Motorists entering Elkhart County’s northwest side could soon be greeted by a village.
“The Village” is the working title for major proposed development in the county’s so-called Northwest Gateway, the entrance into Elkhart from St. Joseph County at the corner of Old U.S. 20 and Ash Road.
An effort to significantly improve an area county planning officials have called an eyesore, the project would include major changes to the makeup of Old U.S. 20 and aims to draw retail, residential and other destination sites to the land on either side of the road.
Storrow Kinsella Associates, the Indianapolis consulting firm hired by the county last year to design the development, presented its initial plans to the gateway steering committee and county redevelopment commission last week. Now, county officials must make a series of decisions regarding how exactly they want the gateway to look — from the makeup of the road to the type of intersections to how accessible the area should be to pedestrians and bicyclists.
Complicating matters are plans by St. Joseph County to overhaul the Ash/Old U.S. 20 intersection, which falls on the line between the two counties. That project is progressing rapidly, meaning Elkhart County officials must make certain decisions quicker than initially expected, so their plans for Old U.S. 20 development are in sync with St. Joseph County’s.
Those plans, Elkhart County officials said last week, will likely mean their development focus will be on the stretch of U.S. 20 between Liberty Drive and Sheridan Boulevard, just past the Walmart store built there in 2008.
A main goal of the gateway project from its beginnings, officials said, was to set the Elkhart County entrance apart, and make a statement about the community to motorists. Because of St. Joseph County’s plans, that distinction won’t be able to happen at the county line, but at least shortly after it.
“We’re not going to be able to make that kind of design statement at Ash,” said Mike Huber, a member of both the redevelopment commission and gateway steering committee. “But we will be able to say we’re different visually, aesthetically.”
The county will consider installing roundabouts at several intersections, but the cost of right-of-way acquisitions may make stop lights a more sensible option. Officials will also have to choose between two different road designs presented by Storrow — a narrower style that would keep storefronts closer to the street or a wider style involving shared-use biking/walking paths and diagonal parking.
Storrow staff have already started dialog with developers and corporate site selectors that could locate in The Village, which be bordered by the Elkhart Western Railroad line to the north and the St. Joseph River on the south. A drug store chain and assisted senior housing community have already shown the strongest interest, with the latter possibly in place in 18 to 24 months.
Some local entities have shown interest, and the proposed use plan also has space for possible fast food restaurants and a convenience center.
Fitting with the county’s intention to create a one-stop community area at The Village, the use plan currently marks off space for a medium-density residential area, additional retail space and several special use spaces, which could be used for a riverfront restaurant, day care center or a fitness center.
The development will be funded entirely through that area’s tax increment finance district. Thus, starting development there quickly will be key, to help grow the tax pool the county can then draw from to pay for future phases of the project.
The commission and steering committee will offer their take on Storrow’s plan and make several decisions regarding development at a meeting later this month.