GOSHEN — The Elkhart County Redevelopment Commission is discussing the option of buying land near the Six Span Bridge and along Old U.S. 20.

The RDC is considering the purchase of land to expand the boat launch at the south end of the bridge, developing the spot into a kayak launch and riverside park. It’s also eyeing land at the western edge of the county, near Old U.S. 20 and Corwin Street, with the aim of improving the appearance of the area.

Commission members on Thursday voted to have county planning staff move ahead with talks in both cases, starting with having appraisals done. Local governments in Indiana are required to offer the average of two appraisals when buying land.

Natasha Kauffmann, redevelopment program coordinator, told the RDC that department staff have reached out to a landowner who owns several parcels directly south and slightly east of land at the south end of the C.R. 17 bridge that the Elkhart County Board of Commissioners owns. She said there are four parcels but they could be restructured.

“If we restructure those parcels, then that would change what’s actually being evaluated,” she said. “By the end of the process, we would hope that there’d be two separate pieces of land — one piece of land that the county would own and purchase, and one piece of land that the other individual wants to have a commercial opportunity closer to the road.”

She noted the goal for looking at possible land acquisitions in the area is so that as they develop the east side of the park, they might be able to push the parking area farther south and keep more green space intact.

The current timeline includes some site preparation on the space this fall with additional earthwork in the spring, according to information from Kauffmann. Final designs and land acquisition could be done over the winter.

The Elkhart County Parks Department manages the boat launch. Current facilities include a parking lot on the south bank of the river, east of the bridge, with a boat ramp leading into the water.

The boat ramp was widened and improved as part of the $12 million overhaul of the Six Span Bridge that was finished in 2011. Since then, multiple county departments have been working together to further develop the site.

Old 20 gateway

Kauffmann said the opportunity also presented itself to acquire one or more parcels east of Corwin Street and north of Old U.S. 20. The RDC targeted the area for improvement, to transform it into a gateway area into the county, and approved a $1 million bond last year for land acquisition. 

The bond is backed by the expansion of the Northwest Gateway economic development area by adding several parcels of land at the intersection of John Weaver Parkway and C.R. 6.

“This specific property that we’re looking at, the one with the primary landowner that we’re talking with, would definitely help facilitate any improvements we want to do with that intersection,” Kauffmann said. “And the secondary landowner who we’re kind of talking to through this other primary landowner would help with our goal of cleaning up the space and making it more visually pleasing.”

The exact position of the parcels wasn’t disclosed, since talks with the landowner are still in the early stages. But the land is being considered for several reasons, according to information from Kauffmann.

Those include the fact that it’s not in the North Shore Superfund Site and the Environmental Protection Agency declared the parcels of little interest to future investigations of the site. Acquisition of several parcels in question could be compiled into a single site that would be attractive to developers after remediation.

Kauffmann asked for approval to use some of the bond proceeds to appraise the properties and carry out environmental reports, if talks proceed that far and it makes sense to do so. She said it falls within the scope of the bond but she wanted to be sure they were on the same page.

Planning and Development Director Chris Godlewski estimated the appraisals could cost about $3,000.

RDC member Rick Gentle observed that they’re down to about $730,000, after spending over $130,000 on attorney fees and the creation of the bond. He asked about using another source of money for the request.

“I just don’t want to go fee ballistic here, and then when we really want to use the funds, there’s hardly anything left for what the bond was issued for,” he said.

Kauffmann said they may have to spend the bond funds within three years, while tax increment finance district funds don’t have an expiration date. She also indicated the bond was set up with land acquisition in mind, and RDC President Mike Huber agreed.

“I think the plan we passed and adopted has already identified which of those properties are kind of those key properties that we want to try to acquire,” he said. “Those are the ones we’re talking about; we’re not talking about just whatever becomes available, wherever.”

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