Chesterton Tribune

What is in a name? Burns Harbor town center becomes business district

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Donít call it a town center any more.

Burns Harbor residents agreed Tuesday itís less confusing to describe a specific proposal for about 40 acres at the northwest quadrant of Indiana 149 and U.S. 20 as a downtown business district. It would have shops, offices, eateries and potentially up to 340 condominiums, townhomes and/or apartments.

Phyllis Constantine said too many residents are confusing a town center with building a new town hall and it would be better to clearly separate the two; the current town offices are not being moved.

Zoning consultant Bob Kost of Short Elliott Hendrickson Inc. said by any name the proposed development would have the same goals: a great place to live, work and recreate in a pedestrian-friendly atmosphere anchored by a central green space where festivals could take place and parades begin.

The density of multi-family housing --- which could prove controversial in a town that now has virtually none --- is needed, said Kost, to support the neighborhood businesses in a downtown. The downtown district abuts and would have connections to 200-home The Village subdivision, but Kost said he believes if developed well, the business district would be unique and draw people from outside the town because of its proximity to major highways.

In fact, he said because of its location and with the townís new zoning ordinance, comprehensive and business-district plans up for final consideration within 60 days, the building blocks will be in place for Burns Harbor to get the jump on other communities trying to get similar centers off the ground.

Five landowners would be involved in the proposed Burns Harbor business district and The Village developer Cliff Fleming said some of them having frontage along U.S. 20 already are cooperating with each other. Landowners who donít want to be part of the plan at this time could remain as they are.

The new business district includes a portion of land on the south side of U.S. 20 that would extend south to Old Porter Road. Kost said limited access by using cross easements through parking lots would make travel safer. Gordon McCormick said Old Porter is a terrible road and would have to be rebuilt with sidewalks, but who would pay? Kost said a combination of town, developer and grant money could be used or either alone.

Kost said a good percentage of the multi-family housing, some in three-story 25 to 30-unit buildings, would be owner-occupied. The residential portion of the business district is on its north end. Fielding questions about possible future deterioration of the buildings, Kost said good management should avoid that.

There currently is an excess of single-family detached homes in the larger area with approximately a 15-year supply, Kost explained, adding that college students and aging parents often need other living options. Also, downtown business owners could live and work in the same location with housing on-site.

Town Plan Commission president Jeff Freeze said the housing bubble has burst and in the future with some home loans requiring 20 percent down, people will find long-term rentals attractive.

The business district ends near existing single-family homes along Lively and McCoy lanes but does not include them. A.J. Monroe of SEH strongly discouraged rezoning that area. Even though the comprehensive plan may show another use in the future, it can stay residential for the time being and be rezoned as the homes are sold and torn down, he recommended.

New or amended zoning?

Earlier in the evening residents helping SEH prepare an updated zoning ordinance met with Kost and Monroe, but questions arose over the extent of the changes. Long-time town Board of Zoning Appeals member Terry Swanson asked why residential zoning was being changed to Z rather than R designations saying it will be too confusing.

Members of town boards and commissions and town employees all need to know their own ordinances, said Swanson. ďWhat I see here, this is worse than starting all over again. Iím not saying what youíre doing is wrong. I like some of what is in here (but) itís going to take years to find whatís missing.Ē

Kost said SEH had indicated it would be providing a new zoning ordinance. Town Councilman Cliff Fleming said it was his recollection the final product would be a combination of both the current 1995 ordinance and new amendments.

At a March 2 meeting, Swanson asked SEH consultants directly, ďAre you reviewing our zoning ordinance and making suggested changes or is it a new zoning ordinance youíll try to make fit?Ē

At that time Matt Reardon of SEH said that depends on the town Plan Commission, adding that most of what had been discussed to that point could fit in the current zoning ordinance with additions. Swanson replied that was an excellent way to proceed.

SEHís proposed zoning ordinance contains maximum lot sizes; the current ordinance addresses lot minimums.

Kost said after reviewing Burns Harborís zoning, itís too outdated. ďThe world you live in is very different from 10 years ago. If you think thereís always going to be $2 per-gallon gas, no one will walk anywhere and drive in places that arenít sustainable, we can toss everything out about walkability.

"This (new) zoning ordinance is holding your feet to the fire. If you want business as usual and to consume all the resources, we can update your current zoning ordinance in two days and be done.Ē Kost noted subdivisions platted in Burns Harbor over the last five years have smaller lots. The zoning work group plans to meet again for several hours next week.


Posted 4/8/2009