NEW BUFFALO — A preliminary site plan and rezoning for a 210-unit planned unit development at 19701 Kluver Road (between Whittaker Woods Golf Course and the state line) was approved by the New Buffalo Township Board before a full house on Tuesday, Jan. 21. 

The vote was unanimous, with Trustee Pete Rahm abstaining due to business relationships.

The vote on the issue was tabled during the township’s Dec. 16 meeting following objections from many township residents, some of which were repeated on Jan. 21. At that meeting, Robert Fink, president of F&F Management, described the project as a “brand new, family-oriented home community” of manufactured homes. The project is being developed by Harbor Crossing LLC, a joint venture of The Four Leaf Companies and F&F Management, Inc.

The New Buffalo Township Planning Commission recommended approval of the plan on Nov. 5. After reviewing additional documents, the Berrien County Planning Commission reversed its original decision and also voted in favor of the development. The request was tabled by the Township Board at is last meeting on Dec. 16.

Before the Jan. 21 vote, Township Supervisor Michelle Heit reviewed the factors leading to her vote to approve. She said the Planning Commission put in a lot of work, had held two public hearings and recommended approval of the project. Additionally, members of the township board and their attorney had studied the materials and found the plan to meet the requirements of the township ordinances.

Heit said it was interesting to learn that a previous administration had found Kluver Road adequate to handle a 300-home development for Whittaker Woods. Heit said that while she doesn’t disagree with objections raised by the school district dealing with school funding, she feels those issues are not deciding factors for the Township Board. Also, she said studies on affordable housing alternatives, as required by the Master Plan, are being done by Southwest Michigan Planning Commission with which the township is participating.

Clerk Judy Zabicki pointed out that the township has to follow its ordinances and cannot simply prohibit any or all manufacturing home developments. She added that this is a preliminary site plan which still needs the approval of the Berrien County Road Department and the Michigan Environment, Great Lakes and Energy Department. Zabicki also said it is not the township’s role to decide how individuals choose to make their investments.

Trustee Patty Iazzetto said that a manufactured home may not be her choice but she took an oath of office to comply with the township ordinances and Master Plan. Iazzetto said she had heard a lot of opinions and “what ifs” but she made her vote in compliance with the township’s decisions.

During the Jan. 21 meeting, several attendees spoke against the developments, some of them appearing for the second or third time.

Objections raised included: the unconventional financial aspects of a land-contract community in which ownership of the land remains with the developer and the related high rates of evictions and turnover; the negative impact on the area’s environment and wetlands; and the need for further study of the impact on existing infrastructure and traffic.

In Other Business

In addition to approving a preliminary site plan and rezoning for a 210-unit planned unit development, the New Buffalo Township board heard a favorable audit report and moved ahead on some upcoming township projects at its Jan. 21 meeting.

The township received an “unmodified” opinion its 2018-19 audit, the highest possible rating according to Brian Hake, a manager with Kruggel Lawton CPA. 

He said the general fund balance of $1.1 million was consistent with last year’s balance and was “pretty healthy,” representing 14.03 months of operating expenses. Hake said the $69,000 increase was largely due to the new Public Safety Fund and the accumulation of funds from the Local Revenue Sharing Board.

Following an explanation by Pete Pfeiffer of the Michigan Department of Transportation, the board approved a trial “road diet” reducing U.S. 12 to three lanes from four lanes from the Indiana boarder to Mayhew Street and from Wilson Street to Red Arrow Highway.

Pfeiffer said he had done eight such diets during his 30-year career and said they offered a high potential for reduced accidents and minor cost savings.

“Let the people drive it and see how it works. If it is not functioning as anticipated it will be returned to four lanes,” Pfeiffer said, adding the decision for the trial came after a community meeting showed only 60 percent were in favor of the plan. 

The “diet,” which is contingent upon the City of New Buffalo’s approval, will continue until the planned 2022 U.S. 12 resurfacing project.

Also on Jan. 21, the board approved the purchase of property at 9934 Townline Ave., Union Pier, for $265,00 which will be used for a parking lot and trailhead with restrooms as part of the Red Arrow Highway Union Pier Corridor Improvement Project in conjunction with Chikaming Township and the Berrien County Road Department.  There will be an informational meeting about the project on Wednesday, Feb. 12, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the New Buffalo Township Hall.

Township Supervisor Michelle Heit said that before the corridor improvement project gets underway, there will be a major sewer project by the Galien River Sanitary District. She said this will involve major traffic rerouting and also a three percent increase in the GRSD’s bill to the township which will likely be passed on to residents.

The Township Board also:

• Heard Township Clerk Judy Zabicki, who serves as the township’s representative on The Pokagon Fund board of directors, announce that the fund had selected a new executive director. She said a news release with further details will be issued shortly. TPF had been seeking a new executive director since the resignation of Janet Cocciarelli in June 2019;  

• Approved a $309,000 proposal from Skillman for construction management services during the building of the Public Safety Building;

• Appointed Donna Salerno to the New Buffalo Township Library board for a term ending Nov. 21, 2020;

• Approved the use of $5,000 of The Pokagon Fund grant account for Fourth of July events planned by the New Buffalo Business Association;

• Approved a resolution allowing the setting of an alternate date for the July and December 2020 Board of Review meetings;

• Learned that the township fire department will have a team participating in the annual Polar Plunge to benefit Special Olympics Michigan on Saturday, Feb. 1, at Watermark Brewing Company, 5781 St. Joseph Ave., Stevensville;

• Approved the Wightman Associates $23,000 proposal for a water and sewer extension to the new Public Safety Building.

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