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Fellows Street project mired in debate; more public input maybe needed

SOUTH BEND, Ind. – Public concern has prompted members of the South Bend Common Council to try and slow down a street alignment project that would require the destruction of 31 homes.

Council members Henry Davis, Jr., David Varner, Karen White, Tim Scott, Gavin Ferlic and his father Fred, attended a public meeting that was supposed to start the ball rolling toward a win-win solution for residents and the City of South Bend.

Right now, INDOT is building a bridge over the St. Joseph Parkway that will connect Fellows Street south of Ireland Road.

Eventually, US-31 will be a limited access highway, and it is suspected that more than 8,000 cars will end up using Fellows Street as an alternative route.

That increase is projected to be some 20 years from now.

One of the reasons for the Fellows Street project is to protect the level of service at the intersection of Michigan Street and Ireland Road.

Currently on a scale of A to F (A being no delays, F being major delays) that intersection is rated at a low C, according to the City.

They fear, if the realignment project is not done the increase in traffic volume will eventually overwhelm the intersection dropping its service level to F.

City engineers have proposed a solution that widens Fellows street, so traffic has more options for north-south travel.

But doing so would force the City to destroy 31 homes, due to topography and a lack of space to fit in the road; sidewalk; and bike lane.

The estimated cost of the project is around $6 million, three of which could end up going toward buying the homes.

Then there is the amount of money the City would lose annually due to removing the property from the tax rolls.

According to the Bill Schalliol, the Business Development Manager for the City of South Bend, the needs of the many (drivers) outweigh the needs of the few (the residents).

“Maybe there are some opportunities to leave some houses, but at the end of the day maybe there aren’t; and we need to come to that reality,” said Schalliol.

One homeowner in favor of the project told council members he was told by the representatives of the City in a meeting in early-June that the project was moving forward and that he should start making plans to relocate.

Those 11 small group meetings, held over three days, were conducted before the Redevelopment Commission voted to confirm the project.

Schalliol insists that the homeowners were specifically told not to make any purchases, and that the process by which the homes would be assessed and bought by the City was fully explained to them at that time.

But that is exactly what Frank and Rogene Rozmarynowski did.

After receiving a letter on May 17, 2012 that stated the City may have to buy their home because of the project, the retired couple went to their bank, First National, showed them the letter, and secured a mortgage to buy a new home.

They have already closed on the house and are in the process of fixing it up; it needed some work according to Rozmarynowski.

Their friends and neighbors, Stanley and Kyna Doaks also are well on their way to making a purchase of their own; they close in late-July and have already put down earnest money.

Neither family is thrilled about the project or the prospect of moving away from the homes they love.

Now, as the current plan slips into limbo, the couples are distressed at the uncertainty of something they say they were led to believe was a done-deal.

Until the Redevelopment Commission, a seven person panel appointed by the Mayor (four people) and the Common Council (three people), votes to confirm the project it can change.

Some changes discussed include using alternate routes and creating setbacks with smaller yards for residents on the street.

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