GOSHEN — After hearing objections from neighbors, the Elkhart County Planning Commission decided not to support a project to put up a new Dollar General store across from Fairfield Jr.-Sr. High School.
The board was nearly split, voting 5–4 to deny recommending the proposal for final passage during their meeting Thursday.
Plans call for building a Dollar General and a self-storage facility on a commercial zone at U.S. 33 and C.R. 31 next to the Fairfield Farms neighborhood and across the highway from the junior high school. The entrance to the store’s parking lot would be along C.R. 31.
The request before the commission was to update the zone with a detailed development plan for the project. County planning and development staff had recommended the proposal, noting the site has been zoned commercial since 2000, and the project fits with the county’s comprehensive plan, among other criteria.
Jason Auvil, a county planning manager, told the commission the site was originally intended to attract a gas station or convenience store, or a professional services office. Yet nothing has been built there for the past 20 years because it no access to municipal utilities. The Dollar General store would operate off a private well or septic system, according to the plans.
“So, it has sat idle as a commercial (detailed planned unit development) for the last 20 years,” Auvil said. “But the intent was always to be commercial.”
Neighbors attended the meeting to oppose the project. About 12 people spoke, and Auvil presented letters and emails from several more opponents.
Concerns included the possibility the store could attract more traffic and noise to the area; the safety of Fairfield students; whether the potential lack of lighting at the store and self-storage buildings could invite crime; and the aesthetics of a Dollar General next to Fairfield Farms while other such stores operate in nearby communities, such as Millersburg, New Paris and Goshen.
“I think this is a spectacularly bad idea,” one neighbor, Jim Magnus, told the plan commission. “Retail out in the rural area just shouldn’t be. I can’t think of one good thing about this entire proposal.”
Fairfield Community Schools leaders also took a stand against the plans.
Superintendent Randy Zimmerly argued having a Dollar General across from Fairfield would attract students to walk across the busy U.S. 33 to reach the store, including those who stay after school for sports games and practices. He said the site plan doesn’t include improvements at the intersection to address foot traffic across the highway.
Zimmerly also said children are unpredictable, and school staff can’t keep track of all the students at the school at all times.
“The Fairfield school board and administration oppose any rezoning now or in the future to allow a development containing a retail operation that will entice our community’s children to travel across U.S. 33,” Zimmerly said.
Two residents spoke in favor of the project, with Jason Osborne voicing support for the plan by Adlai Schrock, who runs the companies that own the commercial site and that developed Fairfield Farms. Osborne pointed out the zone is already commercial and that he trusts Schrock’s plan for the site. He worried that if the Dollar General proposal falls through a new property owner could present an even less desirable plan after Schrock dies.
“If you don’t pass this, what happens then?” Osborne asked the board.
Following about an hour of discussion, the commission voted 5–4 to not recommend the project, deciding the Elkhart County Commissioners should vote against the development plan.
The ECC is expected to make a final decision on the proposal at their meeting Nov. 15.