Chesterton Tribune

County planners favor preserving farmland

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A request to rezone 109.5 acres in Liberty Twp. from Rural Residential to General Agriculture prompted suspicions from a few members of the Porter County Plan Commission board on Wednesday.

The case seems to be the most recent example in a marching line of petitions for rezoning to Agriculture that some members have called out for trying to circumvent the current Unified Development Ordinance.

Surveyor Don Bengel told the commission that M. Jane Pecor of 950 N. CR 100W, who he represented, wished to rezone her property with the desire to sell the land acquired by her late husband in 1972. Bengel said Pecor has had difficulty in efforts to sell the property and rezoning to General Agriculture would give her the option to sell the property in ten-acre parcels under the current UDO.

A-1 zoning allows for a single-family dwelling to be built on minimum ten-acre lots and each owner could use the remaining acreage for farming, Bengel said, even though more homes could be built if the land was rezoned for a subdivision.

Nearly all commission members disputed the petition feeling it was dodging the restrictions of the UDO, but strongly felt that the land should be preserved for the purpose of farming.

Commission member Elizabeth Marshall was to first to reproach the petitioner on the issue of getting the better of the UDO, saying the commission has seen a “shattering wave” of cases where someone wanted to create 10-acre parcels under General Agriculture. She and commission member Herb Read both said it would not be economically reasonable for someone just to farm only ten acres and that a number of maintenance issues would arise.

“It’s asking for problems to be created,” said Marshall.

Read, who said he is always committed to preserving farmland in the county especially in the north, echoed Marshall’s concerns and said dividing the land into ten-acre properties would “kill agriculture use.” He called the case to rezone to agriculture a “paradox” and warned his peers they would have no further control of the land if the petition is successful.

“The burden of proof lies with the petitioner,” said Read. He also mentioned the site contains significant natural features such as the Damon Run which passes through it.

Commission member Tim Cole joined the chorus, crying foul against the petition for seemingly “subverting” the UDO. “I certainly wouldn’t applaud that,” he said. However, Cole moments later ended up the only commission member to vote against the motion to deny recommendation of the petition. The reason he explained was to support any effort to maintain the property for agricultural use.

Cole gave a statistic saying that according to the world’s current population, for each individual person there is 1.88 acres of farmable land. In 20 years, he said, the number will be reduced to only half an acre per person.

“We need to preserve as much good farm ground as possible,” he said.

Cole said he would not be in favor of allowing the land to become a subdivision which could build up to four times the number of homes in comparison to the land if it were rezoned to Agriculture.

It was Cole who also suggested it would be necessary for the commission to look into implementing further restrictions to be included in the UDO’s guidelines for General Agriculture zoning.

Bengel said it was not at all Pecor’s intention to “beat the UDO” and has not been able to sell the property any other way. Bengel said most of the parcel will remain as farmland. Some who have expressed interest in purchasing the land are relatives of the petitioner, he said.

A neighboring resident in the audience expressed concern that the rezoning would cause increases in traffic on CR 100W, which is monitored very little by county police despite a large number of mopeds, dirtbikes, and four-wheelers whose drivers often use the road for “racing.”

The commission voted to deny recommendation 5-1, Cole voting no. The motion to deny was made by Read. Plan Commission President Robert Harper and member Rita Stevenson were both absent Wednesday.

The final say on the case will be given by the Porter County Board of Commissioners will hear the case at their upcoming meeting on July 6.

State to Handle Assisted Living Facilities Inspections

Assisted Living facilities will now require one more resident in need of care for the basis of granting state oversight of assisted living facilities. The change will take the responsibility for making regulated inspections off the county and instead call for the State Board of Health to take charge.

Plan Commission attorney Scott McClure says the state performs regular inspections to assisted living facilities that house at least five residents in need of care while Porter County’s UDO calls for assisted living facilities to house at least four residents, meaning it would be the county’s responsibility to inspect facilities with only four residents in care.

The amendment was prompted by a recent case heard by the Porter County Board of Zoning Appeals who decided an amendment could be made by the plan commission.

McClure said the amendment was made to make sure proper oversight is given to assisted living facilities.

The plan commission voted unanimously Wednesday to make the change in the UDO’s current definition.

An audience member distributed a letter to each commission member asking them to consider expanding the zoning guidelines for assisted living facilities. The letter encouraged expanding the ordinance to single-family rural residential districts. Assisted living facilities are only permitted currently in R-4 multi-family residences and Institutional districts.

Also on Wednesday, the commission unanimously voted to recommend approval to the county commissioners to establish a scenic overlay district route that will run from the northern part of Valparaiso to the south boundary of Chesterton along Meridian Road.

The recommendation will go before the county commissioners at their July 6 meeting.



Posted 6/10/2010