Conflict of interest claim prompts a Board of Zoning Appeals vote on possible redo

Benteler represeentatives claim one board member who voted against the building proposal may have had a conflict of interest.

Posted on Dec. 17, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.

GOSHEN — The Goshen Board of Zoning Appeals will meet Thursday, Dec. 19, to vote on the possibility of a redo in a future session.

The issue in question is a variance requested by Benteler Automotive, which was rejected but which the company also believes involved a conflict of interest.

Benteler first approached the BZA in November asking for a variance to allow a temporary structure behind their building at 910 Eisenhower Dr. S.

The building had already been set up, but without the city’s knowledge, Mayor Allan Kauffman said. Once city officials found out about the structure, they informed Benteler that it must go through proper channels to receive approval.

Kauffman said the building covers about 80,000 square feet and is being used to store finished goods.

Benteler requested that the variance be granted for the building for a two-year period while they work to build a more permanent structure.

The city’s planning department staff provided a positive recommendation to the BZA, but the board chose to reject the request.

Since that meeting, however, Benteler representatives have claimed one board member who voted against the proposal may have had a conflict of interest.

Benteler asserts that the building on C.R. 40 they were previously renting for storage is owned by board member Kelly Huffman’s family and that she should have abstained from the discussion and subsequent vote.

Huffman did not wish to comment on the proceedings when contacted by The Elkhart Truth.

After examining the claim, though, the city’s legal staff has recommended the redo vote to avoid possibility of a legal challenge, Kauffman said in an email.

Benteler has not said they would pursue the issue in court, Kauffman said in an email, but the legal staff is still suggesting the vote as a precautionary measure.

Thursday, then, will be the first of what could become two votes.

The vote Thursday will determine whether board members believe they should rehear Benteler’s request.

Normally, a request that has been rejected cannot be reheard for six months. The board must vote unanimously to rehear the proposal before that time.

If the board does in fact vote in favor Thursday to rehear the request before the six-month period, the board can make a final decision on the variance as early as the January meeting.

For her part, Huffman has agreed to vote in favor of a redo at Thursday’s meeting, Kauffman said. She has also agreed not to participate in the future discussion and vote if the board decides to rehear the request.

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