NEW BUFFALO – Approval of a rezoning and approval of a preliminary site plan for a planned unit development at 19701 Kluver Road (between Whittaker Woods Golf Course and the state line) was tabled by the New Buffalo Township Board following a 70-minute public hearing on Monday, Dec. 16. 

The change from industrial to PUD was requested by Harbor Crossing LLC.

“There’s a lot to take in here.  I think I want more time to investigate and consider the comments of the public and do a deeper dive,” said Michelle Heit, before requesting the council to table the matter.  The other board members agreed, with Trustee Pete Rahm abstaining due to business relationships.

Many of the speakers and issues were the same as those prior to the Planning Commission recommendation for approval on Nov. 5.  However,  Melissa Seiler, who owns the property immediately south, noted that the Berrien County Planning Commission had recommended against approval on Dec. 11.

In its recommendation to not approve the rezoning, the Berrien County Planning Commission said it “was concerned that there was insufficient data or analysis that the wetlands and infrastructure will not be impacted or affected by the proposed development.”

Seiler also said the township had not followed its own Master Plan approved in September which requires the township study options for affordable housing.

“We all recognize the need for affordable housing but the appropriate legwork has not been done,” Seiler said.

Following the meeting, Supervisor Michelle Heit said she believed the county and others did not realize that the studies were not required at the “preliminary” approval stage which was the action sought that evening.  She said if the preliminary site plan is approved, then the developer must get all the needed approvals from the environmental, roads and drain authorities involved.  She said the request will again appear on the agenda for board consideration.

Harbor Crossing is a joint venture of The Four Leaf Companies and F&F Management, Inc.  The public hearing began with Robert Fink, president of F&F Management, describing the project as a “brand new, family-oriented home community” of manufactured homes.

He pointed out that the plan submitted for approval has been revised according to the Planning Commission stipulations for 210 homes from 268 and the addition of three buffer zones.  The site would be developed over a three-year period.

Kevin Shaughnessy, Four Leaf managing partner, explained the company is headquartered in Chicago was formed in May 2018.  It has nine projects underway in Michigan, although this will be the first completely new development for the firm.  He said there would be at least one full time property manager and one full time maintenance person assigned to the New Buffalo site.

Shaughnessy said new regulatory controls have improved the quality of manufactured home communities, adding that the proposed “neighborhood” was not similar to anything in the area and was “not your grandfather’s trailer park.”

In addition to comments from the developers, there were comments from about 16 members of the community, both for and against the project.  The comments touched on the effects on the school system, unconventional financing and whether or not the development would be attractive to young families, needed workers and seniors citizens.

The first speaker was Blagira Bottigliero who said she had “gotten a lot of heat” based on incorrect data for supporting the project and asked “Where is the courage for inclusiveness?”

Whittaker Woods representatives Andy Moore, Michael Bingen and Mark Martin all spoke against the plan. Moore objected on the basis on incompatibility with the natural environment and noted that the same factors existed at this site as the previous location that was denied.  Bingen questioned the potential for predatory lending and Martin raised the issue of impact on the school system.

“There are other ways to increase affordable housing by developing a strategy rather than accepting what just walks in the door,” Moore said.

Resident John Humprey, concerned about rising home prices and shrinking class sizes, said he supported “these guys because I care about this town.”

Resident Denise Churchill said she has spent 15 years of her career advising school districts on finance issues. According to her calculations, it would take an additional $3 million per year to kept the current level of per student education.  She said the only way to finance that would be through a bond issue or take from the existing scholarship funding.

New Buffalo Area Schools Superintendent Jeff Leslie said he appreciated the public input and always welcomed more.

“We are doing phenomenal things. We were just named a Blue Ribbon School and we want that to continue. I don’t care where the students come from but we will educate the heck out of them,” Leslie said.

In other business, the Township Board:

-- approved the first payment for the Exit I project to Grand River Construction for $267,000;

-- approved employee health savings account contributions of $1,500 for single coverage and $3,000 for double or family coverage;

-- accepted with regret the resignation from the Planning Commission of Ryan Layman, due to family and job responsibilities, and Ed Lijewski who is retiring and moving from the community;

-- approved the reappointment of Traci Lauricella to the Planning Commission through 2021; Steve Nesci and Carol Schmidt to the Planning Commission through 2021; reappointment of Chad Butler to the Zoning Board of Appeals through 2011; and reappointment of Chuck Baran to the Corridor Improvement Authority through 2023, and -- approved expenses of approximately $650 for Park Superintendent Pat Donnelly’s attendance at the Michigan Recreation and Parks Association Conference in Kalamazoo in January.

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