BRISTOL — The possible rezoning of an unused portion of land on State Road 15 brought nearly 20 residents out to Thursday night’s town council meeting and right from the start, tensions were high.
Town council president Ron Norman began the conversation by asking the council to table the vote, and council member Cathy Burke asked to deny the appeal immediately following.
Innovator RV had expressed interest in the land near Bristol Canoe and Kayak for a new factory they’re hoping to construct for their innovative line of RVs. The property is currently dubbed R1 residential property, but lies on a floodplain and has been for sale for years. A low price point is part of what encouraged the owners of Innovator RV to request the rezoning of the land to commercial so they could purchase the land to build their factory. They brought their appeal to the Elkhart County Planning and Development Commission meeting on Monday, Nov. 13, where it was recommended that the request be denied, but was still brought to the Bristol Town Council for final review.
Five community members spoke against the rezoning during the town council meeting, but there were others on the sidelines in support of their neighbor’s comments. Reasons included potential pollution, truck traffic, lighting and sounds from the factory.
“You’ve already got more business in town than you’ve got people,” Tim Irons, a resident living on Mottville Road, told the council.
“There’s only so much residential area in the town,” Robert Miller, also of Mottville Road, added. “If you start taking the residential area out and add more business and more business there won’t be room to expand the residential.“
Another concern expressed by the entire crowd was risk of property values decreasing.
“I still feel that it would distract from the desirability of our neighborhood,” James Teall, a resident of the neighborhood across the road from the property, said. “We might be fortunate enough to not lose the property value, but it still would not be as desirable for us or for someone who might move in there. Zoning is an agreement neighbors and property owners make that certain things won’t take place, especially as pertains to residential property, so we don’t have to buy buffers around our houses to prevent undesirable things from happening. This property in question is already zoned R1; that shouldn’t be regarded as just a holding pattern until someone wants to change it to manufacturing.”
Rick Ridenour, a would-be next door neighbor to the factory, was especially concerned.
“Until all of the industrial park is used up, why invade a residential neighborhood?” he said. “If we don’t stop that now, no neighborhood is going to be safe.”
A letter from the commissioners was read to the council, stating the reasons they chose to not support the rezoning effort. Their letter said that existing residential areas should be supported and areas already designated for manufacturing should be used before undeveloped land is rezoned. They added that the most desirable use of the property, which boasts a wetland nearby, would be residential or agricultural and that manufacturing on the land would have a negative impact on the nearby properties.
Tony Campanello, Elkhart County Plan Commissioner, did not vote during the county meeting due to his business connections to the factory in question, but addressed his support for the building at the town council meeting.
Co-owners of the company, Phillip Biscan and Randy Carr, attempted to convince visitors to the Bristol Town Council meeting that their factory would not create the problems neighbors feared. The building in question would be 5,600 square feet with a wooded buffer area of 350 feet between the factory and the residential housing next door, but residents expressed concerns that, should the company leave and another move in to the factory, the buffer could be removed.
He went on to explain that the 4,000 pound vehicles will require no steel, aluminum or welding and manufacturing of the RVs will produce no off-gas, Biscan said. Due to the layout of the facility, there would also be no outside storage or forklifts. He added that there are two patents awarded for the travel system and five pending.
“It’s unlike anything else in the industry,” Biscan told the community.
Delbert Schrock and Norman again requested for the topic to be tabled for a later meeting, but the motion was denied by the rest of the council. Instead, Burke offered a motion to deny the rezoning of the land. Jeff Beachy and Floyd Lynch voted in favor of that motion, so the land will not be rezoned and Innovator RV will have to look for another location to build their factory.
A resident brought a recent bill to the council with a request to have it paid by the town. She explained that the water line outside of her home had been struck recently when a local utility company was doing ground work. Her line was unmarked and hit. It is not generally deemed a town’s responsibility to pay for damages caused by ground work when lines are unmarked, nor is it the company’s when lines are unmarked. In this case, however, the resident has been working with her son’s company to fix the line for an affordable cost and the council decided, due to the nature of the situation, that they would help her by paying the bill.
Other items discussed at the Bristol Town Council meeting include:
n Bristol Police and Fire thanked everyone involved setting up and running the town fall party last month.
n Bristol Fire Department wanted to let residents know that Superior Portraits is offering free 8x10 portraits with a $20 donation to the fire department.
n Town Manager Bill Wuthrich stated that leaf pickup will continue until snow prevents it.
n Developers are looking a 45-acre portion of land south of town for the possibility of residential housing.
n Norman will speak to three land owners on County Road 29 regarding the purchase of portions of their properties in order to create a cul-de-sac to close the railroad crossing. Talks are still occurring but compensation will include things such as curb cuts, new trees and moving of ornament plants. An agreement has also been made with Forest River to purchase a portion of their land for the new road and crossing.
n A design is finally prepared for the new Bristol municipal complex. The building will be located behind the current building, and include the current building within its layout. It will continue to house the police department and the municipal functions of the town. Public meetings will be held sometime in January to discuss the new building further.
The next meeting of the Bristol Town Council will be held at 7 p.m. Dec. 21 at Bristol Town Hall.