By Lasca Randels
WARSAW — Discussion over a proposed rezoning request by Amber Real Estate resulted in heated words during the Kosciusko County Commissioners meeting Tuesday, Nov. 24.
The request, to rezone 2.5 acres of land on the northwest corner of Armstrong Road and EMS T25 Lane in Leesburg from agricultural to commercial, was brought before the Area Plan Commission earlier this month. The result was a unanimous 8-0 vote in opposition of the request.
The request was then brought before county commissioners for a final determination.
Attorney Richard Helm, representing Amber Real Estate, said the company has received multiple inquiries regarding the land but said the company does not currently have a specific buyer.
Three neighbors with concerns about the rezoning attended the APC meeting to object to the request with letters of remonstrance from two other neighbors.
“There was a long discussion on potential uses at the APC meeting, APC Director Dan Richard said. “You have to consider any and all potential uses.”
At the commissioners’ meeting Tuesday, Helm presented names of 12 neighbors who are in favor of the rezoning.
“Zoning is supposed to be appropriateness of use and not a popularity contest, alright?” Helm said.
Commissioner Brad Jackson expressed confusion by that statement, saying he didn’t understand the connection between a popularity contest and the rezoning request.
“Come in and see how many votes you can get and how many people are waving flags for it or against it as opposed to is it a legitimate and acceptable use that’s consistent with what’s right next door,” Helm replied.
Helm and Commissioner Vice-President Bob Conley later had a somewhat contentious exchange about whether or not Helm had answered a question at the plan commission meeting regarding what the intended use would be for the property if it were approved.
“I heard nothing at the meeting,” Conley said. “We asked several times.”
“Bob’s memory is missing something because that’s mischaracterization of what happened,” Helm responded.
Conley argued that the people in that neighborhood “have a right to know what’s going to go across the street from them.”
“Your zoning ordinance has a list of permitted uses for commercial use and a list of exceptions and those are the things that could happen,” Helm said. “We do not have a current proposed purchaser. We do not have a current proposed use. I said those two things repeatedly to the planning commission, but apparently, some members didn’t hear that.”
He said that although there is no prospective purchaser, there have been multiple inquiries that have ranged from office uses to storage of various kinds.
Helm then found himself involved in a verbal spat with one of the remonstrators, Mitch Truman, after saying there appears to be one neighbor with a home occupation which is essentially doing manufacturing work in the area and another who runs a race car facility.
Helm said if you google the race car driver, you can see a video of a car “burning rubber down a county road” that closely resembles EMS T25.
“I’m the drag racer and this gentleman is lying,” Truman said. “If he can come up with a photo of my race car on (that) road, I’ll give him a thousand dollars because it doesn’t exist.”
Truman said tons of pictures can be found on the internet of him racing, as he races all over the place.
“But my car has never been out on that street. That’s a lie,” Truman said.
Truman stated that Helm was also lying when he said he has no idea what would be built on that property.
Following more angry words, Helm said he could sue Truman for calling into question his professional work ethics.
Jackson eventually had to call for order to put a stop to the exchange.
“My quote is, it’s not a popularity contest or a beauty contest,” Richard said. “This has gotten ugly.”
After a short discussion, commissioners unanimously denied the zoning request.
In another matter, commissioners approved a proposed ordinance amendment regarding public use communication towers, presented by APC Assistant Planner Matt Sandy.
The amendment addresses the county public safety communications project and would allow certain communication towers to be categorized as a public improvement if they are owned and operated by a governmental agency and used to provide public services.
Public improvement communication towers would then be permitted without any hearings, unless in a residential district. In addition, those towers would be exempt from the fall radius portion of the ordinance since the towers are designed to fall into themselves.
In other news:
- County Highway Department Supervisor Steve Moriarty received approval for four items: a speed limit reduction from 30 mph to 25 mph on Walnut Creek off of CR 200S; a financial commitment letter for the Husky Trail project; a replacement vehicle for a 22-year-old truck; and county highway department annual supplies bids. In addition, Moriarty was given permission to rebid fuel since only two bids were received for that item.
- A quarterly claim was submitted by Kosciusko County Area Bus System.
- County Health Department Administrator Bob Weaver received approval for a vehicle purchase. Three estimates were obtained and Weaver asked permission to move forward with accepting the lowest one, from Shepherds Chevrolet in North Manchester.
- Commissioners approved two inter-local agreement resolutions, one with the county solid waste district and the other with KCCRVC. Both resolutions allow County Auditor Michelle Puckett to act as the controlling agent for each respective organization.
- The next regular meeting will be 9 a.m. Dec. 8.