Chesterton Tribune

US 6 overlay district gets 9-0 support from planners

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Plans for implementing a new 12-mile long overlay district for the U.S. 6 corridor received unanimous support, with a 9-0 vote, from the Porter County Plan Commission on Wednesday and will be forwarded to the county board of commissioners for their review.

Robert Thompson, the plan commission’s executive director, said the effort to develop a corridor plan began a few years ago when planners felt the need to have some standards in place to guide new developments in the near future. Two well-attended public hearings were held last year where residents voiced demands for county planners to look at road safety development.

The corridor plan aims to guide development, setting regulations for buffers, road width and building materials. Thompson said the ordinance for the overlay plan is not to change existing zoning districts.

“We’re not rezoning any properties tonight. These are just development standards we are putting in this area,” Thompson told the board.

The county has an Arterial Overlay District standard but a committee felt it essentially takes a “one-size-fits-all approach” and a separate plan was thought to be needed for U.S. 6 because of its different characteristics, said consultant Paul LeBlanc of LSL Planning.

The proposed ordinance sections the corridor into four subdistricts: A South Haven subdistrict would exist between the east Portage city boundary to Ind. 49; a West Central district from Ind. 149 to a quarter mile west of Meridian Rd.; a Central subdistrict from a quarter mile west of Meridian to Calumet Avenue on the east of Ind. 49; and an Eastern subdistrict from Calumet Ave. all the way to the LaPorte County line.

The overlay district for the corridor will extend a depth 1,320 feet from the center of U.S. 6 in the South Haven, West Central and Central subdistricts, where various commercial and residential development is probable, while in the East district, which is most likely to remain rural, the depth will extend 600 feet.

The Central subdistrict will contain the new hospital and will be suited for mainly medical related development that is inclined to proliferate as an effect of the hospital.

LeBlanc said the specifics of the plan are designed to promote economic development, preserve road capacity, minimize the number of signs and distractions, provide connectivity for non-motorized movement, ensuring future development does not inhibit improvements and preserve property values.

The commission commended the work done by the overlay committee and think it will be a sufficient tool for guiding developments attracted to the area.

"It’s a really well-thought plan. To develop it the right way would be a great asset to Porter County,” said county planner Richard Maxey.

One certain concern came from planner Lyndsay Ploehn who questioned what effect the plan would have on Sunset Hill Farm County Park given its location in the Central district. Thompson said the park should not see any effect unless a developer would want to develop on a lot for which they would then have to go before the plan commission to seek zoning approval. Thompson did say plans are set to put in a pedestrian walkway around Sunset Hill Farm that would eventually connect the new hospital with the bikeways in the Valparaiso Parks land along Meridian Road.

Looking at the plans, Liberty Township resident Ed Gutt from the floor said his property is in the area where the Central and Eastern subdistricts would intersect on Calumet and asked if a larger buffer of 40 feet could be considered instead of 20 feet in the areas that would be zoned Institutional for the convenience of residential homeowners.

Gutt said he was not speaking against the petition but said he was concerned about potential drainage issues if the U.S. 6 roadway would be widened. He asked why the Indiana Department of Transportation had not been more involved with the matter, having observed an INDOT representative attend the steering committee’s first two meetings but none after.

Board president Nancy Adams said INDOT has been involved and will speak to the commissioners next week. The state has not yet come up with a strategy to improve the roads, due to a lack of funds, but has the county on a wait list for projects they are considering. Adams said INDOT may be willing to lend their attention more quickly if the county could make some of its money available for road improvement.

Planner Sylvia Graham said the county should not have to dole out money for U.S. 6 improvements since it is a state highway, not a county road.

Planner Herb Read echoed Gutt’s concern since his property is on Calumet Ave. and made a motion to move the Central district boundary eastward away from Calumet and have the buffer between residential and institutional properties set at 40 feet.

Thompson and Adams advised that having Calumet in the Central district would better protect the area because it has an overlay depth of 1,320 feet compared to the 600 foot depth in the Eastern district. Thompson said it would be wise to include that protection now rather than later on to prevent a future plan commissioner or county commissioner from making changes to that area.

Read was convinced to withdraw his motion but the board did approve the part of his amendment about the 40 foot buffer for Institutional districts.

Thompson said the buffer for institutional buildings like libraries and schools was proposed for twenty feet so school children could be better observed for their safety. With the planners vote to officially set at a 40-foot minimum, Thompson said that those types of buildings could always come to the county Board of Zoning Appeals for a variance on a smaller buffer.

Gutt thanked the board for including the amendment and their effort to see development is done in a responsible way.

Liberty Twp. resident and planner Tim Cole said the overlay district is something all Porter County can be proud of and it will add to its overall attractiveness.

“People coming into Porter County will know we have a high standard. It’s not because rich people live here but because we are planning people,” said Cole.

The commissioners will hold a first reading and public hearing on the overlay district ordinance at their May 1 meeting.

In other matters Wednesday, the board voted to appoint planner and county surveyor Kevin Breitzke to be the representative on the new development review committee.


Posted 4/12/2012