Chesterton Tribune

Planners favor U.S. 6 medical campus despite neighbors' objections

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

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 office area.

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 screening.

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 changes.

“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.

A “Horizontal Dam”

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 classification.

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,” said Leeth.

We’re All In This Together

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 u-turns.

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.

Vote

A motion in favor of recommendation was made by Breitzke. Voting yes were members Breitzke, Cole, Stevenson, Rich Burns, and Vice-President Robert Detert.

The sole naysayer Wednesday was Read.

Absent from the meeting were President Robert Harper, Lyndsay Ploehn, and Elizabeth Marshall.

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.

 

Posted 11/11/2010