Plans for RV inspection center clear county hurdle over neighbors' objections

Joann Miller, who lives along C.R. 6, stands before the Elkhart County Commissioners to voice her opposition to a request for rezoning land along C.R. 6 near C.R. 19 for a proposed project to build a new RV inspection center. Other opponents filled many of the seats behind Miller.

GOSHEN — The Elkhart County Commissioners, amid complaints from some in the audience, allowed a rezoning for plans to build a new RV inspection facility on rural land near the RV/MH Hall of Fame.

The commissioners approved the zoning request Monday, following about an hour and a half of discussion on the issue. Among the speakers, 15 voiced their oppositions, while a couple others expressed support.

Chris Marbach, of Elkhart-based engineering firm Marbach, Brady & Weaver Inc., argued for rezoning about 70 acres of land along C.R. 6, east of C.R. 19, from agricultural to a heavy business district with a general unit development plan attached to it.

Marbach presented initial details of the proposed project, saying Wixom, Michigan-based Schonsheck Inc. is leading the development of the site. When complete, plans call for another company — the name was not disclosed — to take ownership and open an inspection facility for recreational vehicles.

RV manufacturers would bring new products to the business to have them undergo quality control inspections before they’re shipped to customers, he said.

“This future owner wants to make sure that when he delivers a product out to someone else, there aren’t any bugs left in it,” Marbach said.

About 40 employees would work at the site on a single daytime shift, with potential for a maximum of 80 workers at full operation. Most of the work would be done inside the building, he said.

Marbach expected approximately 37 units would be delivered to and from the facility per day by pickup trucks. He emphasized tractor-trailers would not be used and there would be no manufacturing.

With the deliveries plus employees going to and leaving from work, he estimated approximately 156 vehicles would make trips in and out of the facility per day for most of each week, which would be about a 4 percent increase in daily traffic on C.R. 6, he said.

The site would also have the capacity to store 1,200 vehicles, but he pointed out that’s not an amount that would travel in the area each day.

Increased traffic, and its associated safety and aesthetic issues, was one of the chief concerns listed by opponents who live around the C.R. 6 and C.R. 19 intersection west of Bristol, including those with addresses along C.R. 6 and in the Pheasant Ridge and Pine Brook subdivisions.

Opponents also raised concerns about having businesses develop close to residential areas, increased lighting, and the push for rezoning agricultural property instead of encouraging development on land already zoned for such use along the nearby C.R. 17 corridor.

Rod Laughman told the commissioners he and other neighbors want to preserve the rural nature of the area in which they live.

“Most people move out into that area to be in the country. We don’t want to live in town. We don’t want to walk next door to the gas station. We don’t mind getting in our cars and driving to the gas station,” Laughman said.

Joann Miller worried property values will decline, as well as quality of life, saying she’s concerned about traffic and increased lights from the business at night.

“That place is going to light up like a Christmas tree at night,” Miller said.

Some others questioned Marbach’s traffic estimates, predicting that will increase if business grows at the facility.

Marbach responded by sticking to his figures as having low impact on traffic. He argued that if the property was used for a new residential development instead, traffic from people in those houses would jump higher than what this project would create.

“This is not a high-traffic producer because we’re single RVs going out as they get ready to be shipped to wherever they’re going to across the country,” Marbach said.

He also said the facility would be located about a half-mile from Pheasant Ridge, and would be set back on the property, so it wouldn’t be highly visible from homes there.

Marbach argued county planning and development staff recommended the rezoning for several reasons, including it complies with the county’s comprehensive plan and promotes growth and development.

Chris Stager, CEO of the Elkhart County Economic Development Corp., spoke in support of the proposed project as one that would help fulfill the county’s comprehensive plan. A representative from Lippert Components Inc. also voiced support, saying a new inspection facility would help assure quality control and help move products to customers more quickly.

In siding with the rezoning request, commissioner Mike Yoder said the project is one of the least intrusive they could’ve seen; the board has never rejected a rezoning request just because other nearby properties are already zoned for such use; and the county can’t tell private property owners how to sell their land.

He said the county, unfortunately, doesn’t have a mechanism to preserve agricultural land.

“It’s an A-1 ag zone, and in this county that is like open season,” Yoder said. “I understand your desire for a quiet, rural community. We just don’t allow that very often, enough protection for these folks.”

Yoder also said while believes there needs to be a change in policy, they can’t do it on a particular issue. He offered the development plan with the rezoning sets in certain design criteria that can serve as protections for homes near such sites.

Commissioners Frank Lucchese and Suzanne Weirick also took little issue with the proposed project before voting with Yoder to approve the rezoning.

Yoder also noted the vote only covered the zoning issue, and that this was not the final step in the process. He said more public hearings will be held before the county plan commission and the commissioners as the developer returns with specific plans for the project.

The plan commission had voted 5–2 in favor of the rezoning during its meeting in October.

OTHER ISSUES

The commissioners voted on several other issues during Monday’s meeting.

Among them, they approved a request to rezone land, from residential to agricultural with a development plan, as part of plans by Middlebury Community Schools to build a new equine therapy facility.

The center, to be built near Orchard View Elementary School and called “Stable Grounds, would be a mental health service, utilizing miniature horses and donkeys to aid students with social-emotional issues.

The facility will include a horse stable and classrooms, and it would have access to services from local mental health programs such as Ryan’s Place and Oaklawn. A full-time equine therapist and an assistant would staff the center.

The plan commission gave unanimous support to the rezoning proposal at its meeting in October.

The commissioners also accepted bids from four companies for new county police body cameras and in-car cameras.

The bids came in from WatchGuard Inc. at apparently $1.14 million; Digital Ally Inc. with multiple options ranging from $886,815 to $1.15 million; Utility Associates Inc. at apparently $976,000; and Axon Enterprise Inc. at $875,804.

County attorney Steve Olsen said the bids offered varying options, and they’ll be reviewed to choose which provides the best value.

Aimee Ambrose can be reached at aimee.ambrose@goshennews.com or 574-533-2151, ext. 240316. Follow her on Twitter at @aambrose_TGN.

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