GOSHEN — A rural wood-grinding business will be allowed to relocate despite objections from new neighbors and a competing company.
Martin Animal Bedding, located at 21918 S.R. 119, plans to move to its new home less than two miles away at 65448 C.R. 17. But the decision to allow the business to operate there was not an easy one, according to the Elkhart County Board of Commissioners.
The board heard from nearby landowners Monday morning who were worried about wood dust wafting onto their properties and potential fire hazards at the business. But Barry Pharis, of Brads-Ko Engineering and Surveying, was able to ease the concerns of at least two of the three commissioners.
Pharis, who represents business owner Kevin Martin, told the commissioners that the new location would feature a larger building that would allow all operations — wood grinding, loading and unloading products — to be indoors. The new building and the land’s position about 13 to 15 feet lower than C.R. 17 would prevent wood dust from escaping the property, Pharis said. The finished animal bedding product, which is sold to more than 300 farmers, would not stored outdoors, he added.
“We’ve taken every step to build this proposed building in such a way to take advantage of our location,” Pharis explained.
Monday was not the first time Martin Animal Bedding’s relocation was up for consideration by the commissioners. The board turned down a similar request by the business earlier this year citing concerns about its proposed location on C.R. 17, which was recently extended to C.R. 38. Since then, the company has agreed to relocate its entrance if C.R. 17 is developed past C.R. 38.
Alongside nearby property owners complaining to the commissioners was Jim Brotherson, an attorney representing Soil Solutions, formerly VIM Recycling. Brotherson pointed out that industrial and commercial land is more expensive than agricultural land, adding that approval of Martin Animal Bedding’s request would “create a competitive disadvantage to other Elkhart County businesses which are located properly in industrial areas.”
“The other businesses in Elkhart County are going to be hurt,” Brotherson said, adding that approval would pressure businesses to move their operations into agricultural areas.
Commissioner Mike Yoder said Soil Solutions has tougher restrictions because of its proximity to a higher density residential area. Yoder voted to approve Martin Animal Bedding’s request, explaining that he believes the business belongs in an agricultural area.
Commissioner Frank Lucchese said he was bombarded with phone calls from people concerned about Martin Animal Bedding, probably the most feedback he has gotten on any one issue in his six years on the board. It was a tough decision, he said, but he ultimately voted for the zoning change.
Pharis told the commissioners that the new building would not have a dust collection system, which did not sit well with commissioner Terry Rodino. Rodino cast the only vote against Martin Animal Bedding’s request, citing concerns about potential fires.
Pharis noted that fires were a hazard in the business’s early days, but the metal equipment has been rubberized to prevent sparks. The site and equipment are inspected at least three times a day, Pharis added. There will also be two 2,500 gallon tanks of water on site in case a fire breaks out.