Rensselaer Adventures

This blog reports events and interesting tidbits from Rensselaer, Indiana and the surrounding area.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Some new things

I noticed a couple of new business this week. R&S Used Furniture opened on Wednesday in the corner space by Long's Gifts.

 It is a small space but they could fit more in. The owners had a booth in the old antique store that is now 24/7 Fitness and sold well there.
 They buy at area auctions. Prices are reasonable. Check them out.
There is another new business inside the old Sears building, Preferred Medical Academy.  The business has been operating from St. John, Indiana, but opened this office in Rensselaer in November. If you want to become a Certified Nursing Assistant or CNA, you can do it through this academy. Some of the training is in the classroom and some of it is on site at places such as the Rensselaer Care Center. The link above is to their Facebook page, but they also have a website with more information.

The business that was  in the outside office at the Kellner Street entrance to the old Sears Building is gone and the space is again for rent. I never saw anyone inside so I never got to learn exactly what the business was, but it seemed to be something about shelving.

Jackson Funeral Home is getting a new exterior.
Below is what the building looked like on January 4.

 In a final bit of news, SJC has hired a new president. Read all about it here.

A couple more meetings

After the City Council meeting on Monday night, I meandered over to the Court House for a couple more meetings. First the Plan Commission met with two items on their agenda plus an election of officers. Both they and the BZA kept the existing officers.

One item on the agenda of the Plan Commission was a request for a rezone of 30 acres in Kankakee Township from A1 to A2 for a future subdivision. The person requesting the the rezone was not present but several of the neighbors were and they were very much opposed. They feared that the subdivision would be cheap housing--trailers and modular homes--that would devalue their properties and they had nothing good to say about the owner who lives in Illinois. Because the petitioner had not bothered to attend and had provided no details at all of what he planned to do, the Commission rejected his request.

The rest of the evening was devoted to requests from Max L. Farms, which is associated with Belstra Milling. The property they were concerned with was in Barkley Township on 170 W. The request before the Plan Commission was a rezone from A1 to A3 (intensive agriculture). The use of the property is currently a confined feeding operation for pigs and as such it should be zoned A3 but it not, though part of the property is shown on a long-range planning map as intensive agriculture. The company wants to build a fourth building for hogs that will almost double the size of the operation. The building will be 98' by 397' and will house about 3300 hogs from weening to finish. They will be in three different rooms. The building will have an eight foot manure pit beneath it and the manure will be used by several area farms for fertilizer. The building will cost about $300,00 and it will cost another $200,000 to equip it. The expansion will add two employees to the operation.

A member of the commission asked why they wanted their entire property of 99 acres rezoned and not just the smaller area in which the hog buildings are located. Did they plan future expansion on the site? The representatives from Max L Farms said that at present the optimal size for a hog farm is about 7000 head. Beyond that and the risk of disease offsets any economies of scale. At present if they expanded, they would not expand on the property, but changing technology and changing regulations make the future uncertain. In the future the optimal size may be larger or regulations may make it difficult to set up operations on other sites. So they thought it wise to ask for a rezone of the entire property.

The Plan Commission approved their rezoning request.

Then the Board of Zoning Appeals met. After re-electing their chairperson, they took up the only two items on their agenda, both of which were requests for variances from Max L Farms. The first was for a special exception variance, which the county ordinance requires whenever there is a change in scale of operations. The spokesmen, who were as well prepared as any I have seen at these meetings, had explained that there had been hog production at the site for forty years. They had spoken to or tried to contact all the neighbors and had had no complaints about the expansion. The humorous note for the evening was when he said that in talking to the neighbors about their operation, "And there was one who thought it was a dairy farm." The request for a special exception variance passed.

The other variance was for setbacks and something for the road that I did not quite catch. The county ordinance says these structures are to be 1000 feet away from the roads. The Max L Farms people pointed out that even with a 99 acre lot, they could not meet that requirement and that their current buildings did not meet that requirement, being much closer to the road. There is one small building on the site that is about twenty feet from the road. Instead they wanted to place the new building about 60 feet from the road. The main reason for this location was that it would best fit into the existing complex of buildings, allowing them to build a hallway from an another hog barn. For biosecurity reasons they want only one entrance in the entire complex for humans. (If you have ever visited the Pig Adventure at Fair Oaks--also part of Belstra--you should know how important biosecurity is to hog farms.) After considerable discussion, the BZA approved the variance with one member voting against.

The next regulatory hurdle for Max L Farms will be getting approval from the Drainage Board.

After the meeting I heard one of the Belstra Milling guys mention that Beletra had recently purchased Heinhold Feeds of Knox.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

City Council 1/26/2015 and more

I arrived at the City Council meeting on Monday five minutes late (a chore along the way took more time than I expected), and the item under discussion was a committee report on a water usage concern from the previous meeting. The two members of the committee recommended that the apartments be given a 25% credit for the overage of their sewer bill.  That amounted to $2980.80, so the entire amount of the overage was almost $12,000. There was no credit given for the overage on the water bill, which would have been at least another $12,000--it was an expensive leak. The Council passed the recommendation on a 3-2 vote.

There were two ordinances on the agenda. One allowed the city to write off outstanding checks that were more than two years old. These checks were mostly or all from refunds of utility deposits and totaled about $850. The second one I did not understand but seemed to provided for compensation when someone cuts a utility line in a city right of way. Finally, the Council approved abandoning the right-of-way for an alley that went through an old house. This item had been discussed at the last meeting but could not be passed because the correct legal description was not then available.

In the various reports and comments at the end of the agenda we learned that the old Monnett (Admin) building has been appraised for $130,000 and people will now be able to bid on it. If you want to buy, you have 30 days to contact the mayor and place your bid. The city has been working on the Zigler tile to get improve drainage for the future site of the fire station. Work is almost finished and 800 feet of 24 inch tile has been installed. Pizza Hut is apparently undergoing some remodeling. The Park Board will meet next Monday at 6:00 in the old Monnett School building. The mayor has written Commissioner Culp asking if the county would be willing to share the cost of installing a sidewalk/walkway to the fairgrounds. Comments noted that IDOT also needs to be contacted if the project is to move forward. May 4-8 will be cleanup week, with the same procedures as in the past.

Earlier in the day I ventured out to the USDA building for a meeting of the Steering Committee of the Upper Iroquois Watershed Initiative. One of the projects of this group was the recent rain garden planting at Potawatomi Park. On the way I stopped to check the water in the Babcock Quarry. I was surprised to see a section of open water with about 150 geese.
From the meeting I learned that a construction of a canoe launch where the Iroquois approaches Mount Calvary Road seems to be on schedule for the summer but no site has yet been found for a launch on SR 16 in Newton County. The USGS will likely be installing a sentry gauge at Foresman in mid February that will monitor water quality. This will add to the information currently collected at the Foresman site.

Most of the meeting was devoted to discussing the Cost Share Program. (You can find out more about the program here.) The program's purpose is to encourage practices that will improve water quality. The discussion showed that it might be difficult to determine which projects would be most cost effective. In addition to effectiveness, the projects would have to satisfy the guidelines of the program--there was a representative from Indiana's Department of Environmental Management at the meeting to clarify what the requirements were. In the end the group decided to set February 13 as a deadline for applications and to meet about ten days later to make decisions on which proposals to fund.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Train day at the library

The public library had an exhibit of toy trains on Saturday. I got there in mid afternoon and by that time there were only a few people there. There were three trains set up in the conference room, including the one below, which was the most elaborate of the three. The pink train was a princess train--perhaps designed to get girls interested in toy trains.
 There was a film running on a TV in the corner but I did not have the time to sit and watch it. I found the bulletin board with information about the Miniature Train Company of Rensselaer interesting. I did not know that it was only in existence for eight years. I do not know where its factory was located, how many people worked there, or why it closed.
I also did not know that Edson Murray owned it.
 In addition to the trains, there was a table staffed by a woman promoting the Hoosier Valley Railroad Museum located in North Judson. I have never visited this area attraction, but if I get the right grandkids at the right time, that can change. For 2015 the first train excursion will be on April 4, and then the regular season will begin on May 2 and it looks like they run every Saturday until the end of October.

If you missed the special day, you can still see some old toy trains in the display window, though I do not know how long they will be there. When I was a child I had a windup train that was similar to this, though I think the engine was modeled after the steam engines that were disappearing when I was young.
 I never had anything like this old train set from the 1920s.

I have been researching my family history and discovered that trains played a more important role in my life than I realized. A great grandfather worked on the railroad as a section boss, which meant that he went out each day with an assistant or two and checked the tracks. Now tracks are laid on solid foundations, but in the 19th century they were just put on the prairie with little or no bed preparation, so the track was not always stable. It had to be constantly checked. When my ancestors moved, they moved along the rail lines.