Chesterton Tribune

Final variances approved for 109 acre St. Andrews medical campus

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Developers of the mixed-use 109-acre medical campus adjoining the new Porter hospital are taking a breath as the Porter County Board of Appeals unanimously voted to approve the last of 36 variances petitioned since October.

Developer Pat Kleihege said St. Andrews will next meet with the county’s development advisory committee and will come back to the plan commission in the next few months. His goal is to be shovel-ready and start moving dirt by the end of spring.

The parcel is situated west of Ind. 49 on the north side of U.S. in unincorporated Liberty Twp. and will include a medical office building to accommodate the hospital. Senior housing will be developed in the northern section on a series of looped roads.

The site also boasts using best environmental management practices which county officials have applauded. It will include a higher percentage of open space than what the county usually requires, Kleihege said.

The BZA at their Wednesday meeting voted 5-0 on four street variances and two landscaping variances within the R1 residential area.

Most of the discussion revolved around a variance seeking to reduce the street width on the one-way loop streets from the required 30’ to 24’ with the inclusion of carriage walks to provide more room for emergency vehicles. The issue had been discussed at the December BZA meeting and had caught the attention of local fire chiefs who wrote to the board saying they would like the streets to be at least 26’ wide.

Legal representative for St. Andrews Todd Leeth explained the reason for the reduction is to conserve as much green space as possible and reduce the amount of runoff. The plans originally called for 20’ wide streets with separated four-foot bike lanes running alongside, but working with the board on many scenarios to appease both them and the fire chiefs, the developers had compromised at the December meeting to place the bike lanes into the roadway to provide a buffer for emergency responders.

Developers met with the Liberty Twp., Chesterton and Valparaiso Fire Departments earlier on Jan. 11 to go over the agreements and took their recommendations to the BZA. The BZA members settled on the concept to require the roads be 24’ wide with a 4’ carriage walk on the three loops that would have houses built on one side, bringing the width to 28’.

On the southeast loop where houses line both sides, developers agreed to include an extra 4’ carriage walk, bringing the width to 32,’ providing ample room for fire trucks and their outriggers.

Before the vote, neighbor and former firefighter Donald Trowbridge from the audience said the developers should make sure the carriage walks would be reinforced to sustain the weight of the fire trucks, fearing the road would break apart if a truck slipped off the main roadway which could pose safety hazards.

“These are people’s lives we should be looking out for,” he said.

BZA member Marvin Brickner said Trowbridge made a good point and included in the motion to have the carriage walks reinforced to support the same weight as the asphalt roadways. The county’s highway engineer will set the control standards to see that all surfaces can support vehicles.

The board also signed off on a reduction of right-of-ways from 60’ to 50’ and to minimize the amount of curvature on the north loop.

Modifications will also be made to the tree plot standard for the loop roads, to keep trees out of the areas where the carriage walk will be. However, there will be no trees removed from the property, developers said.

Architect Christopher Lannert, who is heading up landscaping on the site, explained why variances were sought for landscaping standards in the residential and commercial areas. While the county’s ordinance gives 25 percent of credit to developers of the open space, Lannert requested to receive 100 percent credit saying the green space practices they have implemented will add value to the properties.

For the High Intensity Commercial district on the south end of the property, Lannert said the development wishes to deviate from the requirement of placing 9 trees in a 50-foot greenbelt and instead plant five deciduous evergreen trees that would have a broader diameter of approximately 30 feet.

Trowbridge said he would suggest that the evergreens would serve as a sound buffer for the benefit of residents in the Tanner Trace subdivision, but questioned whether he would be responsible for replacing the trees should one be destroyed or removed. Lannert said the property owner association or the homeowner would have the responsibility according to the county code.

The landscape variances passed the board by a 5-0 vote, which Leeth said completes their requests with the exception of one variance that will be petitioned next month.

“The bulk of the variances are through, whether they are for good, bad or otherwise,” said Leeth.

The remaining variance is to have one sidewalk be placed on three of the loop streets as opposed to having them on both sides as the ordinance states.

Lannert said the group plans to educate the public on the environmental practices happening on the medical campus in the upcoming months.

At the start of the meeting, county planner Ray Joseph announced the board had tabled a case petitioning a use variance to have the former Fetlas’ building on Ind. 2 become an indoor shooting and archery range. The case for the variance in a commercial district, petitioned by The Harvey Group which is looking to buy the facility from Opportunity Enterprises, attracted a group of about 50 opponents and supporters.



Posted 1/19/2012