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Plan commission recommends MOR/ryde rezoning

Elkhart Plan Commission narrowly voted Thursday to recommend a rezoning that woud allow MOR/ryde International to expnd operations north of Elkhart.

Posted on April 11, 2013 at 1:00 a.m. | Updated on April 11, 2013 at 5:19 p.m.

GOSHEN — After more than two hours of sometimes passionate vocal opposition to MOR/ryde International's expansion plans, the Elkhart County Plan Commission voted Thursday, April 12, to recommend support for the company's rezoning request.

The panel voted 5-3 to support rezoning land from residential and agricultural to manufacturing.

The property is located southwest of Eastwood Elementary, west of C.R. 15 and north of the city of Elkhart.

Among those opposing the request was Frank Lucchese, one of the three Elkhart County Commissioners who will make the final decision on the matter. No date was given when the commissioners would hear the recommendation.

In addition to Lucchese, others opposing it were Tom Stump and Steven Edwards.

Those supporting the recommendation were Blake Doriot, Tom Campanello, Roger Miller, Steve Warner and Jeff Burbrink.

The zoning request represents a classic choice for planners: Continue to allow industrial growth from the north or protect a school and upscale residential subdivisions to the south.

Toward the end of the two-hour discussion, some plan commission members admitted their greatest concern was for homeowners who live closest to the proposed site.

But opponents voiced numerous concerns about a wide range of issues including the potential impact on the school, falling home values and possible noise pollution.

Opponents also argued that the rezoning would be inconsistent with the county's land use plan, which calls for industrial development to generally occur in industrial zoned areas rather than rezone other property.

Despite the close vote, Paul Thrash, one of many who spoke against the plan, said afterward the vote “felt like a real kick to the head.”

He said his one “sliver” of hope is that Lucchese opposed the recommendation. He's holding out hope that the commissioners will listen to their case, but worries about the emphasis county officials seem to place on industrial expansion.

He thinks the rights of homeowners are being overlooked.

“Big business is very powerful. In Elkhart, anything goes,” Thrash said. “It's chaos.”

The vote came shortly after company owners agreed verbally to not expand in the future on property to the east of the current expansion area.

The issue came up earlier in the meeting when homeowners expressed concern that eventually the company would want to expand again.

Another factor that made that question pertinent was that the company originally sought to include the 10-acre tract to the east as part of an overall 22-acre rezoning before scaling back to the current 12-acre proposal.

More than one planner commended MOR/ryde on its efforts to mitigate the impact the expansion would have on nearby properties.

Company plans call for eight-foot berms with six-foot privacy fences and trees that would extend on almost all of three sides of the property. Outdoor lighting would limit the amount of light emanating from the property by using fixtures that direct the light downward.

Doriot, the county surveyor, said the buffer plan was one of the most impressive he's seen in his 20 or so years of involvement with planning.

Miller said he had concerns about land values, but other than that, he said he couldn't see any objections neighbors should have over MOR/ryde's presence in the area.

Bob Weaver, project manager for Anchor Construction, represented MOR/ryde and said the company has made numerous concessions in an attempt to make the project acceptable.

Weaver repeatedly noted that even the closest residential properties and the school are several hundred feet from the property.

But Thrasher, who lives in Hunter's Ridge, said he'll be able to see the expansion from his backyard and was unimpressed with the berm plan.

“How do you hide a 30-foot tall building? I find that hard to do,” Thrash said.

Tanzie Nielsen, a property owner and president of the school's parent-teacher association, urged the plan commission to take a responsible approach. The PTA group voted to oppose the rezoning.

“The citizens of Elkhart need to know that where they choose to settle will be protected from encroaching industry,” Nielson said.

MOR/ryde's expansion is expected to result in 40 to 60 new jobs at the Cooper Drive plant and an additional 40 jobs at the company's other two locations in Elkhart.

Many of the opponents, while applauding MOR/ryde's desire to grow, said they need to do it elsewhere. Some contend that enough existing industrially-zoned property exists nearby that the company didn't need to expand into agricultural and residential areas.

“We do not see residential developments entering upon industrial parks. We do not see schools purposely building next to factories, yet we see industry banging down the door for cheap land rather than pay the price for properly zoned land,” said John Hulewicz, an area resident for roughly 20 years.

“Let's quit condemning our residential communities for profit and poor planning,” Hulewicz said.

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