Sunday, January 25, 2015

Smitty's . . .

Our first home in West Lafayette back in 1985 was a small brick house on the west side of Northwestern Ave. Smitty's was our pantry. There was at least one moment of terror on each trip to the store. How fast can you push a stroller across four lanes of traffic? Smitty's was close, friendly. My recollections of the store bring back memories of my young daughters and bulk gummie bears.

Smitty's "Foodliner" closed in 2005.  Across Lindberg Rd.,The Family Inn came down in 2008 to make way for the Champion Center, then the Point at Northwestern, then Faith West. The Lor Corporation floated a plan for the Smitty's site in 2014. Now 1812 Northwestern will boast a Family Express gas station/convenience store. 

The minute the tanks go in the ground, one county official humorously suggested, the City of West Lafayette will have it's newest commercial redevelopment site. No one believes a second gas station is the "highest and best" use of the corner.

Could the outcome have been different? Sure.

In hindsight, a land use plan for the area might have helped. More patience on the part of the city development folk. Less trust in developers' promises. Seven years of work on the corner have gotten us a tax-exempt church dormitory and a gas station.

In the near term, two things might have happened at 1812 Northwestern that did not:

1) The city might have used its long-standing relationship with the Nichols family to seek a better outcome. Jack Nichols Sr. bought Smitty's in 1972. Jack Nichols Jr. celebrated the store's place in the community at its closing. Who was talking to the Nichols brothers? What happened here?

2) In 1998 the Redevelopment Commission purchased the Sear's "Levee" property to guarantee that  it would not become a storage site for "port-a-potties". The Smitty's property was incorporated into an expanded TIF district in 2012. Given the city's interest in a Northwestern Ave. "gateway" and the obvious development "flux", should the redevelopment commission have been involved here?

I have an incredible amount of sympathy for the folks along Northwestern Ave., in Hills and Dales and Northwestern Heights. I have spent the last six years on city council wrestling with the realities of the city's growth on behalf of my New Chauncey neighbors. I have had the benefit of a strong neighborhood association, and the dependable help of the likes of Jay McCann and Carl Griffin.

We all need to take an interest in the tedious mechanics of city government and the Area Plan Commission. We should realize too the very real limits West Lafayette has as a community.

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