Chesterton Tribune

Porter Hospital plans approved by county planners by 7-2 vote

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The Porter County Plan Commission board voted approval Wednesday night for the development plans of the 104-acre parcel on the Northwest corner of U.S. 6 and Ind. 49 in unincorporated Liberty Twp. that will be the future site of the Porter Hospital facility which will replace the current hospital in Valparaiso.

After a three year obstacle course of development checkpoints, planners of the new Porter Hospital are expecting to begin construction of the new 450,000 square-foot facility possibly as early as June.

Porter Hospital CEO Jonathan Nalli said there are a few more requirements that stand in the way before the hospital can officially break ground. The plans call for further approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers which would require verification that the development won’t disturb or threaten endangered wildlife possibly inhabiting the site. The agency questioned if the site is home to the endangered Indiana Bat.

The hospital was granted a provisional permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers earlier to meet the plan commission’s requirements to review the site plan.

Another requirement from the Army Corps would be an archeological survey. Plan Commission member Tim Cole said Potawatomi tribes once lived on the land surrounding the hospital and that the constructors may come across objects once used by the Potawatomi. A neighboring resident agreed with Cole, saying there have been artifacts and arrowheads discovered there.

Representing the hospital was attorney William Ferngren who presented the plan commission with a slide presentation giving a 3-D view of what the building structure will look like. The six-floor building will be five stories above ground made predominantly of brick and glass, said architect Greg Gore. The hospital will feature about 250 private beds. Construction has been estimated at $225 million.

The hospital will have two entrance points. The main entrance from the north side of U.S. 6 will be a single boulevard entrance which has been approved by the Indiana Department of Transportation, Ferngren said. A second entryway required by the county lies to the west of the property on an access road. The road currently has three houses on it.

Forty percent of the site is set aside for open space and was granted a variance by the Porter County Board of Zoning Appeals.

This includes the portion to the north where a detention lake sits. An easement will be created to direct water through the site into the pond which was supported by the county’s independent engineering firm, DLZ Indiana.

Mike Duffy of the Duneland Group said a ditch will be constructed along the west boundary of Ind. 49 to help route the water to the lake which has an existing outfall structure. Water passing through the site will be treated through a series of bio-swales beginning in the parking lot and will also be treated in a forebay area before reaching the lake which is connected to Damon Run.

Ferngren said Indiana American Water Company will provide water.

The sewer system for the hospital has not been decided on, he said, but both the Town of Chesterton and Damon Run Conservancy have provided letters expressing willingness to serve the site.

The commission took a vote to approve the plans after members had the chance to voice their concerns or support. The commission ultimately voted 7-2 in favor of the plans, with members Elizabeth Marshall and Herb Read voting against.

Opponents Raise

Drainage Concerns

Both Marshall and Read raised concerns that the hospital has not fully considered the large scale of drainage issues regarding the location of the spot chosen for the facility.

“Describing this as a difficult site is an understatement,” said Read.

Marshall, who did say she is not against the idea of having a hospital, dished out a multitude of concerns: Those to the west of the property, have they committed? How specifically will they control runoff from the parking lot when the drop to the north is very steep? Will the hospital pay conservancy taxes? Will there be a ditch assessment? Why have the plans not gone before the drainage board? What would happen if Chesterton decided to annex the land? Should this development have been more centrally located?

Read said from one side of the property to the other, the elevation difference is about 85 feet and said his big issue would be what will happen to the downstream runoff. He challenged Nalli to answer what will be done about wetland mitigation and what exactly the hospital plans to do in the undeveloped area. Read later spoke out in objection when he felt his questions were not answered.

Cole said he shared some of the drainage concerns as the previous speakers but was somewhat relieved that DLZ signed off on the stormwater plans. He asked that the builders respect the peace and privacy of the surrounding neighbors during the development. “It’s going to be noisy,” he said.

Cole also raised discussion about the other three corners of the U.S. 6 and Ind. 49 intersection. He said that those corners are going to be valuable as well as the property on nearby roads such as Meridian Rd.

“We need to look at this as a unit,” said Cole, who also mentioned the Liberty Landowners Association is concerned with future developments.

Hospital opponents expressed frustration over the BZA permitting the variance 4-0 in March for the stormwater plan when they said more questions needed to be answered.

Commission member Robert Detert who also has a seat on the BZA with fellow commission member Rick Burns defended the BZA’s decision saying those against the variance should have spoken at that meeting.

Proponents: “It’s about time!”

Commission member and Porter County Councilwoman Rita Stevenson, D-2nd, who was also one of the council members who approved of the hospital sale in 2007, said the county is ready to receive the new hospital facility.

Stevenson said she was “thrilled to death” that the hospital’s parent owner, Community Health Systems, chose Porter County for their new development. She complimented the group on being professional through the planning stages and said Porter County is going to put their trust in the hands of the developers.

“Full speed ahead and make us proud,” said Stevenson.

Commission member Kris Parker said she believes the hospital will benefit generations of Porter County residents in the long run and appreciated the hospital taking the time to meet all the necessary ordinances. Parker said she agrees water management is a concern but thinks the easement along Ind. 49 will benefit the site. She said she was pleased the hospital picked a central location.

Commission president Robert Harper, who was also one of the county officials to approve the sale, said he was glad to see that many of the ordinances that have been placed or updated by the commission over the past eight years were met by the hospital.

Harper said the ordinances have helped to safeguard the project.

Detert formally thanked Harper for his efforts to guide the commission and the hospital through the development process.

Neighbors Ask About West Entrance, Bus Stop

Details of a second entrance spurred questions from Liberty Twp. residents present at Wednesday’s meeting.

Both Eric Fritz and Bob Holmes who live along U.S. 6 inquired as to where the entrance would be.

The entranceway will serve as an access point to an 80-acre parcel that adjoins the Porter Hospital site which will be developed by St Andrew’s LLC as a sudivison. Plans for the development include a medical office complex, said Pat Kleihege of Great Lakes Development.

Brad Cluver of Liberty Twp. asked the developers if there are plans for a bus stop for schoolchildren. Ferngren said the hospital plans to speak with the Duneland School District about bus routing.

Nali told the Chesterton Tribune the new hospital will replace the current facility at 814 LaPorte Ave. in Valparaiso, which will eventually be relinquished by Porter Hospital after the new facility reaches completion sometime in 2012. Nalli said Porter Hospital may build smaller facilities in Valparaiso to accommodate the area.


Posted 5/13/2010