GOSHEN — A disagreement between two neighbors got a public hearing Wednesday evening.
About 100 people gathered in the basement of the Goshen Public Library to give or hear comments about proposed fencing around The Oasis, a rebuilt restaurant at 702 W. Lincoln Ave.
Dave and Linda Wright, owners of Linway Plaza, are petitioning the Indiana Department of Natural Resources so they can install a 650-foot fence on the south side of West Lincoln Avenue along the popular shopping plaza and a 285-foot chain-link fence that would be around The Oasis within the plaza’s parking lot. Because the fencing and much of both businesses are in the Elkhart River’s floodway, the DNR is working toward a decision on whether it approves the fencing. City approval is likely needed after that.
Scott Dean, an environmental manager in IDNR’s Division of Water, made it clear that he was there only to hear comments about flooding, safety and impact on fish, wildlife and plants, but he got a lot more.
“There’s obviously other concerns, and that’s why the room’s full,” said Brad Rodman of CDR Construction, the contractor for the rebuild of The Oasis, which made the building larger. He and others spoke against the fence being installed, though a sewer connection variance that’s part of the DNR petition isn’t a point of contention.
The disagreement is over parking. The Oasis has 29 parking spaces on its property, according to Dave Wright, or 36 to 40 if you ask Heather Tobias Harren, one of four owners of the revamped restaurant and bar. After demolition in December, the two groups started squabbling over parking spaces. Linda Wright said after Wednesday’s hearing that they are seeking the fence for “property delineation” for their customers.
Linway has 17 businesses and some that aren’t part of the plaza with which the Wrights have agreements about parking. Efforts to reach an agreement in the past 10 months haven’t gone well, though both sides say they have tried. The growth of Linway started in late 1994 with a four-screen cinema that now has 14 screens with 2,200 seats. The Hacienda Mexican Restaurant has 455 seats. The plaza has 600 parking spaces and is working to protect them for its customers, Dave Wright said.
The Wrights attended the hearing with their sons, but did not speak during it. Tobias Harren did and said that a fence on three sides of her restaurant could create a dam if flooding happens again the way it did in February 2018. She cited a letter from Goshen Fire Chief Dan Sink noting safety concerns.
Don Showalter, a 35-year Goshen firefighter who is certified in water rescue, said the fence would trap debris and hinder firefighters.
“You put that fence up and it will hamper rescue. People say water will flow through it. Our boats won’t,” he said.
Scott Clark of Advanced Excavating said there’s not much risk from a fence.
“Linway Plaza, the owners, if they want to put up a fence, that’s their right to put up a fence,” he said.
Tina Bontrager, owner of Anytime Fitness, was vocal throughout the hearing about wanting the fence. She told Tobias Harren, “It’s better to be good neighbors.” Applause erupted when Tobias Harren responded, “I agree.”
Doug Nisley, Goshen City Councilman for the district, said he’s heard a number of safety concerns raised about a potential fence.
“The district is worried more about the safety of the patrons and getting into that area,” he said.
He urged Dean to take safety into account as the DNR makes a decision. Nisley, the city’s Plan Commission or the Board of Zoning Appeals may inevitably vote on the proposed fence.
Dean couldn’t give a timeline for the DNR’s decision, which could also be appealed.
“I really don’t have a dog in the race to be honest. I’m going to look to see how it affects the floodway,” he said.