Trash removal company begins development plans for former American Countryside site
Posted: 11/21/2011 at 1:25 pm
By: Josh Weinhold
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The American Countryside Farmers Market building in Elkhart on auction day, Wednesday June 15, 2011. The building was included in one of fifteen lots totaling 300 acres that were sold Wednesday evening. (Truth Photo By Elizabeth Frantz)
Waste-Away Group, the Elkhart trash removal company that purchased the property for $3.78 million at auction in June, is moving ahead with plans to redevelop the site to meet the needs of the company’s expanding operation.
The company’s petition to rezone the area from an E-3 environmental management zoning designation to a combination of business and manufacturing zones was approved Monday by the Elkhart County Commissioners.
Waste-Away plans to rename the farmers market structure and the 275 acres around it the “Elkhart Eco Park.” While much of the land will be used for the company’s primary business — waste management and recycling services — Waste-Away also hopes to build a business cluster on the site.
The company wants to attract businesses of similar goals and interests to the property, between C.R. 26 and S.R. 19 south of Elkhart, to create a hub of mutual commercial and logistical benefit.
Waste-Away, presently based near Beardsley Avenue and Nappanee Street in Elkhart, will convert the farmers market building into corporate office space, use the site’s front parking area for employees and revamp areas behind the building for storing its fleet of trucks and other vehicles.
The plans look nothing like the idealistic proposal of a theme park or resort that American Countryside’s investors had in mind a decade ago, but county officials said any development on that property is encouraging to see now.
“I’m impressed that this group has brought a use to this area,” commissioner Mike Yoder said. “It’s not what we envisioned years go, but at least they maintained some of it.”
The site was appealing to Waste-Away, according to county documents, due to its location near two state highways and two other landfills that immediately adjoin the site. The transportation network is a key element in its business, Waste-Away officials told the county. Combine that with a large of amount of acreage the company could expand into and the site’s distance from residential areas, and the former American Countryside was an ideal spot.
The dual zoning classification was necessary, county planning officials said, because of the nature of Waste-Away’s work. The manufacturing zone was required for the company’s trash and recycling operations, with the business zone needed for the office space.
The change, recommended 5-2 by the plan commission, was unanimously passed by the county commissioners.
American Countryside closed in September 2010 after just more than three years in operation. Its main building featured dozens of vendors across 51,000 square feet of space on two floors. Further plans for expansion, including a roughly $165 million travel resort, never got past the beginning stages.
According to minutes from a county plan commission meeting at which Waste-Away presented its proposal, the company recognizes the “gateway” concept that was initially intended for that site and how it fit with goals of the county’s comprehensive plan. Company officials contend that their development meets many of those objectives, including environmental stewardship and a coordinated approach to growth and development between public and private entities.
“We feel this is an absolute appropriate use of this site,” said Ken Jones, of engineering firm Wightman Petrie. “It’s helping development occur in an area that was already planned for significant development.”