NEW BUFFALO — The New Buffalo Township Planning Commission on Oct. 1 opted to table a request for a Planned Unit Development for Harbor Crossing LLC, a proposed non-rental manufactured home community for modest-income families and retirees in the southwest part of the township. Its address is listed as 19701 Kluver Road.
The 6-0 decision to postpone a final recommendation on the project until the Planning Commission’s Nov. 5 meeting was largely due to sharp differences of opinion that arose during the public hearing part of the Oct. 1 meeting — prompting commissioners to take more time to consider the numerous questions and points raised on both sides of the issue.
The comments during the public hearing were heated and contentious at times, prompting Commissioner Pano Arvanitis to insist that no one person or faction be allowed to dominate the discussion. He added that while delaying a recommendation to the Township Board was necessary for the time being, he doesn’t want to keep “kicking the can down the road.”
A work session about this proposal that’s open to the public was scheduled for 4:30 p.m. on Oct. 15. The township by law must post a notice about that work session on the door of Township Hall at least 18 hours before the meeting.
Harbor Crossing LLC is a joint venture of The Four Leaf Companies and F&F Management Inc. The representatives, or principals, in this project from these companies who addressed the large audience were: Four Leaf’s managing partner Kevin Shaughnessy, along with F&F’s president Robert Fink and its director Thomas H. Fraerman. They were assisted by Rochester Hills, Mich., architect Donald C. Westphal, among others.
“The site is 150 acres off of Kluver Road just south of Wilson (Road), bordered on the north and east by Whittaker Woods Golf Course, on the south by the Indiana state border … with existing farmland to the west,” Fink explained, while noting that the lots are each 6,000 square feet. Harbor Crossing also would have walking trails around its perimeter as well as walking paths leading up to a planned central community house.
The project would consist of “100 percent newly constructed, aesthetically pleasing, energy efficient, single-family manufactured homes” with a “community house, swimming pool, sports courts, dog park, playground and over 60 acres of open wooded space,” Fraerman said, adding that the development would have 282 of these manufactured homes with “24-hour, on-site professional management.”
This plan was previously submitted to the Planning Commission Aug. 6 at a “pre-application conference,” Fraerman noted. Based upon that submission, the principals on Oct. 1 sought approval of a preliminary site plan, set forth in the terms and conditions in the PUD agreement that commissioners had received from the township’s attorney, Michael D. Homier.
Westphal, who reportedly has designed dozens of similar projects in Michigan and elsewhere, showed a diagram of the Harbor Crossing site plan to the commissioners and public while saying that he carefully walks such sites before designing them. In the process, he also looks at local ordinances, so that he can design a community “that fits the site and fits the neighborhood.”
Amid concerns from some in the audience about drainage into nearby properties and the project’s effect on wetlands, Westphal noted that preliminary PUD documents show how the sewer and water systems would be configured and there are plans for detention ponds regarding drainage. He also acknowledged that part of the project abuts wetlands, and that the state requires a 50-foot buffer with respect to Kluver Road.
Moreover, the 282 homes sites would be divided into neighborhood-like clusters which enables traffic within the development to be diminished. This, Westphal said, creates “internal open space” which helps “separate pedestrians from vehicular traffic.”
Opinions from the audience covered a range of concerns. While Pete Halligan of I&M Construction complained that word of Harbor Crossing is evidently making it harder for him to sell the $500,000 homes he’s building, local attorney Mark Miller also recommended that the commissioners vote against Harbor Crossing, not because he opposes the project itself, but simply because he feels the proposed location presents several potential problems.
Miller said he attended on behalf of Whittaker Woods Development LLC, whose “stick-built” homes on Kluver Road are not selling well “because of this development . . .” The township’s master plan, he said, does encourage moderate-priced housing but “this is just the wrong spot” and “you’re juxtaposing it against a neighborhood that could earn much more tax dollars than this (Harbor Crossing) community.”
He also said that under the township’s zoning ordinance, manufactured homes are supposed to be “a buffer between industrial and commercial.”
Miller (and others) also cited an estimation that around “550 to 750 new residents” associated with the new development, if it’s fully built, would drastically increase the traffic flow in daily comings-and-goings, in an area where golf carts from Whittaker Woods cross the road in two different places.
An additional chief concern is that New Buffalo, which has an out-of-formula school district, does not get additional state monies for adding students — along with the concern that The Bison-Pokagon Fund scholarship program for the New Buffalo Area Schools might be diminished over time. The effect on “small class sizes and individualized attention to students” also was cited, with respect to bringing in sizable numbers of new school-age children into the district.
On the other hand, those who support the project noted that the restaurant and casino workers who labor to make New Buffalo and Harbor Country what it largely is — a mecca for second homeowners and tourism-recreation destination — simply cannot afford to live here. One man who addressed the Planning Commission said he knows of a woman who drives one hour and 20 minutes, one way, to work in the township in the service industry.
Katie Maroney, owner of Equilibrium Fitness and president of the New Buffalo Business Association (NBBA) said, “I just know that, as a business owner … we need more area workforce employees — good qualified people that are willing to give back to the community in the way I’ve tried to do in the last few years. I love the idea of adding more working people to the area, adding more students to the schools, You talk to any other area business owners and this year was rough — June was really, really tough.”
She called on area officials to “find a solution to affordable housing” wherever it may be located.
NBBA member Blogica Bottigliero noted, “The first question I have for everybody is, ‘What have we become?’”
While citing her mother’s difficulties keep their immigrant family afloat while working in the service industry, Bottigliero said area service workers, especially in restaurants, “work their butts off but they have no place to live.”
She added that “businesses pay 6.5 mills (of property tax) of the operating expenses for the schools.” However, if these businesses have trouble finding dependable workers because so many of them are forced to live farther away, then “they can’t stay open.”
Bottigliero said she checked into the Scholarship Fund and school finances and, in her view, everything looks fine because excess scholarship funds and money earned in the associated annuities keeps the Scholarship Fund healthy and growing.
If approved, the Harbor Crossing would be built over a three- to four-year period. Fink said he expects the project to also help with “job placement and job creation” beyond providing more affordable housing for young families, first-time homebuyers and seniors.
Referring to existing manufactured home developments, including two he helped develop in Ann Arbor, Shaughnessy noted, “We run background checks on every person in a home … we evict people all of the time for violation of community guidelines.”
The principals in the Harbor Crossing project also said it would purely be for homeownership and that sub-letting would not permitted.
The New Buffalo Township Planning Commission on July 10, 2018, unanimously voted against recommending to the Township Board a zoning change to permit a 254-unit manufactured home “Harbor Crossing” development on the northwest corner of Maudlin and Hoder roads.