Neighbors search for answers at a council committee meeting

MISHAWAKA — Nearby neighbors of the proposed site for a small village of homes for transitional housing for veterans continued Tuesday night to pepper organizers with questions about who will live there and how they will be selected and monitored.

Members of the Mishawaka Troop Town (MTT) board of directors sat down with neighbors at a meeting called by the Common Council’s land use planning committee to see if a solution can be found to allow the veteran plan of village of small houses on East Jefferson Boulevard to move forward.

The site of this facility is still in question. Last spring, council approved a rezoning petition for the property directly west of Veterans of Foreign Wars Station 360, 1307 E. Jefferson Blvd., on the south side of the street.

Continued:Plans are taking shape for a small village in Mishawaka for homeless veterans

The small village will consist of four duplex units, with 350 to 400 square foot homes for homeless veterans in need of short-term stay.

MTT board members, led by co-founder Jim Metherd, late last year requested the rezoning of another property from residential to multi-family residential on the north side of the street from the original site, corner of Jefferson and Maplehurst Avenue.

Both lands belong to VFW Post 360.

Metherd said the costs of demolition and land preparation work on the south side site were too high, while the land on Jefferson’s north side is currently vacant and flat and would be cheaper to develop.

But neighbors, learning of the north side rezoning petition, balked at the idea of ​​having veterans’ homes in their neighborhood. Residents met with Mishawaka Troop Town organizers and attended several council meetings to oppose the rezoning of land on the north side.

Some residents also object to the Tiny House Village for either site, citing the possibility of lowering property values ​​and questioning whether it was an ideal site for such a development.

Mishawaka Troop Town Board Member John LaDue speaks to neighbors Tuesday evening during the Common Council's Land Use Planning Committee meeting at VFW Post 360 in Mishawaka.

Borley Avenue resident Mary Sisti said she had been searching for answers since late December and asking neighbors what questions they had about the project. She said neighbors were largely unaware of last year’s rezoning approval for the Troop Town project on Jefferson’s South Side.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Mishawaka Troop Town officials distributed a four-page sheet of answers to questions posed to the group by residents and council. Rules and guidelines on guest conduct were also produced, along with a proposed agreement that all veterans accepted into the transitional housing program would be expected to sign.

Questions related to how veterans will be assessed for the program, the credentials of those serving veterans, the transportation, medical and mental health needs of those participating in the program, and policies on the how the group will treat veterans who don’t follow the rules.

John LaDue, a lawyer and board member of Mishawaka Troop Town, said when presenting the project at the meeting that he thought the group and neighbors had a common concern with the project.

“Looking at the questions, I see the main concern is ‘What kind of people are we going to have here? “, LaDue said. “…If we want Mishawaka Troop Town to be successful in the long term, we will need the support of the community, local government, state government and federal government. In order for us to get that support, we’re going to have to select veterans for Troop Town who are motivated to succeed.”

Metherd explained that the village proposed here is largely modeled on successful programs in Dallas and St. Louis.

The council will do the interviews for potential residents, and this will include background checks. Organizers also said veterans who need medical or mental health services will rely on the VA and the VA counselor who will assist each guest.

Land north side vs south side

Metherd said Tuesday night that the city had offered to consider a partnership by offering money from the U.S. bailout award the city received to help develop the site of the South Side property.

The land currently includes structures, underground storage, tree removal and excavation of the sloped property.

Organizers said rough estimates were around $162,000 for all but excavation work.

Continued:Mishawaka neighbors push back on plans to build small homes for homeless veterans

Metherd said Mishawaka Troop Town organizers have already raised over $200,000 to date, and fundraising and donations are underway for the project, along with a host of grants the group is planning. to search for the transitional housing program.

But 5th District council member Mike Compton reminded those present at the meeting that the South Side rezoning had already been approved by council. If ARP funding and the small village plan proceeded there, the rezoning proposal and public hearing for the land on the north side of Jefferson would be a moot point.

Mishawaka Common Council member Matt Mammolenti, center, speaks Tuesday night during the Common Council's Land Use Planning Committee meeting at VFW Post 360 in Mishawaka.  At left is Council Member Kate Voelker, 4th District, and at right is Council Member Dale

The council’s land use planning committee will now make a recommendation to the full council on the group’s rezoning proposal.

Additionally, if the city offered COVID relief money for the Mishawaka Troop Town land preparation phase on Jefferson’s South Side property, that allocation would need to be brought to council for a public hearing and vote.

Council is expected to have the proposed rezoning of the land on the north side of Jefferson on the agenda at its March 7 meeting. That meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. at City Hall, 300 E. 3rd St.

Email South Bend Tribune reporter Greg Swiercz at [email protected]

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