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Liberty residents oppose rezoning for medical campus

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Several Liberty Twp. residents are not welcoming the proposed medical campus and senior living community proposed for U.S. 6. At Wednesday night’s Porter County Plan Commission meeting several spoke out against the plan.

About 35 neighbors seated themselves in the commissioners’ chambers at the county administration building as developers brought their request to rezone four sections of the 106-acre parcel located immediately west of the new Porter hospital on the northwest corner of U.S. 6 and Ind. 49 in Liberty Twp.

This was the first time the medical campus plans have gone before the county planners. Plan Commission President Robert Harper, who also serves on the Porter County Board of Commissioners, at the beginning of the meeting said he anticipates the case being heard several more times before the planners vote.

About ninety-six acres is owned by St. Andrews LLC, the petitioner, while ten more acres scattered throughout the property are owned by three residents who are joining in the rezoning.

Serving as legal counsel for St. Andrews is attorney Todd Leeth of Hoeppner Wagner & Evans who is also representing the site’s planners, the Lannert Group and Great Lakes Development.

Leeth and landscape architect Christopher Lannert highlighted plans for the development in a slide presentation. The 47 acres in the parcel’s center is designated for medical office buildings that would be utilized by hospital physicians and is proposed to be zoned as an Office and Technology District (OT). “It pairs extremely well with the hospital site which is zoned Institutional,” said Leeth.

The 27-acre section north of the offices is planned for assisted living facilities which would be rezoned to Multi-family Residential (R4).

The northern boundary would transition to the neighboring St. Andrews subdivision that fronts CR 900N. Nearly 19 acres in the northernmost pocket is planned to include several lifestyle housing units for senior residents in the form of single family homes, duplexes, and possibly four-unit multiplexes. The units may be multi-storied.

The site’s southern boundary, which drew the most comments during the meeting, is petitioned to be rezoned as a High Intensity Commercial District (CH). The 13.5 acres, which is split by a separate property not owned by St. Andrews, is being proposed by the petitioners to include health-related business such as a drug store and also restaurants for the convenience of hospital workers and visitors.

The land, which is now a soybean field, is currently zoned as Single-family Residential (R1), as are the properties surrounding it.

Lannert said the reason for the different rezoning requests was to provide a smooth transition between the hospital and the neighboring properties. He and Leeth felt this would be a better way to use the land since it seems inevitable with the new hospital that more businesses will take root along the U.S. 6 corridor.

Plans for the site’s entrance show a two-way boulevard style roadway off U.S. 6 that would hook around the property divided by berm. The roadway includes outlets that can access the St. Andrew subdivision in the north. Another roadway would connect to the hospital property and help the hospital meet the requirement for a second entryway.

Lannert said the design criteria are to provide a mixed-use campus to aid the hospital’s vision and provide lifestyle housing for seniors.

Purchasers of the properties will be supplied maintenance such as having their lawns mowed and snow shoveled.

Guided Drainage Control

Lannert said according to the topographical elevation the difference between the highest and lowest spots across the parcel is about 100 feet. Twenty acres of the property is allocated for open space for stormwater and treelines.

Parking lots will be surfaced with porous pavement which Lannert said would be able to absorb the water. Instead of having water wash down into a pipe or be rerouted, bioswales will align with the parking lots to capture the water where it can be absorbed and evaporated to benefit the plant life that filters the runoff.

The county’s stormwater regulations require sites to capture water that comes on their parcel.

Lannert said wetlands will be delineated and the landowners do not wish to carry water from one end of the property to the other.

Leeth said they will be going to the board of zoning appeals for a variance for relief from the guideline to capture all the water because it would be “virtually impossible” seeing there is a creek that streams through the site.

Leave It the Way It Is!

Almost all comments from the public heard by the plan commission were critical of the petition to rezone, most being from residents of the Tanner Trace subdivision which is only separated by a narrow buffer on the west side of the St. Andrews property.

Tanner Trace resident Jim Colosino set the stage for an hour long procession of comments by expressing his opposition. He said he was “confused” by the fact the plan commission was even holding such a hearing when the county’s Unified Development Ordinance “does not permit” R4, OT or CH zonings to be adjacent to an R1 district.

Colosino went on to say he chose to live in the subdivision because of its rural backdrop and believes the rezoning does not benefit any of the landowners in Tanner Trace. He said the land should remain as farmland to muffle the sounds and lights coming from the new hospital.

“I was here first! Leave it the way it is,” he said. “Who does the UDO protect, the developer or the landowners?”

Liberty Twp. resident Gerald Hébert said the R4 rezoning violates the provisions laid out by the UDO. He also said the county illegally zoned the parcel for the hospital and warned what would happen if zoning violations by the plan commission continue.

“You will destroy our Liberty Township community,” he said.

Similar comments were made by other Tanner Trace residents, saying that the UDO says the rezoning would be a violation. Some said they chose the location to get away from the “hustle and bustle” of cities. Others raised safety concerns about the proposed entrance ways.

There were also concerns regarding drainage. Liberty Twp. resident J.F. Schrader, who often speaks on drainage issues, said the nearby Damon Run is one of the county’s biggest problem areas for drainage and at times floods about 20 inches onto Meridian Rd.

Porter County Drainage Board member and Liberty Twp. resident Edwin Gutt said he would like to hear what the plans are for drainage and if the developers were willing to pay for the costs if flooding occurs.

Gutt also said the development around U.S. 6 is going to take off and, “like dominos,” the plan commission will hear case after case of rezoning from people wanting to set up businesses in the U.S. 6 corridor.

Not everyone who spoke was opposed to the rezoning but said they needed to be guaranteed the developer will keep their promises such as using the R4 portion strictly for assisted living facilities and that the service commercial district will not include strip malls.

Others stressed the plan commission should stand up for the well-being of their constituents.

“We’re just people. We need you to help us,” said a Tanner Trace resident.

Alan Hewitt, president of the Liberty Twp. Landowners Associa-tion, said the county’s ordinances for what is allowed in the zoning districts are stated very clearly.

“It’s your duty to enforce the UDO,” he told the plan commission.


Plan Commission attorney Scott McClure told the Chesterton Tribune after the meeting the rezonings would not be considered illegal. The UDO gives recommendations of what zonings would be appropriate to adjoin a specified district, he said.

Leeth told the county planners the developers will comply with all sides of the law and will uphold the county UDO. Each rezoning request has been carefully planned and Leeth stood firm in his claim that the development will transition the hospital use well with the surrounding residencies. Leeth said that Lannert is well-suited to design the bioswale system and that surface water will be protected before it becomes groundwater.

He said that the CH and OT Districts would eliminate the pressure of placing an office building or restaurant further from the hospital.

The plans for the roadway winding through the property have not been set in stone, Leeth said, as it would need to meet the approval of the Indiana Department of Transportation. “This is only the first stop,” Leeth said.

Leeth told the county planners the project will not be in violation of the state’s agreement with the nearby privatized toll road. A concern was addressed at a presentation last month that the toll road lease would prohibit the expansion of U.S. 6, but Leeth said the policy is only in regards to new highways that would compete with toll road.

Workshop Session Scheduled for Aug. 25

County planners said they would need to balance the issues as they move forward.

Commission member Kris Parker said her peers face “very intense pressure” and hopes the planning will continue to be a public process. She said the commission must realize more people are moving to the area and that progress will take place. “I think the reality is this will not stay as a cornfield for the next 20 years,” she said.

Commission member Tim Cole says he faces the challenge of defending both the county and the interests of Liberty Twp. where he is a resident. He said if he ends up voting in favor of the rezoning, he will rely on the promises of the developer and hopes the property is not neglected due to poor planning and marketing.

Harper lastly commented he would like to see a larger buffer space between the U.S. 6 roadway and the business that will go into the proposed commercial district.

The plan commission board agreed with Harper’s earlier comments that more discussion is needed before the board takes a vote.

The commission unanimously approved holding a public work session that will take place on Aug. 25 at the Porter County Administration Building.



Posted 7/15/2010




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