St. Andrews LLC and developers of the 109-acre property neighboring the
future Porter hospital on the northwest corner of U.S 6 and Ind. 49 cleared
the first big hurdle on Wednesday to starting up a medical campus park in
unincorporated Liberty Twp.
A required vote of five members from the county plan commission board was
cast in favor of a series of zoning requests after the board heard the from
the petitioners and remonstrating neighbors.
“Your board holds the future of what happens to this county. It is a
tremendous job that you have,” said Liberty Twp. resident Edwin Gutt, one of
the dozen or so neighbors who spoke in concern for the implications the St.
Andrews rezoning may have.
The property owners, represented by attorney Todd Leeth of Hoeppner, Wagner
& Evans, wish to build a medical office building that can be used by Porter
hospital staff physicians. The building is planned to sit on 49.5-acre
section of the property while assisted living and family homes are planned
for the northern area.
Leeth said the developers had made four significant changes to their plans
since the commission held a workshop session in late August.
First, he said, the northernmost 18 acres originally requested to be rezoned
to Two-family Residential (R3) will be kept as the current site zoning,
Single-family Residential (R1), after objections were made to locating
multiplexes or apartment-type buildings in a rural setting.
The second was changing the zoning request for the southernmost 15.6 acres
from High Intensity Commercial district (CH) to Moderate Intensity
Commercial district (CM).
Also, developers agreed to the suggestion to increase the buffer on the
western boundary off the proposed commercial district, extending the buffer
from 40 to 50 feet as a minimum. A 50-foot buffer is also planned for the
The final change Leeth reported also pertained to the buffer. In lieu of
using deciduous trees to create a barrier, developers have been discussing
with the plan commission office using evergreen trees to provide year-round
Leeth said they are also taking steps to make sure no fugitive lighting will
leave the property as requested at the workshop session.
Leeth did not provide the planners with a detailed management plan for
onsite drainage as requested, saying they would first need the zonings in
place before pressing on with the costly research procedures. He made the
promise the developers will honor all commitments made to the county
planners, but anticipates variances will be needed. The group will next go
to the county Board of Zoning Appeals.
“This is the first step in a long development process,” said Leeth.
Traffic Safety a
Priority, Residents Say
The proposed modifications seemed to have little effect on the opposition
from neighboring residents of Tanner Trace subdivision which closely borders
the development to the west.
Before the public hearing, county planner Tim Cole said the goal will be to
decide what is the best possible outcome for all, the community and the
developer, requiring cooperation and compromise.
A Liberty Twp. resident himself, Cole said the community will have to “bite
the bullet” on allowing Multi-family district zonings in rural areas due to
the increasing population numbers. He said without doubt, this development
will have a profound impact on nearby residents.
“Our lives will change. There is no question about that,” he said.
Cole was pleased by the changes made to the buffer, but those sitting in the
audience felt the developers had not properly addressed two major issues,
traffic safety and water management.
Tanner Trace resident Tim Black said many times traffic on U.S. 6 has been
backed up from Meridian Rd. all the way to the Tanner Trace entrance.
Jane Walsh-Brown, also a Tanner Trace resident, said the traffic congestion
and new stoplights will only cause visual distraction and contribute to more
accidents. She also questioned what the purpose was for having an access
road near the west side of the property.
Meeting applause was Tanner Trace resident George Karch who said the traffic
will increase taxes as the county will be responsible for the road and also
require more police at the site.
Karch said the petition sounds similar to Coffee Creek a few years ago when
the developers promised to build large family homes. He told the plan
commission they will get far less than expected if they agree to the zone
“Eyesores have deep pockets,” he said.
Other residents said the number of accidents in the area have increased by
nearly thirty percent since Jan. 1 according to the county sheriff’s police
and implored that traffic studies should be done.
Residents like Gutt and Gerald Hébert made the contention that the rezoning
went against what is allowed in the county’s Unified Development Ordinance.
“It is incompatible and against the law. It’s almost like you’re reading
from a different unified development ordinance than the one in county law,”
said Hébert. Hébert also said the Liberty Twp. Fire Department sent out
mailings asking for donations for a new fire truck due to the hospital and
other developments. He asked that each commission member consider giving
$1,000 toward the fire truck.
The only audience member speaking in favor of the development was Porter
hospital Chief Operating Officer Bill Cummins. Cummins, who is charge of the
new hospital construction, said he has been pleased with the cooperation of
the development team headed up by Pat Kleighe of Great Lakes Development in
wanting to complement the hospital.
Black also pointed out that 90 percent of the residential well recharge
areas which residents rely heavily on are in development areas. He said the
construction along U.S. 6 and Ind. 49 would essentially put in a horizontal
dam that would keep the water in the aquifers from percolating back into the
recharge areas, possibly forcing residents to dig new wells.
Black asked why the builders didn’t consider choosing Coffee Creek that was
“built for this type of thing.”
Leeth said a drainage plan hasn’t been made yet because there are other
steps the developers have to reach first. Extensive research would need to
be undertaken to properly figure the engineering.
Landscape architect Christopher Lannert said the goal would be for the
property owners to manage all the water on the site and capture the water in
the right places in order to lead it back into the aquifer.
Kleihege told the Chesterton Tribune the development will receive its
water from Indiana American Water in Portage and sewer utilities will be
provided by the Damon Run Conservancy District.
Addressing traffic concerns, Leeth said the entranceway on U.S. 6 is planned
to be a right-in, right-out entranceway meaning only westbound traffic would
be allowed to turn into the property. He said this will eliminate the need
for a traffic light.
Those coming into the property will drive up the entranceway that will take
them to another road accessing the property or the hospital, comparing the
entranceway to that of a shopping mall.
However, Leeth said the Indiana Department of Transportation has
jurisdiction over the builders and the county on the entranceway and will
have final say on the access road. It was at their requirement to move the
U.S. 6 entrance to the west side of the property.
Leeth said the property will actually lower traffic movements in the county
by having medical and pharmaceutical services in the general location of the
medical campus property and the hospital.
People would otherwise need to travel to offices or pharmacies in Chesterton
or Valparaiso, he said.
As for the accusations of going against the UDO, Leeth said the developers
are not requesting a change or variance to the UDO or a change in
He said the four zoning sections would require “thousands” of management
requirements which they intend abide by which he believed to be some of the
most restrictive in the state.
The question the board faces, he said, is this a proper place for a campus
like this with assisted living facilities.
“It’s the right time. The hospital is not a pig in a poke. It is certain,”
We’re All In
County planner Rita Stevenson said as a member of the Porter County Council,
she is one vote that sold the hospital in 2007 to Community Health Systems.
She asked the neighbors start setting aside their differences and
collaborate with the developers by looking at the positives, yielding a few
grumbles from the audience.
“We needed a new hospital. We made a perfect choice as to what we had to
work with,” said Stevenson, whose term as a council member expires at the
end of this year. “We’re all going to be in this. It’s about time you all
needed to work together.”
County surveyor and plan commission member Kevin Breitzke said change is
going to come and the concern should be how to protect the general area.
He said studies on watersheds like the Damon Run should be undertaken to
improve the quality of life for residents.
County planner Herb Read restated his opinion that although he is not
against the hospital, he finds problems with the location. He expects
problems will worsen with traffic with eastbound drivers attempting u-turns
on U.S. 6 to enter the petitioner’s property.
Leeth replied both the hospital and the petitioners are seeing to
concentrate the traffic at the stoplight to prevent drivers from making
Read ended his comments by saying those who purchased property in a rural
residential property did so because they expect the area to remain that way
In a final statement, Cole said “things could be worse” and said everyone
should work to make the transition easy as possible. He encouraged residents
to write their concerns to their legislators.
A motion in favor of recommendation was made by Breitzke. Voting yes were
members Breitzke, Cole, Stevenson, Rich Burns, and Vice-President Robert
The sole naysayer Wednesday was Read.
Absent from the meeting were President Robert Harper, Lyndsay Ploehn, and
The planners’ decision will be passed on as a recommendation to the three
county commissioners who make the final decision for the rezoning.
Plan Commission Executive Director Robert Thompson said the case will be
heard by the commissioners at their meeting on Jan. 18 and will also include
a public hearing.