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The Journal Gazette

Allen County commissioners approve Harlan rezoning near Our Country Home

Factory to get road; neighbors worried about traffic issues

It may have been less than an acre, but rezoning a small Harlan property from residential to industrial drew the ire of more than a few neighbors on nearby Spencerville and Water roads.

The Allen County commissioners gave final approval to the rezoning Friday, although Commissioner Nelson Peters asked multiple questions and reiterated neighbors’ concerns.

In the end, Peters voted for the rezoning but noted, “It was not an easy decision.”

Rezoning the property at 12120 Water Road would provide better access to Our Country Home Enterprises Inc., a manufacturing plant. The property originally was zoned for business in 1960, said Michelle Wood, senior planner for the Department of Planning Services. The plant is located in a rural area with a large Amish population and manufactures show booths and displays, furniture, carts, buggies and other wood products. Company clients include Vera Bradley, American Eagle Outfitters, Abercrombie & Fitch, Cabela’s, Coldwater Creek and Hollister.

Other ventures under the umbrella of Our County Home include the Country Shops of Grabill, H. Souder & Sons General Store in Grabill and Solar Usage Now in Hamilton.

Traffic – including employees and semis – must use an alley off Water Road to get to the plant, Wood said.

The 60,000-square-foot factory employs 73, according to its website.

The rezoning would allow the company to have a commercial driveway with access on Spencerville Road.

The property adjacent to the proposed drive includes a home on Spencerville Road that the owners have agreed to maintain as a rental property, Wood said.

“This will prevent the industrial zoning from stretching farther out into the neighborhood,” Wood said.

Peters said he met with eight or nine neighbors and said their concerns about traffic, particularly large trucks, were valid.

“There were concerns of trucks pulling onto Spencerville Road and ending up in a neighbor’s yard or knocking over a utility pole,” Peters said.

The drive and a proposed truck docks project will undergo further technical reviews where those types of issues would be worked out, Wood said.

Should the property be sold, a new owner would not be allowed to do anything differently without going through the same process of reviews, she said.

Rezoning would allow a commercial drive subject to scrutiny – unlike the alley currently being used; allow signage to keep trucks off of Water Road and the adjoining alley; and allow the home on Spencerville Road to remain residential, Wood said.

Five neighbors were present Friday, with three speaking against the rezoning and one Water Road resident agreeing that the new access road would be an improvement over using the alley.

Trucks often park on Water Road, using it as a staging area because there is no room at the factory, several neighbors pointed out.

Neighbor Mark Fogle, who lives across the street from the proposed drive, thought the new road would not prevent traffic from using Water Road and the alley.

Instead, the traffic would use all access points as “one big circle drive,” he said.

Fogle also suggested lowering the speed limit on Spencerville Road from 30 to 15 miles per hour and strategically placing No Parking signs along both roads.

Peters said commissioners will submit the suggestions during the planning department’s review.