Community weighs in on Ontwa Township development proposal

Published 11:18 am Friday, April 7, 2023

ONTWA TOWNSHIP — People in Ontwa Township and Edwardsburg are voicing their concerns about a potential new development in the community.

Community members spoke out against a proposal to rezone land that could open the door for Market Park – a proposed development of commercial and multi-family housing – during Wednesday’s Ontwa Township Planning Commission meeting. 

The proposed development, planned for land nestled between the Edwardsburg Sports Complex and the soon-to-be-completed First Pentecostal Church building, would create multi-family housing, commercial space, an ice rink-roller rink through a park with play structures with the possibility of a splash pad as well. Market Park is planned to be developed in phases based on the market need, with Phase 1 is primarily commercial development.

The parcels of property, currently zoned agricultural, would be rezoned to Commercial 2 – which allows for drive thru capability – and Multi-Family Residential, which would allow for the construction of townhomes, apartments and more.

“We do a lot of travel sports with our four children and have visited many different cities that have made a huge investment into family activities,” said Brian Shier, applicant for the Market Park rezoning request in a March 14 interview. “Market Park would be designed with that as its main focus. Friends, family and activities. Edwardsburg has a great community with a very proud sports background. The location close to the school, public utilities, and with lots of acreage is not an easy find anymore. Ontwa township had designated the location in the zoning master plan as its future use to be commercial. The property checked all the boxes.”

Community concerns

While Shier was not present at the meeting, those opposing the project voiced their objections, ranging from safety concerns to whether or not the township and the Village of Edwardsburg could support such an increase in population and traffic in an area close to the main Edwardsburg Public Schools campus. In addition, the Edwardsburg Sports Complex has expressed security concerns regarding the lack of a fence between the properties. 

“This is too big of a project,” said one concerned citizen. “I have lived in this town my whole life, my children are third generation and we’ve been in this town 75 years total. I’m very concerned for our children’s safety. I just feel like we’re asking for trouble.”

Lorena Milliken, a local farmer, urged the planning commission to move against the Market Park project as presented in order to protect local farm land against urban sprawl.

“It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see how this area could be totally built out in a few years and look very similar to State Road 23 in Granger,” she said. “As urban pressures increase, it becomes more difficult for farmers to stay in the areas… While I’m not against positive change, quality housing or improving our existing village, I am against uncontrolled land development that will permanently change the character of the Edwardsburg area. If approved, it will dramatically change the landscape and rural community forever. As the co-owner of a local multi-generational green farm, I urge the planning commission to not allow the market park project to proceed as currently.”

According to Shier, the Market Park project has received a positive response on Facebook.

“The Edwardsburg community has had a huge response in favor of this project based on our facebook page ‘Market Park’,” he said. “The community is smart and knows when they see a well-designed project. Everyone understands that more than just cornfields are required to make up a sustainable thriving community. It is a very efficient use of the space. There will be few projects that meet the same level of sustainability as the Market Park project. I think that all demographics will find that the convenience of a multi-use development is very appealing. Who wouldn’t want to spend more time with friends and family rather than taking care of a yard or maintenance on a bathroom sink?”

What happens next?

During February’s meeting, the commission asked Shier to provide them with a traffic impact study as well as a housing market study before the commission could make their decision. 

“Even if he provides those two studies, if the studies don’t come out favorably he may not get his zoning,” said Planning Commission Chairman Chris Marbach.

Shier has since asked the planning commission to allow for conditional rezoning of the property to allow the project to get underway. 

“He is going to volunteer conditions to put on that property that he thinks may give him his zoning,” Marbach said. “He might come back and say he only wants to put 10 residential units in. ‘I’ll commit to only doing 10 if I can get the rezoning,’, those kinds of things.”

Marbach said that even in the event that the Market Park rezoning gets approved by the commission, the final approval would come before the Board of Trustees for approval. If the board approves the rezoning, Shier and his team would then have to have any and all site plans approved by both the planning commission and board of trustees.

Shier said the goal of Market Park is to bring more services and resources locally. 

“Too much of our resources come from Indiana,” Shier said. “The jobs alone would be very important for our community. We need to give the opportunity for people to tap into their entrepreneurial dreams. Many small businesses have reached out to us to see if we will be building space for their small business they plan to start. The American dream is still alive and it is contagious when we think big.”

A land surveyor by trade, Marbach has years of experience with situations like this that he brings to the Ontwa Township table. 

“I get to see both sides of these arguments and concerns in many, many meetings like this,” he said. “You hear a lot of different reasons on both sides as to why things should happen. So that’s what makes it a tough decision for this group to do what’s right for everybody but we’ll do our best.”