ELKHART — Property lines are not the only things separating MOR/ryde International and the manufacturing company’s new neighbors.
Close to 80 people came together Tuesday, March 19, to learn more about MOR/ryde’s plans to rezone a 22-acre property near C.R. 15 between Eastwood Elementary School to the north and a group of subdivisions to the south. The family-owned business wants to expand its nearby Cooper Drive plant, one of its three facilities in the county.
After hearing concerns from area residents, school district officials approached MOR/ryde about a property exchange that would allow the company swap 10 acres of its land along C.R. 15 for 10 acres behind the elementary school. If school officials are able to come to a compromise with MOR/ryde, the company has agreed to invest $75,000 to rebuild the school’s soccer field along C.R. 15 with a nature trail and donate another $5,000 to renovate a horse barn on the property for the school’s use.
Bob Weaver of Anchor Construction spoke on behalf of MOR/ryde and explained to the crowd other steps the company has taken to ease concerns, including using tree buffers, berms and vinyl fencing to shield noise and visibility from neighbors. He also pointed out that there would be no vehicles entering or exiting the property from C.R. 15.
Elkhart school superintendent Robert Haworth touted the benefits of the land swap deal.
“The exchange would address our ability to control the community corridor along C.R. 15,” he said. “The exchange would eliminate the future possibilities of an entrance along C.R. 15. The exchange reduces the number of residents that would be subject to having MOR/ryde as a next door neighbor.”
But Jim Meyers, a retired Eastwood Elementary teacher with 40 years of experience under his belt, was not satisfied with the land exchange offer. The 10 acres behind the school, he said, has been used as an outdoor classroom where children go on nature walks, tend to herb gardens and go on archeological digs.
“If the land swap takes place, this would all be lost, and Eastwood children would be put in a lose-lose situation,” he said.
Meyers said the land near C.R. 15 does not measure up to the space behind the school.
“The loss of our nature sanctuary and environmental center would be what I call a travesty of justice,” he said. “This will be your legacy. We’re going to look back to this date and see whether or not we let this happen. I am a child advocate, and if the children of Eastwood knew and understood what you are considering, I’m telling you the yelling would be so loud the walls of that school would literally shake.”
With the expansion, MOR/ryde hopes to add 50 to 60 new jobs at the Cooper Drive facility plus another 30 to 40 jobs at its other locations. The company has 450 employees.
“Although we strongly oppose the zoning change request, we do continue to value the many contributions to MOR/ryde International makes to Elkhart County,” said Tanzie Nielsen, president of Eastwood’s Parent Teacher Association. “We applaud their efforts to expand despite rumors to the opposite. We are applaud their efforts to provide more jobs. We simply want them to expand into land that is already zoned for this industrial use that will be consistent with the land use plan.”
In less than a month, the Elkhart County Plan Commission will hold a public hearing on MOR/ryde’s request. The board is expected to make a recommendation on April 11 to the county commissioners who will make a final decision on the rezoning in May.