Chesterton Tribune

County BZA grants variances for new Liberty Twp hospital

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The new Porter hospital planned at Ind. 49 and U.S. 6 was granted all the variances requested from the Porter County Board of Zoning Appeals Wednesday.

Hospital officials sought seven variances from the county’s development ordinance on signage, entrance width, curbing, parking and buffer areas. Attorney William Ferngren, representing Porter hospital, said the number of variances is minimal given the large scope and size of the approximately $200 million project.

Only one person – Gerald Hebert, representing the Liberty Landowners Association – spoke out against the variances during the BZA’s public hearing Wednesday.

Hebert reminded the BZA that the landowners have filed a lawsuit against the county for its decision to rezone the 104 acres from Residential to Institutional, and that the BZA should not take any action on the variances at this time. But BZA attorney Scott McClure advised the BZA that it could proceed.

Among those who spoke in support of the variances was Chesterton Town Council member Jeff Trout, who said the town “enthusiastically supports” the new hospital and the decision to locate it north of U.S. 6, where much of the county’s future growth appears to be.

Trout said the town is ready to “lend help and support to the hospital’s efforts.”

Earlier this year, Chesterton officials expressed a willingness to extend sewer service to the new hospital, with an official vote in March to begin calculating the costs.

Three of the hospital’s requested variances dealt with temporary signage.

Ferngren said that because the property is large and heavily wooded, people driving quickly past on Ind. 49 would not be able to see a hospital sign if the county’s typical rules were followed.

The variances sought will allow 20-foot by 15-foot signs, at a height of 21 feet, one facing Ind. 49 and one facing U.S. 6.

Speaking in support of the larger signage was Rex Richards, president of the Greater Valparaiso Chamber of Commerce. He said the new hospital is a tremendous boon for the county that will improve the quality of life for everyone. He said it’s important that signage should be as large as possible to alert people that the hospital is coming to that location.

Another variance dealt with the entrance to the hospital off U.S. 6. County rules normally would require a width of up to 40 feet. But at that width, Ferngren said, it would be impossible to accommodate two-way traffic and turn lanes; instead, the entranceway is estimated to need 100 feet.

Another variance dealt with curbing and striping in the driving lanes.

In keeping with the county’s directive to develop the hospital as “green” as possible, Ferngren said best-management practices for stormwater drainage will be used in the parking lot, with plans calling for water to move through landscaped islands that will filter the water.

BZA President Marv Brickner said he feels that curbing the driving lanes is a necessity. Ferngren and other hospital representatives said curbing is still planned, but just not in the areas needed for drainage. They agreed to curb at least 70 percent of the driving lanes, which was acceptable to the BZA.

The overall plans prompted a few compliments from the BZA.

BZA member Luther Williams said he went to the Valparaiso hospital earlier in the day and had to walk a quarter of mile from his parking space. He praised the parking plans, which call for parking to be located around the centrally located hospital. “That layout is really neat,” he said.

BZA member Rick Burns also commended the plans. He said he visited two hospitals in California and found that their layout is practically the same as Porter’s. However, he noted that the plan commission is considering amending the county’s landscaping ordinance, and he called on the hospital to consider adding larger trees than what’s now required.

In the end, the BZA granted all of the variances, but with a few stipulations. The temporary signage variance was approved but for a three-year duration. The BZA granted the variance requesting no striping in the entranceway, but stipulated that there will be at least 70 percent curbing and partial striping in the parking lot. The entry variance was limited to a maximum of 100 feet, and the hospital was directed to work with the plan commission to enhance its landscaping plan.

Before construction begins, the hospital still needs to go through the Porter County Plan Commission’s development review process, at which time all the construction details, such as drainage and traffic, will be addressed.


Posted 4/17/2008