FORT WAYNE, Ind., | Journal Gazette – A Fort Wayne couple wants to provide a new home for some area military vets but faces zoning challenges.
Lawrence E. “Larry” and Helen Thiele say they’re donating a residence at 4606 Woodridge Drive so American Legion Post 82 will have a place to meet and host ceremonies and activities.
But planning department staff members are recommending denial of the couple’s request for a special-use variance, needed because private clubs are not allowed in a single-family residential district.
In a telephone interview last week, Helen Thiele, 84, said she and her 71-year-old husband are longtime members of Post 82. She belongs to the post’s auxiliary, and he serves as post commander.
Post 82 had been meeting at 2025 Olladale Drive, off West State Boulevard just south of the Police Athletic League, but when the property was put up for sale, the post had to move, Helen Thiele explained.
That’s when she and her husband “had a brainstorm” to give a rental home she had owned for many years to the post and renovate it as a headquarters, she said.
She said the plan would be more economical than building new or finding a different site.
The couple proposes to renovate the interior of the two-bedroom ranch-style home by building an addition with a commercial kitchen and meeting room off the back of the house, which faces north.
A carport would be demolished and a bar area in the redone garage would replace a bar in the basement that would be not handicapped-accessible, Helen Thiele said.
In their application, accompanied only by a rough hand-drawn sketch, the Thieles show two parking lots, one in front and one to the side of the house, which faces vacant lots to the north and south.
But they also note that an access road and driveway would have to be upgraded to pavement for vehicles, including trash trucks.
That point is also a concern of planning staff, who also noted the applicants do not own the private drive that provides access to the property from West Jefferson Boulevard.
Also, the staff notes it received no sketches of what the remodeled building would look like, no plans for required screening or buffering of the parking lots and no information about the number of potential employees, operating hours and membership.
However, Lawrence Thiele this week said they had provided some additional information to planners and would be looking into hiring an architect for the site plan.
He said Post 82 has about 500 dues-paying members, but about 100 active members, including its affiliated groups – the auxiliary, Sons of the Legion and Legion Riders. Most members are Vietnam and Korean War veterans, he said.
He had no estimate of the cost of renovations but said the post would likely need to do fundraising to complete them.
An Army veteran who served in Vietnam, Thiele is known in the Fort Wayne area for providing programs on flag etiquette for schools, groups and the public. He said those programs will continue, regardless of the fate of the post proposal.
The public hearing before the Fort Wayne Board of Zoning Appeals will take place at 6 p.m. Thursday in Room 35 of Citizens Square, 200 E. Berry St.
Post 82 is now meeting temporarily at the office of the Aboite Township Trustees, 11321 Aboite Center Road, he said.
“The reason I’m pushing for this (new headquarters) is to leave this post better than when I inherited it,” Lawrence Thiele said. “I want veterans and their families to have a safe place, where they can come in and feel comfortable, and serve their community.
“It’s a good cause. It really is.”
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