JACKSON CENTER — The first of two Jackson Center council meetings scheduled for the month of June was anything but normal with many residents showing up at a public hearing to voice their concerns at the third reading of a proposed zoning amendment.
The proposed amendment is necessary to change the zoning from R-1 (Single Family Residential) to I-1 (General Industrial) to allow Airstream Trailers Inc. to construct a new manufacturing facility as well as develop an easement that would allow access from North Main St. (state Route 65). The building site is land-locked except for the small strip of land or easement that cuts between two houses and right through an area designated as residential; the land where the new factory is to be located butts up to approximately eight other homes on the east end of the property. The new drive between the houses would permit semi trucks to make pick-ups and deliveries at the proposed new plant that will employ approximately 100 people.
Mayor Scott Klopfenstein said he feels the good outweighs the bad and that overall a change in zoning is acceptable for the good of the community.
“These kind of opportunities don’t come around that often, it’s 100 jobs, a lot of money and business will be generated which is good for our community and village growth,” said Klopfenstein. “This is not an easy decision to make, so we need to really think about the positive changes this move will bring and what we can do to make it happen.”
Councilwoman Leisha Elchert reinforced the mayor’s sentiment on community service saying, “We always try to take what’s best for the community into consideration, we all have families living here and really try to do what’s best for all concerned.”
The emotionally-charged hearing became heated at times as approximately 10 village residents showed up to voice their opposition to the proposed changes noting the negative effects Airstream has had in previous years and how the changes in zoning it will affect their personal safety, living conditions and property values.
Long time Jackson Center resident and Village Wastewater Superintendent Kevin Sailor owns property next to the proposed building location and voiced his concerns for how the new facility will have a negative impact on the property values of those who own homes adjacent to the proposed building site.
“I’m trying to be gracious here but going through with this project as is will be a financial disaster for all those who own homes in this area; the noise, trash and bright lights will forever change our way of life,” said Sailor. “As it is my wife and I can no longer sit on our porch and enjoy a nice sunset as the loud noise from the outside dust collector installed at Airstream after we built our home makes it impossible to enjoy sitting outside.”
Sailor and his wife Deb moved into a new home they built on their property next to Airstream in February 2001 and planned the building site in such a way as to allow for other homes to be built on the remaining approximate 7 acres he owns there.
“The village even put in a curb anticipating the possibility of residential growth so they knew we intended to keep this a residential area. If this project goes through my house will probably be worth half of what it is now and no one wants to live or build a new house next to a factory and all the noise, traffic, and other problems associated with it,” Sailor said.
When questioned after the meeting Sailor noted he was not trying to find fault with Klopfenstein or any of the other council members.
“I believe Scott has the best intentions concerning our town, a hundred new jobs is a very big deal and will have a tremendous effect on our financial resources and future growth … it scares me to think of Airstream taking these jobs to another location and we cannot overlook the positive effect they have had here over the years, I would just like to see a plan that works better for everyone involved,” Sailor said. “ I’m not sure Airstream has exhausted all the possibilities and options available, we just don’t have enough information at this time.”
Resident Travis Elsass noted how he feared the proposed changes will affect the price of his home as well.
“We are building a new home elsewhere and have concerns about how the zoning will affect the asking price of our home when we put it on the market for sale” Elsass said.
Elsass’s wife Michelle also shared concerns about the safety and living conditions for children in the area and for those who may purchase their house.
“The proposed drive will run right through our back yards and while a fence may provide some protection from semi truck traffic we have to thinks about the safety of the children, I also can not imagine how it will affect the view and living conditions in this nice residential area,”she said.
Long time resident Jeanne Williams voiced her concerns about safety issues related to increased semi truck traffic and the noise associated with it saying, “At night we’ll have bright lights shining in our windows and a chain link fence with louvers is not going to stop the noise.”
Several other residents also echoed their concerns about the noise, traffic and safety issues.
Much of the information for the proposed changes shared by Council and Airstream seemed to be assumed and not well documented, which led resident Marcia Sailor to share her concerns saying, “How can we possibly move forward on this proposal without having proper documentation in detail concerning the proposed changes. Assuming this and that is not good enough and more time is needed to determine exactly what we’re getting into here and who’s going to do what.”
Airstream representative Mark Beckman noted Airstream’s desire to work with the community.
“We want to be good neighbors. Airstream has always tried to look for ways to be a better neighbor, we have looked at and studied several options on how to make this project work and welcome any input and suggestions from those who may be affected by the changes,” said Beckman.
After extensive conversation, council closed the hearing and proceeded with the normal council meeting at which time Councilman Jesse Fark moved to postpone a vote on the proposed zoning changes and table the motion until more information could be reviewed.