Benton Harbor reverses position on Whirlpool project

The week ended a lot better than it began for Whirlpool officials carrying out plans to build a new $68 million office complex in Benton Harbor.

“It’s always nice to end on a Friday with final approval, knowing the project is a certainty,” said Whirlpool Vice President for Communications, Jeff Noel.

The same city panel that voted against the site plan for the Whirlpool complex on Monday (by a 4-3 margin)—voted for it today (by a 4-1 margin).

“Actually Monday’s vote was a big surprise to me,” said Benton Harbor Planning Commission member Richard Hensel. “I felt that there were things that were missing from the documents that we needed, I thought we had more of a consensus to move forward at the time, so I was surprised.”

On Monday, Hensel abstained from voting. Today, he voted yes because he had the additional information he needed to make up his mind. “We were looking for a completed site plan with all of the technical information we needed to make a decision, we needed to know where the buildings were going to be located, the exact number of parking places where they were going to be, how the building related to the streets,” Hensel said.

Meantime, two of the four planning commission members who voted no on Monday—were ‘no shows’ today. One of those commission members, Richard Taylor, apparently resigned on Wednesday. City officials say Taylor did not explain his reasons for quitting in his letter of resignation.

“I can’t make the rest of them come, and to speak out, but this is how I feel,” said Emma Kinnard with the Benton Harbor Planning Commission.

Today Emma Kinnard cast the lone no vote as the commission approved Whirlpool’s plans by a four to one margin.

“The project in general if it brought jobs for the citizens here in Benton Harbor would be good, not two or three, there’s a lot of people unemployed,” Kinnard said.

Jeff Noel of Whirlpool offered this explanation for his up and down week. “Well, I think the reality is the City of Benton Harbor has not seen large scale office buildings constructed in its city limits really for decades, and to expect some uncertainty, to expect the kind of questions that the planning commission has chosen to ask, really you need to expect that.”

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