Chesterton Tribune

Planners told: Residents support preserving rural character and natural features

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By VICKI URBANIK

A consultant overseeing Porter County’s corridor plan said initial feedback from citizens and community leaders shows support for preserving the rural character and natural features along the county’s major roadways.

In an update to the Porter County Plan Commission on Wednesday, Peter Fritz of RATIO Architects said the corridor planning process so far has shown that the public wants to see new developments emanate out from cities and towns, instead of in scattered locations.

Such support for contiguous growth is positive, Fritz said, since it is already a major component of the county’s land use plan, which calls for higher density development closer to the municipalities instead of the rural areas.

Fritz also said that the planning process has shown an interest for green technologies, such as for systems that manage stormwater in an environmentally sound way. That interest is unusual, he said, since many other communities haven’t even addressed the issue.

The corridor plan, which will address land use, development standards and transportation issues along most of the main roads in the unincorporated areas, has so far involved one public workshop and meetings with members of a steering committee and key “stakeholder” groups.

Plan Commission member Tim Cole expressed concern about the lack of involvement from Chesterton in the process.

“Chesterton is a large, growing area,” Cole said, noting that several of the roads in the corridor plan, such as Ind. 49, touch on the town. Future land use could be negatively impacted if Chesterton is not part of the planning process now, he said.

Cole cited the Coffee Creek Center as an example. The project is turning out to be a typical retail development and “not what it started out to be,” Cole said, referring to the initial plans for an environmentally innovative, mixed-used development.

Plan Commission member and County Surveyor Kevin Brietzke said the county invited all municipalities to participate, but that only the cities of Portage and Valparaiso have been represented. He noted, though, that the cities have paid planning staff.

Retail ‘Leakage’

As part of the planning process, RATIO is conducting a market study that will analyze how much people spend in and out of county.

Although the study is not yet completed, Fritz said the preliminary results show that a significant number of Porter County residents are leaving the county to shop, which suggests an unmet demand for more retail in this county.

Plan Commission member Herb Read questioned if that finding will lead to a recommendation for more strip malls along the county’s corridors. Fritz said not necessarily.

The statistics about retail “leakage” might show that Porter County residents are going elsewhere to spend their money, he said, but “it doesn’t mean you have to respond to it” by allowing more retail.

Read said the public has indicated opposition to retail clogging the main roads, and Fritz agreed that this concern has also been raised in the current planning process.

Cole said strip malls are as “ugly as sin” and create congestion, but are nonetheless needed.

He suggested that if there is a demand for more retail, that it be located off the main corridors in order to avoid congestion on the roads.

Plan commission member Robert Detert told Fritz that the commission will be more likely to be against new business growth along the main corridors than in support, and that RATIO should keep this in mind as the study proceeds.

“We don’t want to be like some communities,” he said.

Meetings Planned

Fritz noted that the public workshop, which was held in May in Washington Township, attracted about 25 people, many of whom were from Liberty Township who raised concerns about growth and traffic concerns along U.S. 6, Ind. 49 and Meridian Road.

“We had very good input,” he said.

The corridor plan is expected to be completed within the year.

Another public workshop is planned for mid to late September. In addition, the consultants will have a steering committee meeting next week and again in August.

The members of the steering committee include county and municipal officials and representatives from the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission and the Indiana Department of Transportation.

More information about the corridor plan is available at www.communitycollaborate.com

Scroll down to the link for the Porter County project.

 

Posted 7/10/2008