gone through a phase 1 environmental investigation thanks to grant dollars received from the Michiana Area Council of Government. The city is working with Real America to put in an application for the Sept. 18 deadline for affordable housing, he said.

Rick Keeven, BZA vice president, asked what kind of housing was being planned. Skinner said it was open-ended so it would “be like Little Crow Lofts. It is not specific to seniors.”

Skinner said Arnolt has been “defunked” since the mid-’80s and the property entered into receivership sometime in the 1990s. The city obtained the property with the intent to work with a developer to redevelop it. “The building is coming down,” he said.

By videoconferencing, Jeff Ryan, vice president of development for Real America, said Real America was “very interested” in developing more properties in Warsaw and the Arnolt property is at a great location. The development company, which has been around since 1995, owns 100 apartments in Warsaw, including at Heron Preserve and Heron Court behind Kohl’s.

“We want to be a partner with Warsaw for decades to come,” Ryan said.

The development would become known as The 2525 for its address.

The 2525 site’s environmental issues would be taken care of, he said, to make sure it was perfectly safe for future residents. It would have a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments on 3 acres. There would be ample parking, a dog park, a playground and a community building. The style of the building would be similar to the development Real America just completed in Columbus.

Weaver then spoke at the meeting against the development. He said the area is industrial and should remain that way, and he was concerned about more people trespassing at his business as people already do. He was concerned about children and his industry’s large operating equipment in the same area.

“The use is definitely, historically industrial. And I had all the confidence that it would stay that way,” Weaver said.

Allen asked Skinner to respond to Weaver’s concern about safety and what the city is planning to do.

“I think the big thing with safety is creating opportunities for them to safely navigate where they (walkers, bikers, etc.) need to go without trespassing,” Skinner said. “Right now those opportunities aren’t there and it’s come upon us to work with the developer to create them.”

He said there was a lot of residential in the area, and said the area has changed a lot to include restaurants, convenience store, offices and a drug store. Skinner said it was very important for the city to protect Weaver’s ability to continue to operate.

“The fabric of that area is changing. It’s changing because the transportation opportunities that were there 50-60 years are no longer there. It’s changing because the industry that was there has left, and they’re not coming back. It’s changing because the uses surrounding it have drastically changed,” he said. “… That facility is not going to be manufacturing. If it was going to be manufacturing, it would have done that 30 years ago. We can stare at that building for the next 30 years and hope that manufacturing comes back, but it will not.”

He said the Gatke property has been in the city’s ownership since 1999 and there’s been no industry go back there or come knocking on the city’s door to turn it back to industry.

“So we’re trying to rehabilitate this area, while at the same time, protect industry that is there. It’s very important to the city of Warsaw that they can continue to grow and continue to survive,” Skinner said. Weaver later said his daughter and son plan to take over the business eventually.

After further discussion – including city attorney Scott Reust reminding the BZA of the criteria they had to make a decision and an unnamed caller saying it should be a homeless shelter – the BZA approved the use variance.