NEW BUFFALO — Members of the New Buffalo Township Planning Commission, following a public hearing during their well-attended Nov. 5 meeting, voted 6-1 to approve a revised Planned Unit Development (PUD) requested by Harbor Crossing, LLC located at 19701 Kluver Road, and to recommend its approval to the New Buffalo Township Board.
A main point of discussion and debate among the commissioners prior to the final vote involved how many manufactured home sites would be allowed on the 150-acre parcel.
Those representing Harbor Crossing had requested that a maximum of 268 homes be allowed; however, members of the Planning Commission finally agreed that a maximum of 210 units be allowed, with commissioner Ryan Layman, who opposed the development, casting the lone dissenting vote on that motion proposed by Traci Lauricella.
Stipulations to the recommendation for approval included a requirement that three buffer zones with trees and vegetation be included in the plan: 40-foot buffers to the north and south, and a 50-foot buffer along the road.
The property includes wetlands and is bordered on the north and east by the Whittaker Woods Golf Course, with the Indiana state border to the south, and farmland to the west.
The plan calls for 6,000 square-foot lot sizes and a community clubhouse that must be at least 5,000 square feet in size.
Attendees made comments during the public hearing that ranged from strongly objecting to the proposed affordable housing development at that location to speaking up in favor of it.
Many who voiced opposition echoed the comments of Ron Oselka, who expressed concerns about the negative impact an influx of new students may have on the school district.
“We were recently cited as being a ‘Blue Ribbon School,’ but if this plan is approved it could possibly double the size of our student body with no tax base increase,” Oselka commented. “We’re now a school of excellence, and we might become a school of mediocrity.”
Jorge Alvarez concurred, and among his comments in opposition he stated that he feared the possibility of large numbers of new students could lead to the diminishment or the complete end to The Bison-Pokagon Fund Scholarship program for the New Buffalo Area Schools.
“Why would we give away this big asset – our schools?” he asked. “This will not bring us the the workers we need to work here in our community,” he concluded to applause from many in the audience.
Attorney Mark Miller, speaking on behalf of Whittaker Woods, reminded the commissioners that a similar Harbor Crossing request for a development at a different location was unanimously voted down by them on July 10, 2018.
“I think this would cause a severe hardship on the school district,” Miller said. “I think this is a horrible location, and this is a bad type of housing where the residents don’t own the land that their houses are on.”
Harbor Crossing, LLC is a joint venture of The Four Leaf Companies and F&F Management, Inc., and Four Leaf managing partner Kevin Shaughnessy advocated for a favorable vote by stating that the manufactured homes were of higher quality than similar stick-built houses.
“Manufactured homes are the best option for this,” he said. “You have to decide as a community if you want to grow or if you want to remain a vacation town with $500,000 homes.
“Our lease fees will be between $900-$1,400, and that price point will attract workers to find employment at the businesses here,” Shaughnessy added.
F&F Management, Inc. president Robert Fink said that the project would not lead to the overrunning of the local school system, and that similar low-income housing developments were already happening in nearby Three Oaks and Bridgman.
“We’re proud of this project and we’ll be an asset to this community,” he stated. “If there are people in our houses who decide they don’t want them we’ll buy them back.”
Project designer Donald Westphal, who said he had been involved with manufactured housing since 1964, described it as “great housing.”
“I’m proud of it, and it’s a jumping off place for people to move on to larger and more expensive housing in the future if they make a decision to do that,” he said. “Everyone seems to agree that there is a big need for affordable housing, but nobody wants it to be built close to them.”
The project is scheduled to be done in several phases, with the first phase scheduled to be completed within two years, with the start of the second phase not beginning until at least 75 percent of occupancy is reached.
In addition, no leases may be signed there for less than a 90-day period.
The next step for the PUD is its submission to the Berrien County Planning Commission for a 30-day review. Following that, it will come before the New Buffalo Township Board for their consideration and vote.
However, there are several other hurdles for it to negotiate before implementation, including input by the Berrien County Road Department pertaining to traffic and the presence of two crossing points for golf carts associated with Whittaker Woods on Wilson Road; input from the state’s EGLE (Department of Environment, Great Lakes & Energy) concerning the wetlands on the parcel; and the Berrien County Drain Commission.
Planning Commission Secretary Dan Coffey said that reaching a point to vote to recommend the approval of the PUD was not an easy journey for the members.
“I’m a Realtor and a private-property guy, but this is one of the hardest ones I’ve ever had to deal with,” he said. “These people came to us after we’d turned them down the first time, and now we said that we’d work with them on a PUD.”