Leesburg Residents Question Council About Joining County Plan Commission

Leesburg City Center. (Photo: Nick Deranek/News Now Warsaw)

The Leesburg Town Council meeting had to move into the firehouse Monday night to accommodate the amount of residents who showed up to ask questions about the town’s recent decision to join the Kosciusko County Area Plan Commission (APC).

The council held a special meeting Dec. 28 and approved joining the APC. It was a move cited by council members Doug Jones, Tom Moore and Christina Archer as the only way to give residents a voice when it came to zoning complaints. Currently, only the towns of Mentone and Sidney are not joined with the county’s APC; Warsaw and Winona Lake each have their own.

More than 20 residents showed up Monday night, many of them upset about the late December special meeting and wanting more clarity about what future governmental restrictions could come their way. The county’s APC director, Dan Richard, was in attendance to help answer questions.

“Tonight’s for marking on that map and making changes as you see fit,” Richard said, referencing the proposed map that is not approved yet by the council and will be decided upon before Leesburg starts the partnership with the county.

Several residents were upset that the special Dec. 28 meeting was called with little notice. Many said they don’t take the paper to see the public notice that the town posted nor do they frequently check the town’s website but they contended they would have shown up if they would have known to make their voices heard against the move.

“Several people would have been interested in having a local area plan and not joining the Kosciusko County commission,” resident Amanda Brookins said, adding that she’s been attending meetings for months but by the time she found out about the Dec. 28 meeting she was already scheduled to work at her job. “People should’ve known,” she said. Brookins has voiced interest in being a volunteer or a member of a local area plan board.

Moore said the legalities of that requires nine people be on the local board and then legal expenses would have to be paid and that board would still have to follow the same set of rules as the county’s zoning rules. Furthermore, Leesburg residents already pay for the county’s zoning services through their property taxes, so it may as well be used, the council members all said.

Other residents expressed concern over what kind of permits they’ll need if they do home repairs, what that will cost and how much government is really coming into their small town life.

“Through this, there is some organization,” Richard said. “So everyone knows the rules of the game and they play it.”

“You currently have no recourse with what your neighbor’s doing,” Moore said. “With APC, you do.”

Robin Watters said he’s not interested in having to get a building permit for anything a homeowner wants to do. “That’s what drew me to Leesburg,” he said.

Jones reminded the concerned citizens that as it stands, the council’s hands are tied when residents come to them with complaints about what their neighbor is doing as far as zoning. “We could leave it out in the wind or give you guys a voice,” Jones said. “If we don’t do something, then everyone’s just gonna do what they want, and we can’t do anything about it.”

Renee Case was worried about her family’s plans to build a new home this summer in town. She also currently runs an in-home beauty shop. She wanted to know if she needs to apply for a permit for her in-home business before they even break ground because they’re planning on building that into the home. Richard said she will. However, “I can’t think of a beauty shop that’s been denied,” he added. “There are no violations in Leesburg right now. So, the way people are operating right now, keep going.”

Richard also made clear that the county APC does not resolve private property line disputes. That is a matter for the courts.

Further discussion will be had on the proposed map, with Richard also saying – when asked by a resident – that the Leesburg Town Council can opt out from joining at any time.

“It’s great discussion, folks,” Moore said. “There are a few people in this room who know me pretty well. Well enough they may question why I support this. And it’s because there’s no other choice if you want a voice of what’s going on in town. … It’s my opinion this is the best decision for the town of Leesburg.”

Also Monday, the council:

• Heard from Street Commissioner Craig Charlton that his department issued nine parking warnings, impounded one vehicle and wrote three ordinance violations. Charlton also noted that four vehicles parked on Van Buren Street in the downtown area on Sunday mornings blocked snow removal. Parking on the town’s streets between 3 and 5 a.m. in prohibited by ordinance.

• Heard from Sewer Superintendent Derek Tenney that this was the first month in a while that there have been no reports of people flushing unacceptable items into the sewer. Moore reminded residents to keep it up.

The next Leesburg Town Council meeting is 6:30 p.m. Feb. 8 at Town Hall.