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Mike Yoder, County Commissioner

The Elkhart Plan Commission faced OVERWHELMING disapproval last year when the board tried to update a 40-year-old ordinance that guides the county’s development.

County residents charged that the new ordinance included too many restrictions and violated property rights.

According to real estate agent, Bob Schultz: The current ordinance allows for less intense uses on individual parcels than what they’re actually zoned for, something called pyramid zoning. Commercial activities could occur on land zoned for manufacturing, for instance.

That flexibility would fade with the new proposal, though, “detracting from the usability of peoples’ land.”

Pete Recchio, leader of a tea party group asked, “ Has anyone completed a study to determine the impact of the proposed ordinance? If not, how can commissioners gauge the implications of its implementation?

“Any reworking of the zoning ordinances should be ‘bottom up,’ not ‘shoved down the throats’ of the public.”

Andrew Hicks said that, “Standards on home placement relative to the street in front vary between zoning classifications, without apparent logic.

“One planning proposal dictated that  home fronts must be parallel to the street or askew to it at an angle measuring not more than 30 degrees. In another, they must be parallel or askew at an angle of not more than 15 degrees. In another, they must be parallel or askew at an angle of exactly 30 degrees — three standards “and they’re all arbitrary.” Another landscaping requirement was that lawns of new homes must be planted with one to three trees.”

“I think basically what we have is, we have a philosophical issue,” said Blake Doriot, Elkhart County surveyor and commission member.

Doriot said he believes property owners are the ones ultimately responsible for their properties.

“They own it and they have the best foresight as to what should happen on their property,” he said. “And all these ordinances out here get made for the bottom half a percent of the population that does something either knowingly or inadvertently stupid.”

Commission Chairman and County Commissioner Mike Yoder disagreed.

“You seem to think that this community believes that we should have kind of a wide-open, a wide range and no restrictions,” Yoder said. “I’m here to tell you the majority of this community wants these kinds of restrictions because they want to live in neighborhoods without 10-foot high privacy fences … so that when they buy that property, when they invest that money, they have some sense of security of what to expect in the future.”

On July 12, the Elkhart County Plan Commission is poised to assign members of the commission to a pair of committees at the plan commission meeting. The two groups will shape the ordinance’s zoning revisions with a goal of making the ordinance easier to understand and more modern with updated definitions and information about zoning rules.

Plan director Chris Godlewski said he hopes to have the new ordinance approved and in place by the end of next year.

“There’s no rush, but it’s important that we get through it as well,” Godlewski said “The public will continually be a part of the process.”.

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