Chesterton Tribune

Plan Commission favors PUD and development review amendments 6-0

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Two more proposed amendments to the county’s Unified Development Ordinance received consent from the Plan Commission Monday night.

County planners unanimously called to recoup standards for Planned Unit Developments in the UDO which were essentially done away with when the existing UDO was enacted in 2008. Since then, the county has not approved a PUD and developers have had to go through extensive and costly processes to get variances.

Planning consultant Paul LeBlanc of LSL Planning said petitions have had to come before five review bodies and often find it difficult to judge exactly how long the process will take.

“The petitioners somewhat want the outcome to be predictable. Right now, that is not the case,” he said.

PUDs are developments with multiple zonings for mixed uses and works with very specific criteria.

Under the new regulations, developers will come to the county with a conceptual plan which would detailed general indications of which areas will be rezoned and what will be built on the parcel. The developer can then continue with a detail option plan or submit a final engineering plan if they are confident enough but run the risk of having to go back to the drawing board.

Public hearings will still be included even at the start since the plan commission board is the entity which recommends rezoning to the county commissioners who are required by law to allow the opportunity for public comment.

The goal is to also change the time frame to accommodate developers in a difficult economy.

The commission voted unanimously 6-0 to approve the amendment, even from its arguably harshest critic, local preservationist Herb Read.

Read said he had no objections to PUDs in principle, but raised many questions before signing off on his approval.

“The devil is in the details; so, I want to look at some of the details,” Read said.

Read expressed his desire to protect areas zoned for park districts and greenways and inquired if they could be excluded in the amendment. Plan Commission Executive Director Robert Thompson said all zones are subject to rezoning as it is a constitutional right for the owner of a property to attempt a rezone according to the due process of law. However, the plan commission has the power to deny any request as they see fit.

Other concerns Read raised included reducing the amount of required open space from 40 to 30 percent and, along with fellow planner Sylvia Graham, commented on a section that leaves it optional for the developers to hold meetings with neighboring residents.

The ordinance encourages developers to meet with neighbors in working out positive outcomes for the project, but LeBlanc said there are probably occasions were a meeting would not serve a purpose if the development is in an area free of neighboring residents.

Planner and county surveyor Kevin Breitzke proposed that the amendment’s required minimum of 20-acres be stretched to 40-acres. He also suggested the regulations require the water utilities come from a municipal water supply or a conservancy district.

While the commission agreed to the public utilities approach, they ended up nixing the request to increase the minimum to 40-acres as it was mentioned that certain PUDs would not need 40-acres such as assisted living and senior communities. With many related developments in the works due to the aging population, these developments would end up coming to the county’s Board of Zoning Appeals to get a variance.

Real estate attorney Todd Leeth, who is a member of the UDO committee, said the commission should be flexible to allow developers the freedom to create novel projects that can also help the county by increasing profitability and still find creative ways to preserve natural features.

“We know that developers will want to avail themselves to this flexible tool,” said Leeth.

Plan Commission President and County Commissioner Nancy Adams, R-Center, said the UDO committee plan to evaluate how well the amendments are working on an annual basis and make adjustments where needed.

“These reviews will be our highest priority,” said Adams. “That’s the only way you can tweak them for the better.”

Development plan amendment

The commission voted the same way, 6-0, for the amendment to revise the UDO’s requirements for development review.

Under the new code, Thompson will have review responsibilities over residential projects with 4 or fewer units, commercial or industrial building additions less than 10,000 square feet, institutional developments less than five acres and small subdivisions with four or less lots.

A development review committee made up of various appointees and county officials will have authority over residential projects of 5 to 100 units, new buildings up to 25,000 square feet and institutional projects from 5 to 10 acres.

The plan commission, which under the existent UDO handles all the reviews, will continue to have authority over residential projects more than 100 units, commercial and industrial buildings and additions more than 25,000 square feet, institutional projects more than 10 acres and major subdivisions -- ones that have more than four lots.

Development plans will have a total of 13 checkpoint review agencies such as the area schools, the local fire districts, the county drainage board, the health department and E-911 center among others.

Once plans receive approval, permits for big development projects are good for up to three years and seven years is expected for a developer to complete construction. Thompson said a petitioner is welcome to ask the commission for an extension as long as there is a good reason. Breitzke said it should be the responsibility of the developer to keep track of the expiration, not the commission’s.

Before approval, Read raised questions about the qualifications of the development review committee members. While the existing UDO called for members to be licensed professionals, no provisions carried over into the new draft. Read asked that the rules require members to have some technical expertise.

“This is very loose and open to bad political influence in my opinion,” he told his peers.

Adams said the committee is made up of one of the commissioners, a member of the plan commission, the county surveyor, drainage board president Dave Burrus and a county highway engineer. However, she did acknowledge Read’s request and will work on getting qualifications worked into the new ordinance.

Breitzke also made a few additions of his own to the motion including an inclusion of review of water features and wetlands and that best management practices be required for ensuring high stormwater quality.

Next meeting

The plan commission will likely meet in December to review two amendments that were tabled at Wednesday’s meeting. One regards changes to stormwater standards and the other concerns property maintenance. Amendments are available for public view in the plan commission office.

Three commission members were not present Monday. Absent from the meeting were planners Elizabeth Marshall, Lyndsay Ploehn and Tim Cole.



Posted 11/22/2011