HIGHLAND — The company planning a senior living complex proposed for land rented by Scheeringa Farms is hoping its third attempt will finally allow the project to sprout off the drawing board.
On Wednesday, the Plan Commission granted Russell Construction, of Davenport, Iowa, a new public hearing, for Dec. 16, to rezone the 19-acre parcel from large single family to residential planned unit development.
Russell is represented by local attorney Jim Wieser, with attorney Randy Wyllie filling in for him on Wednesday.
This is the third time that Russell has pitched the proposal to the commission. The last time resulted in a commission public hearing followed by a rezoning recommendation to the Town Council.
On Aug. 31, the council accepted this recommendation with the votes of Mark Herak, D-2nd; Vice president Bernie Zemen, D-1st; and Roger Sheeman, R-5th.
Voting against the rezoning were Tom Black, R-4th, and President Mark Schocke, R-3rd.
After the land was rezoned, a classified advertising error was discovered in the legal description of the plan — which has forced Russell to repeat the entire process.
After next month's hearing, the commission will send another recommendation to the council.
The council's August vote was one of the most dramatic in Highland's history and came after three hours of unanimous opposition from residents who wish to preserve the farm.
The stage is now set to force the council to vote all over again.
Residents will again have opportunities to voice their opinions to both the commission and the council about the plan, which officials say is unchanged from the last time around.
In the meantime, the advertising error has reversed the August rezoning and reverted the strip of land to its original large single family designation.
"Any actions taken before are void," Town Attorney John Reed confirmed.
Unsurprisingly, Wednesday's commission meeting had 90 minutes of pubic input, via the Zoom online platform, unanimously against the $40 million proposal.
The first comments came from Schocke, who presented a 21-second video of heavy rainfall on the adjacent Strack & Van Til parking lot with water spouting into the air from a manhole.
He questioned whether the senior housing might cause more flooding in the area.
He also pointed out the error in Russell's legal notice and asked, "What makes you think they can build a building correctly?"
But Town Engineer John Phipps said Russell has "gone well beyond" what is needed in its stormwater system design.
In answer to Aaron Straker's question, Building Commissioner Ken Mika noted that the parcel would still be divided into a two-lot subdivision with one lot on the Cline Avenue side and the other by Kleinman Road.
"We have been in business in Highland for the last 80 years," Janille Scheeringa said. She recalled her childhood when her parents met with the Stracks about having the first crack at buying the strip of land if it ever became available.
"If you can just help us get a chance to buy this land," Scheeringa Farms can stay in Highland, she told the commission.
In the meantime, Commission Chairman Doug Turich and Reed both noted that Russell holds a legally binding contract to buy the parcel.
It is undetermined how long the purchase option runs, but some officials say they believe it expires at the current year's end.
Jeannine Scheeringa expressed concern that an existing partial road, 43rd Place, runs along the parcel's northern side and that the town might be planning to widen it to 60 feet and run it to Cline, via eminent domain if necessary.
"There's never been any talk of eminent domain," Mika said. There has been a temporary grading easement agreement, but nothing more, he added.
Turich said the commission will review the issues brought up by the residents.
"If this stops and the contract expires — we will buy it," Jeannine Scheeringa said of the land.
New COVID-19 restrictions for Lake, Porter
The business news you need
With a weekly newsletter looking back at local history.