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Posted on Wed. Sep. 26, 2012 - 12:01 am EDT

Local project awarded by Harvard

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An online project designed to improve communication and quality of life in Allen County neighborhoods has been identified as a “Bright Idea” by Harvard University.

The project was one of three chosen in Indiana and 111 nationwide by the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

The local award recognizes the Neighborhood Resource Center, launched in 2008 by Allen County Recorder John McGauley. The Neighborhood Resource Center allows users the unlimited ability to search, download and print restrictive covenants – all at no cost.

McGauley had the idea for the covenant research center when he ran for office in 2006, but it was a huge undertaking and took two years to complete, he said.

“Neighborhood covenants are a big, important resource that no one knew how to access,” McGauley said. “Access to the covenants is a huge tool in avoiding conflict.

“There have been many fights and lawsuits over fences, sheds or something else that is clearly spelled out in a neighborhood covenant.”

Neighborhood covenants are obscure and often hard to find. Yet covenants contain the most basic rules neighborhoods live by, governing such issues as construction of decks and fences, association dues, building materials, signage and what types of businesses can locate in a particular area.

In addition to searchable access to nearly 8,000 sets of covenants and restrictions, the site also includes links to Fort Wayne, New Haven and Allen County neighborhood information, such as contact lists, meeting dates and informational resources. Downloadable maps of the county allow users to find subdivision names and, in many cases, section numbers.

The Bright Ideas program recognizes governmental innovations and initiatives.

McGauley will speak on the importance of awareness of neighborhood covenants at the three-day Regional Neighborhood Network Conference, which begins Thursday at Grand Wayne Center. About 300 attendees from the Midwest are expected to attend.

“This kind of challenges the thought that county government is clunky and out-of-date,” McGauley said, “and proves that, at least in Allen County, we can be innovative and do things differently.”

During the year ending Sept. 1, the Neighborhood Resource Center drew 13,573 users, by far the most visited resource on the recorder’s office website. The number of users has steadily climbed each year since the Neighborhood Resource Center began in October 2008, McGauley said.

In addition to Fort Wayne’s Neighborhood Resource Center, other Bright Idea recognitions in Indiana were given to South Bend for its combined sewer overflow control technology project and Indianapolis for its Clean Water Initiative project.

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