Chesterton Tribune


Planners say yes to dome at Courts, to open by year end

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Rounds of tennis will be played at the Courts of Northwest Indiana underneath a big balloon possibly as early as Thanksgiving.

In specific terms, a 36-foot-tall pressurized air dome covering six tennis courts, two for instruction and four for playing.

The Porter County Plan Commission on Wednesday gave a nod of 9-0 to the development plans, including landscaping and soil management around the proposed 39,000 square-foot project, but the planners also gave specific requirements to make sure the development is done carefully.

The dome will sit southwest of the main Courts facility on the northeast corner of U.S. 6 and Ind. 49 in unincorporated Liberty Twp.

Representing the Courts, attorney Todd Leeth and development manager Don Bengel began by addressing some of the criticism voiced two weeks ago when the planners narrowly approved a design wavier for the dome with a split vote of 5-4.

At the previous meeting, various planners, primarily Tim Cole, chided the business for not removing the spoilage, concrete and other materials on the property that have been sitting there, allegedly for years.

Leeth on Wednesday said the material is remnants from when Walsh Construction owned the property and announced The Courts’ intention of recycling the stone and spoilage for future projects such as building indoor soccer courts and said they will get rid of excess debris.

“I know it has been the bane of this plan commission for some time,” Leeth said.

As for the landscaping surrounding the tennis dome, the plan renderings Leeth and Bengel presented called for 12’ high berm around the south corner to continue northerly to a point and then diminish to 5 feet.

Leeth said trees of different variety will be planted behind the berm to soften the view from the road even further. The most visible spot from the roadway would be seen by vehicles traveling east on U.S. 6 crossing over Ind. 49.

Stormwater and drainage control will be done by McMahon Engineering. Drainage will be directed to an enlarged detention pond at the north side of the property. Two new forebays and a series of check dams will be installed. The pond will be expanded south where there are fewer trees and will have a flatter slope, Leeth said.

The Courts is seeking a soil erosion authorization from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.

An independent review was made by DLZ Indiana noting seven concerns which Leeth said his clients have already made improvements to.

The planners gave a few suggestions of their own, mainly on the landscaping surrounding the dome structure, emphasizing more should be done to soften the view.

Planner Rick Burns said a five-foot berm would hardly provide any coverage since it appears from the photos presented that the ground where the tennis courts will be is raised about four feet.

“That berm should be twelve feet all the way around,” he said.

Others like Richard Maxey complained of The Courts not following a landscaping plan when the site was approved for the main Courts facility in 2006. He said he would be hesitant to vote on the new plan since landscaping was not finished the first time.

Leeth said there was no landscaping plan approved then because there was nothing in the county ordinances at the time requiring such a plan.

But now, with the Unified Development Ordinance rules, developers must include them. Leeth said The Courts is “obligated” to follow through with a landscaping plan.

“The property owner should deliver what they promised,” he said.

Leeth added that everything in the plans is compliant with the UDO including the berm and the height of the dome.

The maximum height for structures in a commercial area is 50 feet according to the UDO.

Planner Herb Read said the UDO has general rules for development and does not take into account site views, which he said should be part of the issue here. Read said the planners do not always have to recommend the “bare minimum” to the commissioners and he would like to see adjustments to the berm as part of the motion.

In the end, the planners unanimously approved the motion with several stipulations. First, as requested by Plan Commission President Nancy Adams, new drawings are to be made with revisions for the landscape plan that would incorporate a berm of 12 feet around the dome on both the south and west sides. Next, the landscaping is to be completed by the end of May 2013 as well as the parking lot. Drainage controls and a management plan for storm water must be completed. Also, the lighting detail must be approved by plan commission staff.

Most of the work will be done in the fall and the spring. The dome and tennis courts are however tentatively scheduled to be opened by the end of the year, Bengel said.

Planner Dave Collins praised the project for bringing tennis courts to Porter County after hearing public comments during the Sept. 26 meeting that teams have to travel to Lake and LaPorte counties to practice.

“I’m almost embarrassed to hear this has been the case,” he said.

Read asked if improvements could be made by the county to accommodate increased traffic, but Plan Commission Executive Director Robert Thompson said since U.S. 6 is a state road traffic controls can only be made by the Indiana Department of Transportation.



Posted 10/11/2012