Property rights a priority of zoning group

Members of a group that has been appointed to revise Elkhart County's zoning laws have vowed to protect private property rights.

Posted on Feb. 22, 2013 at 12:00 a.m. | Updated on Feb. 22, 2013 at 2:17 p.m.

GOSHEN — Private property rights of landowners will be front and center in Elkhart County’s newest zoning ordinance, according to members of a group that has been working to revise the laws.

Property rights were a major concern among landowners who opposed a draft of the zoning ordinance that was proposed almost two years ago. County residents who spoke out against the ordinance criticized it for being overly restrictive. This time, members of a committee appointed by the county’s plan commission to rewrite the ordinance hope to ease those worries.

“In the first round, a lot of people voiced concern over what this is going to do to property rights, and I’ve been telling folks that it’s not something we’re trying to do to you — it’s something that we’re trying to do for you,” said Randy Wilson, a business owner and member of the zoning ordinance policy committee.

The preamble for the proposed zoning ordinance includes a statement that pledges “to protect the rights of private property owners from potentially detrimental land use activities on neighboring properties and to provide a reasonable balance between the private property owner’s freedom to develop his or her land and the general public’s interest in living in an attractive and prosperous community.” The preamble sets a precedent for the rest of the ordinance, according to Elkhart County Farm Bureau spokesman and policy committee member Dwight Moudy.

“Personal property rights trump everything else,” Moudy said. “You cannot put any ordinance through that would affect or take away property rights from a landowner.”

While the revamped ordinance will feature a few elements of the zoning laws proposed in 2011, known as Draft E, Wilson said it will also include parts of the county’s current zoning ordinance plus new pieces written by the policy committee.

Members of this committee have been working well together, Moudy said. The group includes more than a dozen people from all over the county representing agriculture, builders, Realtors and other sectors of the community.

“We even have people who were in favor of the ordinance that was turned down,” Moudy said. “We’ve all been able to work together to do the right thing. We realize that this ordinance is just too important not to succeed. It’s going to require compromise, and it’s going to require everybody working together because this can affect our county for the next 50 years. That’s why at this point we’re working very diligently to find some answers to come up with something that would be fair for everyone.”

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