Bittersweet Road neighbors outraged over potential factory development

ST. JOSEPH COUNTY, Ind. --The property at 55255 Bittersweet Road in St. Joseph County, formerly an equine therapy ranch, could be sold to Genesis Products.

Now the company, based primarily out of Goshen and Elkhart, hopes to make nice with its possible new neighbors, hosting an open house Wednesday.

If the sale of the land goes through, they plan to construct three manufacturing buildings and a parking lot with roughly 800 spaces.

But those who live along Bittersweet Road are outraged, coming out in droves to show their blatant disapproval for the project.

Neighbors protested the rezoning of the land from residential to industrial. You can see signs still up along Bittersweet Road that read “no industrial zone.”

Those against the factory, like neighbor Frank Rivera, argue it will destroy hundreds of years of forest, creating a "concrete jungle."

"There are thousands of properties between here and Chicago that are just left empty and they're just cement jungles," Rivera said. "And all they have to do is go ahead and reuse that instead of deforesting here and tearing down more forest."

Neighbors complained about the traffic this campus could create and say traffic on Bittersweet Road is already a problem for those in the community, particularly from Penn High School nearby.

The neighbors made their feelings clear: they do not want this factory in their backyard.

"Right now, there are 1300 species on the endangered species list between plants and animals in North America," Rivera said. "And this is a sanctuary for a lot of them. We have deer here, we have turkey, all kinds of different animals."

The land, formerly Life Station, an equine therapy ranch, was sold to Bashor Children's Home. Neighbors say the intention behind the sale of the property to Bashor was to use the land for nonprofit purposes.

They say the former owner of the property would have never given it up had he known it would be transitioned to an industrial park.

Neighbors feel misled, saying they thought the land would be used by Bashor, not sold to Genesis Products.

For the sale to go through, the land must be rezoned from residential to industrial. This decision is left to the St. Joseph County Council, and community members have attended various meetings to protest the proposition.

Still, the President & CEO of Genesis Products, Jon Wenger, said he is still optimistic about the potential to expand to the Mishawaka area.

"We did feel like it was in a community that we thought that we could be a strong part of," Wenger said. "And be a part of creating-- bringing jobs to the area. That's really a lot of what we were trying to do."

Representatives from Genesis say they have not requested any tax abatements, meaning the revenue from property taxes will go back into the community.

"We've proven in the areas that we've been that we're a great neighbor, we're highly committed to community engagement, highly committed to volunteering in the communities we're in, we're highly committed to creating a good place to work," Wenger said. "So, end of the day, i do believe that we're a great community partner, and that we do create a great place to work."

The zoning hearing to debate rezoning the land from residential to industrial has been tabled and pushed back multiple times.

It is currently set for Dec. 20.

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