Chesterton Tribune

 
 

Bed and breakfasts don't fit by hospital, County BZA says

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

A Liberty Twp. resident’s request to open her former home at 75 E. U.S. Hwy. 6 as a low-impact bed and breakfast business was unanimously rejected by the Porter County Board of Zoning appeals last week.

Dr. Dianne Wallace’s four-bedroom home sits between Porter Regional Hospital at the corner of Ind. 49 and a large 96-acre parcel belonging to St. Andrews Development to the west which will be developed as a medical office campus and residential housing for seniors.

“The board just felt like it was not a good fit in the area with it being office buildings and other things that would be going in there,” said BZA President Debbie Kerr-Cook.

Voting no were the five BZA members Kerr-Cook, Marvin Brickner, Tim Cole, Luther Williams, and Rick Burns.

Wallace’s property was rezoned from Rural Residential to Commercial Moderate Intensity last year by the Porter County as a joint request by St. Andrews and three other adjacent property owners. About 13 acres were zoned to CM while more than 40 acres of the St. Andrews property were zoned Office and Technology, and another 20-acre portion was zoned Multiple-family Residential for assisted living facilities.

Wallace and her attorney Mike Harris of Harris Welsh & Lukmann of Chesterton said there was an “agreement to agree” with St. Andrews that they would provide the homeowners with sewer utilities to their properties but those details never became formal, so Wallace looked for a use of the property that didn’t need a sewer hookup and would just use the house.

Wallace felt that the house was “no longer conducive” as a private residence with the potential of other commercial projects that would be coming to area. “Having it as a bed and breakfast was what we felt would be the best use of the property.”

Options like a child-care facility were considered but the B&B idea received support from her neighbors across the street and the hospital who shared the thought this could be a real asset, Wallace said. The hospital favored the concept because candidates for physician positions coming for user interviews could stay there, she added.

Having worked as an emergency room physician at St. Anthony’s in Michigan City, Wallace said there are times when non-local residents traveling through the area would experience trauma and their families would need to stay somewhere nearby during recovery.

A letter written by Family Express, which earlier this year purchased the adjoining parcel to the east, gave its endorsement and a certification from the Indiana Department of Transportation would have given the B&B access to U.S. 6 allowing a right-in, right-out entryway.

From a PowerPoint presentation presented to the BZA by Harris, the petitioners said the B&B would provide affordable, comfortable lodging. Wallace recently made renovations to the house, putting in a sauna and an exercise room downstairs, along with new furniture and a full deck.

The two-acre parcel would be well-maintained and serve as a buffer from the highway with plenty of open space, the presentation said.

But during the meeting Wednesday, BZA attorney Scott McClure raised questions about the specifications of the property in a commercial district despite the request was only for a use variance. Wallace said she was going to address specifications when the proposal would have gone before the plan commission.

BZA member Tim Cole said his opposition to the request was not just the concept of a B&B but because it seemed to him to stray from the vision and commitments originally made by representatives of St. Andrews.

The moderate commercial zoning does not include B&Bs, Cole said. When the properties were rezoned, St. Andrews’ attorney Todd Leeth said his client wished to attract businesses that would complement the hospital such as a pharmacy/drug store and a small restaurant so hospital visitors would not have to travel far and create traffic.

Leeth told the Tribune last week that the developers and the plan commission together made a list of uses formally excluded in the zoning area. Those included automotive oil change stations, gas stations, and tattoo/piercing parlors.

But, Leeth said B&Bs were not excluded and would be permissible if the BZA would grant a use variance.

St. Andrew’s had not made any remonstrance against Wallace’s request during the meeting.

But Cole argued that “this (B&B) would be a ‘wall’ between the hospital and St. Andrews.” He added that the Wallace property has a mortgage and he worried what would happen if the property would fall into foreclosure, or if someone ends up buying the property and wants to use it for something else.

“I see this as a bad business venture,” Cole said.

He suggested that Wallace lease the property to a renter for the time being, which is in fact what Wallace said she intends to do so she can generate some income from the house.

Wallace said she is “very dismayed” by the BZA’s decision but she does not intend to try the request again. Petitions denied by the BZA have to wait at least a year before they can be submitted again.

Wallace said she had hoped to open her B&B in March. This would have been the first in Liberty Twp. and would be a tourist attraction for the area, she added.

“I just thought it was a positive addition here with the hospital and patients visiting families,” she said. “We were really excited about this.”

The UDO allows B&Bs in areas zoned Neighborhood Commercial (CN).

Preveious the BZA has voted favorably for developments around the U.S. 6 and Ind. 49 intersection.

Aside from St. Andrews, the board gave the nod to 36-foot inflatable dome at The Courts, for new tennis courts, and to a 10,000 square-foot church, to be built by CrossPointe Christian Church, on the southeast corner.

In July, Family Express initially requested a lift of the “ban” for gas stations, but withdrew the request due to opposition. The company is still looking to develop there but has not announced specific plans.

 

Posted 12/24/2012