Take a few minutes to help Allen County plan for its future

The All in Allen Joint Comprehensive Plan is intended to guide land use, housing, transportation, parks, and more across the county.

If you have some extra time on your hands this spring and summer, take a few minutes to help Allen County chart its way into the future.

Local leaders are seeking public input on challenges and opportunities across the county, so they can effectively plan for the next 10 years of community development and public services.

Just before the COVID-19 pandemic began, the City of Fort Wayne and Allen County launched their All in Allen Joint Comprehensive Plan intended to guide land use, housing, transportation, parks, and more across the county—including Grabill, Huntertown, Monroeville, Woodburn, and unincorporated areas.

"The plan will be used by community leaders to make decisions and policies to shape the region for years to come," a press release says.

All in Allen launched with a kick off meeting in February 2020.

Sherise Fortriede, Senior Planner with the City of Fort Wayne, says the concept of a joint city-county plan dates back to the Plan it Allen effort in 2007, which created an updated policy guide for the entire community. Before then, the city and county operated independently, with different goals and ordinances, and it was difficult for developers to navigate their conflicting systems.

“We were hearing from a lot of folks in the development community that they really wanted to see more alignment,” Fortriede says.

Sherise Fortriede, Senior Planner with the City of Fort Wayne, sits in the award-winning Porch off Calhoun.

The 2020 All in Allen plan is intended to build off Plan it Allen’s progress, as well as unify individual plans within Allen County around a common vision, Fortriede explains. While places, like Leo-Cedarville and the City of New Haven, have their own planning commissions, they have shown interest in participating in All in Allen, too, she notes.

Having a comprehensive plan for the entire county helps projects qualify for funding from state and federal grants. It also helps leaders evaluate what’s working, what needs attention, and where the public’s priorities lie for the future.

For instance, in the 2007 plan, the public indicated a high interest in riverfront development, beautifying urban corridors, and improving connectivity with trails and bike lanes. These three initiatives have come to fruition in recent years as a result of residents speaking out, says Mary Tyndall, Public Information Officer for the City of Fort Wayne.

Residents are encouraged to share their opinions once again in the 2020 plan—and it’s up to them to tell their leaders what matters, Tyndall says.

“If people hadn’t talked about riverfront back in 2007, we may not have what we have today,” she explains. “If you don’t express what’s important to you, someone else might not do it for you.”

Community members offer feedback at the All in Allen Launch event in February 2020.

Residents are encouraged to visit All in Allen's website and take a short online survey, rating their experience in various categories, including housing, public transportation, and community services. They are also encouraged to use a special mapping tool to mark important destinations around the county, so planners know which places the public views as assets and where they want to see improvement.

The mapping tool was created by Houseal Lavigne Associates, LLC, a professional consulting firm based in Chicago, which was hired by the City of Fort Wayne and Allen County to lead the Comprehensive Planning process, along with Troyer Group, a civil engineering firm.

Brandon Nolin, Principal Associate at Houseal Lavigne, points to the interactive mapping tool as just one example of the public's role in shaping the Comprehensive Plan's development. Taking the temperature on the current state of the community is Phase 1 of a multi-phase, year-and-a-half-long process, which will include additional public input meetings, both virtually and in small groups under the restrictions of COVID-19, Nolin explains.

Since the pandemic interrupted the planning process, his team been working alongside a 22-member Comprehensive Planning Committee of Allen County residents to roll with the punches.

While Houseal Lavigne works in more than 300 communities in 24 states, most of their clientele is based in the Midwest. Nolin says his team was particularly excited about the All in Allen project due to the momentum and hot real estate market they’ve witnessed in Allen County. And while the COVID-19 pandemic might make planning difficult for now, it could ultimately benefit the Fort Wayne area in years to come.

“Cities like New York are booming right now, but density is getting a negative vibe with what’s going on with the pandemic, so places like Fort Wayne could benefit from that in the long-term,” Nolin says. “Fort Wayne is a place where you can get the benefits of a big city, but still have some suburban living options, too.”

Mayor Tom Henry speaks at the launch of the All in Allen Joint Comprehensive Plan in February 2020.

He says another reason his team was excited to take on the All in Allen project was that it gives them the rare opportunity to develop a plan for multiple, diverse communities at once instead of planning for one city. In other words, the spirit of collaboration in Allen County is truly unique, he points out.

“We’re usually working in one community, trying to position it better, but now, we’re looking at how to reposition a region, as a whole, and how to help the Huntertowns, and the Leo-Cedarvilles, and the Fort Wayne community grow together,” Nolin says. “Places like Fort Wayne are seeing a lot of reinvestment in their downtowns, and the flip side of that is also investing in rural and agricultural areas. It’s cool to talk about encouraging rural growth and making sure the county is succeeding and preserving their areas, as well.”

So far, the All in Allen survey has received about 400 responses, and they’re aiming for at least 1,000 by the end of the summer. Nolin says that in the feedback he and others have seen so far, they’re learning that one of the major priorities for Allen County’s future is equitable growth.

“People who have given us feedback so far want to make sure that as the tide rises in Fort Wayne, all boats are lifting with that tide,” Nolin says. “There’s also been a big emphasis on transitbike and pedestrian connectivityas well.” Patrick Fahey

Patrick Fahey, Senior Planner with the Allen County Department of Planning Services, says local leaders are also seeing an increased demand for rural broadband internet service and multiple housing types across the county.

The current housing stock is largely single-family, detached homes, and not everyone is interested in these living options anymore, Fahey explains. He anticipates greater interest in urban housing, apartments, condos, and the like in the 2020 survey.

While having urban, suburban, and rural communities in close proximity can make it difficult to satisfy everyone, there is one important thing that residents across Allen County have in common, Fortriede says.

We all have a stake in its future.

“Within a region, you need a variety of locations for people to live based on preference and choices,” she says. “It’s not just about the city of Fort Wayne; it’s not just about Allen County; it’s about how we all work together to create a destination where people want to live and work. We are 'All in Allen.' We’re all in it together, and we need to do more together instead of trying to plan and function separately.”

Have your say!

Take the survey and use the online mapping tool on All in Allen’s website. If you would like to host a virtual or in-person small group meetup to offer feedback to Allen County planners, contact the project team at [email protected]
Brandon Nolin
Brandon Nolin
Principal Associate
Houseal Lavigne Associates, LLC

IFW: Tell us about your work at Houseal Lavigne.

BN: We specialize in community planning, urban design, and economic development. We’re based in Chicago, but we work throughout the country in more than 300 communities in 24 states. Most of our clientele is in the Midwest. That’s our area of expertise. Most of our office is from Michigan, Illinois, Kansas, and Indiana.

As for me, I’m basically a senior project manager, handling the day-to-day operations for important projects like All in Allen. My days mostly involve working with city and county staff, talking about how we can approach certain aspects of the process, leading engagement, making sure everything is running smoothly on our end, and working with the project team to develop the plan.

IFW: Have you done a lot of Comprehensive Plan work in the past? What is the value of these tools?

BN: Comprehensive plans used to be a large majority of our work. We’ve done well over 100, so that’s our bread and butter. We’ve diversified our portfolio in recent years. But comprehensive plans are still really powerful tools.

They serve as a great atlas of information for everyone when you’re looking at public policy. Ideally, with a Comprehensive Plan, you’re lining up different geographies, so it’s a great document that can be used to get everyone on the same page. It’s cheesy, but we call it, “Having everyone play from the same playbook.”

For example, if departments and organizations are going after a particular grant, a Comprehensive Plan allows them to know who else might benefit from that effort, or who else is operating in that area, so they know who to dovetail with. It’s just a great way of coordinating efforts and frankly, for municipalities, comprehensive plans or master plans are the first requirements of many grant prerequisites. So if the project you’re proposing is in a master plan, then it sets you up to receive funding for that project more readily from federal and state grants.

IFW: What makes you excited about the All in Allen project, in particular?

BN: Fort Wayne is a great place. It has a lot going on for it. Every place is unique. But we are starting to work a lot more in midsized cities, and they're really on the rise. “Second cities are millennials' first choice” is a phrase that comes to mind.

With a lot of housing trends out there, Fort Wayne and other cities in that couple hundred thousand range of population have really become the go-to housing markets. Places like Springfield, Missouri, and Grand Rapids, Michigan, are where we’re seeing a lot of growth, and that’s something we’re trying to keep an eye on.

Who knows what the future holds right now. We’re all speculating, but we view what’s happening right now as accelerating trends that were already out there before the pandemic.

Places like New York are booming right now, but density is getting a negative vibe connected to what’s going on with the pandemic, so places like Fort Wayne could benefit from that in the long-term. Fort Wayne is a place where you can get the big city benefits, but still have some suburban living options, too. One of the reasons why we thought this was a really cool project to be on is because so many good things are already happening in Allen County’s community. There’s already a lot of re-investing in downtowns and really cool projects coming to life.

Another thing that’s unique about this project is that it’s a county and city plan at the same time. That was really exciting to us. We’re usually working in one community and try to position it better, but now, we’re looking at how to reposition a region, as a whole, and how to help the Huntertowns, and the Leo-Cedarvilles, and the Fort Wayne community grow together.

IFW: Public input plays a large role in your work. Has it been difficult to gather public input during a pandemic?

BN: We’re trying to keep the momentum going, make sure the public knows what’s going on, and provide avenues for engagement where we can. We're also hoping to host some smaller, in-person workshops in the future.

Before this all hit, literally the week Indiana’s governor announced the stay-at-home order, we had planned to host three or four large-scale community engagement workshops, hoping to have 100-150 people at each one.

Obviously, we’ve had to pivot since then. Instead of having those big workshops, we’re going to try hosting several smaller group meetings this summer. Our project team has been great, and they’re making themselves available to meet with groups in-person or online to host smaller group engagements.

With this planning process being a year-and-a-half-long, we’re hoping to have more opportunities for in-person engagement a few months down the road. We’re also going to have some virtual engagement opportunities on Facebook live that are to-be-announced. We’re planning to do a Q&A with the project team and see what questions people have.

Right now, you can fill out the online survey, and you can use a cool mapping tool to plot things on the map of Allen County that matter to you, whether it’s community assets or areas for improvement. We’ve got all these different avenues for engagement that we’re trying to push.

IFW: From the input you’ve gathered so far, what are some of the biggest challenges and opportunities you see in Allen County?

BN: The biggest positive right now is that you do have this unique city-county arrangement with your land use policy and planning. And you guys are still growing, despite other parts of the Midwest stagnating. Allen County is anchoring the Northeast Indiana region really well.

The main challenges that come to mind are the challenges we’ve heard about in our engagement process. One thing we know we need to tackle in the community is uneven growth. While the majority of the region is succeeding, that growth and success hasn’t necessarily been spread out. There are parts of Fort Wayne that are still struggling. We’re seeing some boom areas and some areas that are not getting the reinvestment they’d hoped for. That idea of equity is definitely something that came out in early parts of the outreach process, and things people highlighted.

People who have given us feedback so far want to make sure that as the tide rises in Fort Wayne, all boats are lifting with that tide. There’s also been a big emphasis on transitbike and pedestrian connectivityas well. Overall, the need for better infrastructure for non-auto stuff.

Along the same lines, places like Fort Wayne are seeing a lot of reinvestment in their downtowns, and the flip side of that is also investing in rural and agricultural areas. It’s cool to talk about encouraging rural growth and making sure the county is succeeding and preserving their areas, as well.

It’s not just about city growth; it’s about balancing growth collectivity.