By JOHN KLINE
THE GOSHEN NEWS
GOSHEN — Goshen Board of Zoning Appeals members Tuesday approved a request by Maple City Health Care to convert the historic Abshire Mansion property on Goshen’s north side into a satellite medical care facility.
Representatives of Maple City Health Care, which is located in the former north side fire station on Middlebury Street, went before the BZA Tuesday to request a use variance to permit a medical office in a residentially zoned area, and a developmental variance to allow access through a residentially zoned area for a new access on North Third Street, with the potential for a Wilden Avenue access at a later date. The request also sought the addition of 17 on-site and 13 off-site parking spaces where 25 on-site parking spaces are required.
Located at 803 N. Main St., the original home at the Abshire site was built in 1852 by Milton Mercer. After a series of owners, the original home was torn down and a new one was built on the original foundation in 1903 by Putnam R. Judkins. The Abshire name became associated with the home after John O. Abshire purchased it in the 1920s.
The Fourth Freedom Forum, a not-for-profit agency that advocates for non-violent solutions to international issues, purchased the home in 1984 for use as its headquarters.
Representatives with the non-profit have recently expressed interest in selling the property and relocating to a smaller location. With the requested variances for the property now approved, the Fourth Freedom Forum offices will now reportedly relocate to a downtown Goshen location.
As for Dr. James Gingerich, administrator of Maple City Health Care, the Abshire location couldn’t be more perfect for what he hopes to accomplish with the new facility.
“This kind of fell into our laps as a wonderful site right in the neighborhood,” Gingerich said of the property. “It’s not just the exterior that we want to preserve. It’s a gorgeous facility, and part of what we want is this sense that this treasure in the midst of our North Goshen neighborhood becomes something that is really available for the neighborhood.”
According to the petition, Maple City Health Care will be partnering with IU Health Goshen to facilitate the project. IU Health Goshen will be the purchaser of the property, while Maple City Health Care would lease the building.
“The area that we really want to use for clinical care and anything we change is the addition that was put on 20 or 30 years ago by the Fourth Freedom Forum folks, which is now to the west of the mansion over the swimming pool,” Gingerich said of the section of the property known as the apartment. “It’s beautiful, but it’s not historic, and that’s the area we’d like to expand and make available for clinical care.”
As for the mansion itself, Gingerich said the only area that will likely see any change at all would be the kitchen, which is currently not in working order. Everything else, he said, will retain its historic look and feel.
“That’s the one part that’s been remodeled already, and it’s the only part we want to change,” Gingerich said of the kitchen area. “We’re not going to change the interior at all. We’re thinking of using the mansion for group settings, for offices, and for counseling and so on. So we’re not talking about doing any interior renovations or messing with the mansion.”
In addition to the great atmosphere for clinical work, Gingerich said he would also love for the chance to open up the historic home to the public, who in the past have most likely only ever seen it from the outside looking in.
“We would love the neighbors to have a chance to see this glorious mansion, not just from the outside, but from the inside,” Gingerich said. “We want this to be a space that really expands a kind of welcome and invitation to the neighborhood. So our goal is to expand capacity in clinical care, to do it in a spacious and gracious way in this facility, to maintain its historic integrity, and to really make it another gathering place for the neighborhood.”
There were a few from the public who spoke out against the planned clinic Tuesday, listing among their grievances concerns that locating a business in a residential area could negatively affect the neighborhood. There were also some concerns raised about the potential loss of one of the north side’s few remaining historic structures if the petition were to be granted.
A majority of the public response to the petition voiced Tuesday was overwhelmingly positive.
In an effort to alleviate some of the concerns regarding the potential loss of the historic nature of the site, several commitments were added to the petition.
Included among the commitments added was language stating that the architectural integrity of the mansion must be maintained with any new construction that takes place in the development of the new clinic. Also added was a condition that the property’s green space be maintained as a welcoming and open resource for the surrounding community.
BZA member Ardean Friesen also attempted to alleviate the concerns that the property will lose its historic look and feel if a business takes it over by pointing to the good job the Fourth Freedom Forum has done in maintaining the property for decades.
“Out of all the possibilities of this facility or this property being sold, this is probably most likely the best alternative in my opinion,” Friesen said.
The board agreed, and the petition was approved unanimously.