Benton Harbor considers large zoning change

Benton Harbor is nearly complete with a nearly two year, citywide rezoning project. The rough draft was presented to residents during a Planning Commission meeting Tuesday evening.

"The challenge now is the ordinance in its entirety is out dated and it's no good and the zoning map itself is out dated and inaccurate, so we have to get those two things adopted as a whole before we're in a position to come back in and make minor amendments," said John Houseal, co-founder of Houseal, Lavigne & Associates, a consulting firm hired by the city.

Houseal told the commission and residents the zoning changes better resemble those of nationally accepted standards and correct many problems.

One issue presented was parks along the shore were zoned for industry. Another was many neighborhoods containing single family homes were listed for multi-family dwellings.

Surveyors spent months reviewing the layout of the city to present the new plan, but not everyone was pleased with the zoning.

Cheryl Miller noticed her company, New Products Corporation, was listed in a "mixed use" zone, but for the last 90 years it has been considered a "heavy industry".

"The map showed a change that is inconsistent with the master plan, so it's changed it to mixed use and therefore none of the uses we're currently using it for would be allowed," said Miller.

The custom die-cast manufacturing company also expressed concerns about an ordinance change that would allow anyone passing by to complain about properties.

"You could imagine if 50 people drive by and they decided they heard their radio crackle and they wanted to blame the company we would have a $100 fine until we could fix the problem and maybe it’s the high utility tower across the street," said Miller.

The commission said it would look into Miller's concerns and those of others brought forward during the public hearing. Another rough draft is expected to be presented during future Planning Commission meetings before it is adopted.

"At some point you have to put something down on paper and give the public something to respond to. We expect all of these individuals to provide feedback and I was actually pleased with the number of people who came out tonight," said Houseal. "It’s a challenge. It's a rewarding challenge, but it's a lot of fun. It's complicated, there are a lot of moving pieces when you have to address the regulations that address single family homes and heavy industry and everything in between. It’s a challenging thing to try to attempt to regulate.

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