Chesterton Tribune

Porter County planners favor subdivision rule changes, 7-2

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The Porter County Plan Commission recommended that the county’s Unified Development Ordinance receive its first updates in nearly four years at a special meeting Tuesday night.

After hearing the findings of a special committee, which has been convening since February, the board voted to suggest the county commissioners, who hold the final decision on the matter, approve two proposed amendments to the current UDO.

Within those amendments, the board also recommended some of the process for applying and receiving approval for developments that meet the standards be streamlined. This includes eliminating public hearings in some situations.

“This was always intended to be a living and breathing document and since its inception we have had problems,” county commissioner and board chair Nancy Adams said.

Adams stated that every petition for development, major or minor, since the UDO was adopted in 2008 has needed at least one variance and most have needed several. The county has handed out 89 variances in that time. A current case before the county’s board of zoning appeals, the proposed St. Andrews multi-zone development near the hospital, is seeking 35 variances.

“We felt like it was time to tackle this and update (the UDO),” Adams said.

Both recommended amendments carried the stipulation that they be revisited within one year.

There were a total of five amendments to the UDO on the agenda, but after two-and-a-half hours of discussion, the board decided to table the other proposals to a later meeting.

The first proposed amendment to the UDO heard Tuesday night also received the most debate.

The committee eventually recommended changes to the subdivision guidelines to include provisions for three types of subdividing by a 7-2 vote.

The three classifications, if approved by the commissioners, will now be administrative, minor and major. The major subdivision ordinance will remain unchanged, while the other two are created.  The current UDO treats all subdividing as though it were a major development.

The administrative division applies to cases in A1 or RR zonings where the splits are 10 acres or more and a new one-time allowed split into five acre plots. This type of division can be approved solely by the executive director.

The minor subdivision clause will be approved by a new plat committee, not the entire board, in cases where land is being split into four or fewer plots. Property will only be allowed to go through this process one time and only if it hasn’t been part of a split since 1994 regardless of ownership changes. The clause will also strongly recommend any splits be served by private interior roads.

Dick Burns, who is also on the BZA and made the motion to recommend the changes, said the county “needed changes to account for minor subdivisions.”

The majority of the board agreed with him despite vehement opposition from board members Herb Read and Elizabeth Marshall.

Read said he was “totally opposed” to eliminating public hearings in any situation and that taking cases out of the hands of the full plan commission decreased the board’s significance.

Plan commission executive director Bob Thompson said it is in the county’s interest to streamline the process for cases in which the petitioner follows all of the guidelines. He also said even when matters are approved, certified notices will be sent to any neighbors that could be affected and they have the right to file an appeal.

Another major objection by Read was that the board was taking action on these proposals too quickly, before the public had a chance to learn what was going on.

“I have only seen two stories in the Chesterton Tribune about this,” Read said. “There are many significant changes and I don’t think the public even knows.”

Only one member of the public spoke at Tuesday’s meeting either for or against the proposals and that was Charlotte Read, Herb’s wife.

The other recommended amendment on Tuesday regarded signage and was passed by the board by a 9-0 vote.

The proposal called for updating the zonings where signs can be placed, such as small ground signs in A1 or residential zonings and signs in P-zonings. Currently all of those signs are illegal and need variances. For example, now an owner in a A-1 zoning will be allowed to have a small sign stating they are selling eggs. Also, according to the current ordinance, signs on business such as golf courses or horse stables that are in park-zoned land are illegal. That will be altered.

The board also attempted to handle the influx of LED billboards. The proposal was passed that LED signs will be allowed in industrial areas, but only after the company constructing the billboard removes four regular billboards from county property.


Posted 11/2/2011