Chesterton Tribune

County eyes controls on development along major roads

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By VICKI URBANIK

A comprehensive plan that encourages preservation of Porter County’s scenic beauty in the face of likely development pressures along the major roads won unanimous approval Wednesday from the Porter County Plan Commission.

Capping more than a year of planning meetings and public workshops, the plan commission formally endorsed the Porter County Corridor Study, a plan that outlines development scenarios along the county’s major roads including Meridian Road, Ind. 49 and U.S. 6. The plan will now go before the Porter County Commissioners for final adoption as part of the county’s Unified Development Ordinance on May 19.

Some plan commission members indicated that they aren’t thoroughly satisfied with the document. Robert Detert said he would have liked to have seen greater emphasis on a new north-south connection, such as the long-planned Ind. 149 extension. Elizabeth Marshall said the plan “missed the boat” in the Wheeler community, with a call for redevelopment of the Wheeler Landfill but not to revive the now-closed businesses. Herb Read, meanwhile, said the plan goes too far in identifying certain areas -- such as a stretch on U.S. 6 east of Ind. 49 --- as likely development areas.

But as plan commission attorney Scott McClure emphasized, the corridor plan doesn’t commit the county to anything, but will serve as a guide for planning decisions, much like the county’s 2001 comprehensive master plan and thoroughfare study. “It is not meant to be, nor is it seen in the courts, as a binding document,” he said.

Still, said Plan Commission President Robert Harper, also a county commissioner, the plan is significant, as it is one in a series of new planning endeavors that the county has accomplished in recent years. He said the county is now “light years” ahead of where it was just a few years ago with new regulations on issues such as drainage and stormwater and open space.

Harper commended the plan commission members and staff for the many hours they spent on the corridor plan and the other planning projects. Citing the commissioners’ meeting the night before, when a group of residents outlined their drainage problems that many blamed on an inadequate plan when their subdivision was first developed, Harper said the intent of the county’s new planning rules is to ensure that past development problems don’t occur again.

“You can visualize how pretty this county can be if we stick to this plan,” he said.

The corridor plan, available online at www.communitycollaborate.com

 and on the plan commission’s page at www.porterco.org

 looks at a study area along more than 120 miles of road in the county’s unincorporated areas and gives specific recommendations for both development and open space preservation along each corridor.

Pete Fritz of Ratio Architects, the consulting firm that prepared the document, said he believes this is the first time in Porter County that all utility services have been mapped. The planning process included a market analysis that identified where along the roads new development is likely to be proposed. But the plan also identifies where development is restricted or not suitable, such as areas of prime farmland or scenic vistas.

The market study component identified several areas that will likely be proposed for development, including a large stretch along U.S. 6, most of Meridian Road extending to Valparaiso, Ind. 130 west of Ind. 149, a section of U.S. 30 east of Ind. 49, and a section of Ind. 49 north of Kouts.

Fritz emphasized that that doesn’t mean development will occur or should automatically be allowed in those areas. But if they are to be developed, the plan outlines a host of options, including designs based on public input received in the planning process.

The public workshops showed strong preference for keeping new developments adjacent to or within existing cities and towns, Fritz said. He commended that mindset, noting that it is part of the smart growth planning principle.

The public also favors inward-facing commercial developments, which include a landscape setting and protective buffers and which encourage people to park in the rear of the buildings and walk more to their destination.

Another example of a pedestrian and eco-friendly development design included in the plan could apply to industrial parks, in which a drainage ditch onsite could be maintained as a pedestrian walkway, with wetlands and other plantings that would also serve as a water filtration system.

The plan also promotes pedestrian trails and wildlife crossings, or established places under or over roads where wild animals can safely cross. Planner Tim Cole said at first he was skeptical, but his research has shown that wildlife do indeed use such crossings. “We’ve got to live with nature,” he said, as he lamented the number of animals that die when they’re unable to safely get across roads.

Wednesday’s plan commission meeting included a public hearing on the plan. Though about a dozen people were in the audience, only one -- Ed Gutt of Liberty Township -- spoke.

Gutt commended Fritz for getting public input in the corridor planning process.

He urged support for establishing access roads to keep the main roads congestion-free, and for leaving as many trees as possible along the roadways to give motorists a sense of open country. He also spoke in support of limiting new commercial developments within city or town limits.

“We don’t need strip malls along every corridor,” he said.

Gutt did say, though, that he feels the county has not adequately followed its UDO, a criticism that Marshall said she agrees with.

 

Posted 4/23/2009