Neighbors continue to protest possible gas station, hope to preserve barn

ST. JOSEPH COUNTY, Ind.-- Plans could be underway to tear down the historic barn at Elm and Dragoon in St. Joseph County and replace it with a gas station.

But before that can happen, it has to be rezoned by the St. Joseph County Area Plan Commission.

Abc57 NightTeam previously brought you this story last week, but the matter was tabled at the most recent area plan commission meeting.

Neighbors say the home and barn go back at least to the 1860s and would hate to see an eyesore like a gas station replacing one of the original homesteads of the neighborhood.

Neighbors mobilized after learning this historic barn would be torn down and replaced with a gas station.

But even with letters, emails, and phone calls, the matter keeps getting tabled and has yet to go in front of the area plan commission or county council.

"All they told us is that the person that was petitioning for the rezoning had requested it is tabled," said concerned neighbor John Banicki.

Frustrated neighbors are protesting plans to tear down this St. Joseph County barn and replace it with a gas station.

"Definitely against it," Carolyn Siebert, another concerned neighbor, said. "Gas stations are polluting, trashy, noisy."

They said they're worried about the local well water getting contaminated, light pollution, traffic and tobacco sales near an elementary school.

"We are concerned that the gas station would bring in a lot of unwanted traffic, it would bring in crime and problems in the neighborhood that we don't have right now," Banicki said.

The owners of this historic home across the street from the barn, Eric Berg and Ashley Oliver, say they’ve invested about $100,000 to fix it up, and they would be devastated if a gas station was built right across the street.

"It just destroys the character of the area and of the house," Berg said. "We would have blaring lights and cars and everything right outside of our house and right outside of our window."

"We wanted to raise our family somewhere it's safe and we really don't want to see potential environmental threats to our property and our children across the street," Oliver said.

Neighbors argue there isn’t a need for the gas station for the traffic on nearby State Road 331 since there is another spot to fuel up just a mile down the road.

"We've got seven gas stations within two miles of this location," Banicki said.

The area plan commission even did a staff report back in December, giving the rezoning petition an unfavorable recommendation to the county council, saying in part:

"Intensity of the use requested would likely have an adverse impact on property values, a detrimental impact on traffic flow in the area, and does not represent responsible development and growth."

That said, the commercial broker for the property, John Piraccini, said a purchase agreement was already made.

"Gosh, I'd kind of like to see something a little eco-friendly, a little more aesthetic than a loud noisy gas station that pollutes," said Siebert. "And we don't need another gas station."

Piraccini said there will be neighborhood meetings to address their concerns, but did not get back to ABC57 in time to tell us when they are.

The next time the rezoning is set to go before the area plan commission is March 21.

We’re told it was tabled at the last meeting so developers could tweak the site plans, but Piraccini tells me it was to wait for the neighborhood meetings.

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