Chesterton Tribune

Porter County Commissioners vote for changes to development rules

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Three new amendments to Porter County’s development plans are one step away from officially becoming part of the county Unified Development Ordinance.

Porter County Commissioners John Evans, R-North, Nancy Adams, R-Center, and Carole Knoblock, D-South, unanimously approved measures that would expand the way county planners review small developments and minor subdivisions during a first reading at the commissioners’ meeting on Tuesday.

One amendment would include a clause to help define the difference between major, minor and administrative subdividing. Subdivisions with less than five lots would be considered minor while administrative division would apply to cases in A1 and RR zoning districts where the property is split into ten acres or more. The former will be reviewed by a plat review committee and the latter solely by the Plan Commission Executive Director Bob Thompson.

Properties would be allowed to split one time only if it hasn’t already been split since 1994, regardless of ownership changes. Rules for major subdivision would remain as they are in the current UDO.

Another amendment would allow large parcels to be PUDs, or Planned Unit Developments, which typically feature multiple zonings for various purposes.

The commissioners also agreed on a third amendment for development review processes with the plan commission board reviewing large residential developments that have more than 100 units, commercial and industrial buildings that have more than 25,000 square feet, and institutional projects more than 10 acres.

A development review committee will have authority over residential projects 5 to 100 units, new buildings in commercial and industrial zones up to 25,000 square feet and institutional projects from 5 to 10 acres. Any project less than those standards will be handled by Thompson.

Thompson explained to the commissioners every development that came to the plan commission had to first go to the county Board of Zoning Appeals to get variances. Over 80 variances have been granted since the current UDO was enacted in 2008 and the plan commission formed a group to study what was working in the UDO to adjust the code to fit smaller developments.

“The BZA is essentially rewriting our code,” said Thompson. “What we wanted to do was figure out how to change this.”

A fourth amendment was however pulled from the commissioners’ agenda by Thompson – an amendment to the UDO’s code regarding signage.

County planners favored an amendment allowing LED signs to be placed in Industrial zoned districts. According to the proposed amendments, signs could be put up if a company agrees to take down four regular billboards from county property.

Thompson however said he wanted the amendment to specify where the LED sign could be placed and may be acceptable in High-Intensity Commercial areas. He said he also wanted to specify how big the sign could be and suggested areas along divided highways and interstates could be larger due to a higher speed of traffic.

The signs, he said, could be allowable up to 400 square feet.

The amendment will go back to the plan commission for revisions. Planners are also looking to review amendments for stormwater standards and property maintenance at their meeting in February.

In another matter, Thompson said the county needs to check that county venues are compliant with the guidelines set forth by the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Northwest Indiana Regional Plan Commission has informed government units the Federal Highway Department will withhold federal funding on roadways and bridges from those who fail to comply by the end of this year.

The commissioners on Tuesday put together a team of various county employees from the plan commission, highway department and GIS department to see that the proper compliance is carried out.

Marshal Resigns Plan Commission Seat

In a separate Plan Commission matter, Evans said that planner Elizabeth Marshal had verbally tendered her resignation to the commissioners.

Thompson said the matter was unbeknownst to him and asked if a successor would be in place by the commission’s meeting in February. Evans said the commissioners would meet next not on Feb. 7, but Feb. 21 where they would announce the new member.

Board applications are available from the commissioners’ office (Room 205 of the county administration building) and are to be submitted to the commissioners by Friday, Feb. 10.

More Employees Encouraged to Participate in Wellness Programs

Anton Insurance representatives will increase awareness of wellness programs available to county employees which have helped decrease the number of claims filed that have driven up county insurance costs in recent years.

Principal Mike Anton reported 28 percent of the insurance plan’s 606 employees are taking part in the programs promoting healthier lifestyle decisions, but a more optimal state would be nearly twice the current number of participants.

“We need to be in the 50 to 60 percent range,” Anton said.

The programs are promoted by county parks and extension offices.

Evans said more employees should take advantage of the HealthACCESS clinical care that is available to them including free health screenings.

As for the rest of the insurance plan, more employees are being integrated into it, at an average rate of 30 per year. Only a small percent, maybe three or five are accounting for roughly 40 percent of the claims filed.

The agency has also found that nearly half the claims have been filed by employees over the age of 45. The county council is expected in February to hear the timeline of claims and discuss ways to mitigate insurance costs.

Expo Contracts

Evans and Knoblock voted to approve a series of agreements with vendors and caterers for the county Expo Center with Adams recusing herself since one of the businesses involved is Strongbow Inn, which she co-owns.

The commissioners also agreed to pick up a bill on upgrades to the wireless Internet capabilities and fiber optics at the Expo Center for a total of an additional $9,908 with provider NetNITCO. Expo Manager Brian Schafer said vendors who set up trade shows at the Expo often need an Internet connection to conduct business. The wireless system will pick up within the center and some of the outdoor areas.

Mortensen CPA of Valparaiso was chosen by the commissioners at the request of Schafer to perform bookkeeping duties since he has yet to receive approval to hire a bookkeeper of his own to manage records between the Expo Center and the Memorial Opera House.

Under the agreement, the group will be paid at an hourly rate of $100 per hour in assisting the venues and not to exceed $20,000.

In Other Matters:

• The county IT department is dropping the original idea of installing security cameras around the administration building and will have the vendor Videotech place the equipment in the commissioner chambers only. The venture will cost approximately $20,000. The IT department was also allowed $4,000 to replace some of their older equipment experiencing problems.

• The commissioners authorized DLZ to seek out bids to replace the security equipment at the county juvenile center whose current system cannot be upgraded since the parts are no longer manufactured. Bid recommendations will be made at the Feb. 21 meeting.



Posted 1/19/2012