GOSHEN -- The public spoke loud and clear Thursday, expressing overwhelming opposition to the proposed upgrade to the Elkhart County zoning ordinance.
And in the end, the Elkhart County Plan Commission took heed, recommending in an 8-1 vote against adoption of the proposal. Instead, the officials, who serve in an advisory capacity to Elkhart County commissioners, decided to take pause from the effort, two years in the works, and take up the matter of updating the zoning ordinance in June.
"Too complex, too confusing, no one knows what's going on," said Tom Lantz, a plan commission member who voted against the plan. "It's just too much. Too much."
The foes, around 40 speakers from a crowd of perhaps 200, spoke out for about three-and-a-half hours at the special plan commission meeting at the Elkhart County Public Services Building, leading to the vote. Only one speaker expressed out-and-out support for the measure.
As proposed, county commissioners "have dominion over all your land," said Bob Schultz, an Elkhart real estate agent, voicing the criticism of many in the audience. "I think this is extremely dangerous."
Mike Neff, a farmer, expressed another common concern -- that the proposed change would reduce land values, without any corresponding compensation from the county. "I don't see anywhere in the ordinance where there's compensation for our rights being taken away," he said.
Tim Miller, a developer, wondered how the debate over the proposal lasted so long, saying its many particulars would increase the cost of developing homes. He, like many Thursday, said the proposal should be scrapped and that county officials should start over, using the existing zoning ordinance as a base.
"Every group I've spoken to is opposed to this," he said. "I'm not sure why it continues to move forward."
Plan commission officials started laying the groundwork for the zoning ordinance overhaul in early 2009. The document dates to 1965 and outlines where residential, agricultural, commercial and industrial development may occur in the county's unincorporated corners.
It faced numerous revisions along the way, and, proponents said, aimed to promote orderly development as what was once an overwhelmingly agricultural county transitions to a more urbanized center. Among other things, its many provisions would have spurred residential development in the more urbanized areas of the county on the periphery of the cities and towns here.
Farmers, though, complained that it would limit their ability to develop their land, if they so choose, and developers said its many facets would boost the price of building homes. Others complained that rules dictating things like landscaping and roof pitch at new homes and the size of business signs were too excessive.
In fact, the opposition Thursday came from a broad spectrum of the population -- farmers, the Amish community, real estate agents, tea party activists and developers. And Blake Doriot, another plan commission member and foe of the overhaul, alluded to the broad consensus.
"This is not Elkhart County," Doriot said of the document after the plan commission finally started deliberations following the public input. He gestured to the overflowing, standing-room-only crowd, saying, "This is Elkhart County."
Public input started shortly after 6 p.m. Thursday and lasted until about 9:45 p.m. The plan commission started debate shortly thereafter, deciding against the plan around 10 p.m.
Plan commissioner member Steve Warner cast the lone dissenting vote. Even plan commission member Mike Yoder, who has long championed the overhaul, voted against adoption.
It's not clear what'll happen in June, when the plan commission decided to revisit the matter. They discussed the possibility of retaining portions of the overhaul that they like, stopping the process altogether or creating a new body to start the zoning ordinance overhaul from scratch.