By Lauren Zeugner
SYRACUSE — The Syracuse Town Council learned about plans for the old Syracuse Elementary School as well as approved a tax abatement for Travel Star, a Goshen based business, expanding into the technology park during its monthly meeting Tuesday night, Jan. 19.
The meeting was held via Zoom.
Marlin Miller, owner of John’s Butcher Shop and Bounthanh’s Egg Rolls, in Nappanee, came before the council requesting a zoning change for the old Syracuse Elementary School to residential/commercial. He would like to renovate the school, developing 45 apartments where most of the classrooms were located and a commercial food prep area where the gym, cafeteria and kitchen were located.
Miller’s plan is to have eight 3-bedroom apartments, 19 2-bedroom apartments and 18 1-bedroom apartments. Rent would run from $600 for a 1-bedroom apartment to $1,000 to $1,400 for a three bedroom depending on the square footage.
Miller told the council he would like to put a parking lot on the north side of the building with access to it via an alley on the west side of the building.
On the commercial side, would be used for food production. There would be no slaughtering of live animals. Food products would be trucked in, cooked, packaged and trucked out to distributors.
Miller will be using electric smokers that will keep the smoke contained most of the time. He did say it may smell of ham or bacon briefly on occasion. “I don’t want to come in and disrupt the neighborhood,” he told the council.
Miller specifically asked for a zoning change with certain restrictions such as the slaughter of live animals would be prohibited and only food preparation and distribution would take place.
Council member Tom Hoover asked Miller what his investment would be. Miller said approximately $3 million. He has outgrown his current facility. He wants to keep retail in Nappanee and would like to move production into Syracuse.
After learning what the proposed rent would be for the apartments, Hoover seemed pleased Miller was offering affordable housing.
Council President Larry Siegel asked about restricting retail at the location. Miller said he had no intention of competing with Bales in Syracuse. Siegel also asked about the smell from the smokers.
Council member Larry Martindale said he toured Miller’s Nappanee production facility, noting it was in downtown Nappanee, across from the Nappanee Public Library, and didn’t smell anything.
Miller explained using an electric smoker is very different from using a wood smoker.
Councilman Bill Musser expressed concern about the traffic in the area with Polywood expanding on the other side of Main Street and apartments at the old school. “As a good citizen and steward, I really feel we can’t handle the traffic (situation),” he told the others.
Jeremy Harding of Commonwealth Engineering, the town’s engineering firm, said there may be ways to address the traffic issue, but he would need more time to dive into the matter and examine it in more depth.
Siegel asked Harding about the upgrade for the Main and Brooklyn Street intersection, which is being widened so trucks can access Polywood. Seigel told Miller his proposal was interesting but the traffic issue needed to be addressed.
“We have been harping and dreaming and wishing for housing,” said Councilman Paul Stoelting, “Regardless of where we build there’s traffic. Surely there’s a way for the engineers to figure out traffic flow. We can’t have it both ways.”
Hoover agreed stating Miller was willing to invest $3 million in a building that has stood idol for several years. Harding said he could provide some information at next month’s meeting.
Tony Truex, owner of Travel Star, asked that the tax abatement agreement between his company and the town be approved as construction is to begin in the tech park later this week.
The council approved a declaratory resolution on the abatement. Next month it will approve a confirmatory resolution on the matter.
The council also approved a task order for Commonwealth Engineering for $68,000 for work on the Community Crossroads Grant for Main and Railroad Streets which will be submitted later this month; looking for a way to improve drainage along Harkless Drive; and to update the town’s plan on infrastructure improvements for a phaser rating.
Council approved the task order as well as second one for $8,500 for wellhead quality inspection which is a regulatory requirement. Mike Noe, town manager and public utility manager, needs assistance with the report.
In department reports, Noe mentioned to the council Aluminum Insights, another company building in the technology park, will have to reroute its sewer line, but there is no action needed by the council.
On the waste water side, Noe is working with a company, KLN, to reduce the amount of copper in the town’s water. The town’s levels of copper are higher than the Indiana Department of Environmental Management allows.
Police Chief Jim Layne reviewed 2020’s end of the year report. He has ordered new vehicles and radios and just waiting for delivery. Officer Kenworthy will be leaving for the police academy next month.
Chad Jonsson park superintendent, said the parks department was working on figuring out how to have some upcoming events. The adult basketball league is underway following the governor’s executive order.
Fire Chief Mickey Scott also reviewed his end of the year report. Noting there was a drop in calls last year, he noted they were starting to go up again. He also requested approval to purchase nitrous oxide or laughing gas, which is used on the ambulance. Nitrous oxide can be used as a mild sedative. The cost was $11,250. The council approved the purchase.
The council approved the encumbrances from 2020.
In new business, the council discussed entering into an agreement with the Kosciusko County Economic Development Corporation. Kedco has suggested $15,000. Musser suggested offering $5,000 noting Siegel has been doing a lot of the economic development for the town and the council approved $5,000 to Kedco just 6 months ago.
Siegel asked what Kedco had done for the town and said the town needs to see results from the organization. After more discussion the council approved paying $7,500 to Kedco and requiring a monthly report outlining what the organization is doing within Syracuse. The report is to be sent to all council members.