By Dan Spalding
LEESBURG – The oldest incorporated town in Kosciusko County now has a plan.
With a single unanimous vote, town council agreed to join the Kosciusko County Area Plan Commission during a special town council meeting held Monday, Dec. 28.
The move is expected to help resolve ongoing questions town leaders have faced for years over what exactly is allowed and not allowed in town limits.
It will also give the town some tools if they choose to develop a long-term growth plan, and it might even help attract business.
On top of that, the town will receive the service from the county for free.
That’s because the Area Plan Commission, which has zoning jurisdiction in all unincorporated areas of the county, provides assistance to all towns in the county – similar to how the sheriff’s office provides coverage.
The plan commission now has agreements with every community in the county except for Warsaw and Winona Lake (which have their own planning boards) – and Mentone, which has never really shown interest in the service, according to APC Director Dan Richard.
Possibly the biggest driving factor in the town’s decision were the ongoing questions over how private property can be used.
State law prohibits towns from establishing zoning policies that would cover usage issues without the involvement of a town planning panel, a move that would involve the appointment of as many as nine people and a source of money to pay them.
Town Council President Doug Jones cited numerous questions the town has faced. Among them, whether residents could run a dog kennel, a deer processing operation at their home and inquiries over the placement of mobile homes.
The town will now work with the county APC to develop a zoning map based on current uses of the property – with residential, commercial, industrial and public use designations.
A proposed zoning map (see below) is now available at the town hall for review.
Richard made it clear that the mere establishment of zoning standards would not lead to property owners finding themselves in violation of some kind.
Council will seek public input in establishing the zoning map and will announce at the Jan. 11 meeting when council hopes to finalize the map’s approval.
All three town council members voiced support for the change.
Town Council Vice President Christina Archer said she’s noticed numerous property owners making improvements in town.
Working with the plan commission can help protect investments, she said.
“One of the reasons to be part of the area plan is to assure the property owners that their investments here are going to be worthwhile and there isn’t going to be something spring up next to them that would lower property value or they would find unacceptable,” Archer said.
“I think that’s really important to people,” she added.
With no enforcement abilities over the years, Jones said they’ve reluctantly told residents, “Do as you wish” while admitting they did not have control over the issue.
Jones said the change will give residents a voice in such matters.
Moore said he’s usually averse to the creation of new bureaucracies but fully embraced the change.
“We can’t continue to skirt this issue. We need to do this. It’s best for the longterm of Leesburg,” Moore said.