Chesterton Tribune

Chesterton Council votes 4-1 to rezone ambulance barn to commercial

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The Chesterton Town Council split-vote at its meeting Monday night to re-zone the Porter County Commissioner’s ambulance barn at the southwest corner of East Porter Ave. and Ind. 49 from R-2 to B-2.

Member Jim Ton, R-1st—concerned about the “sacred ground” of the Vietnam War Memorial located on the 2.4-acre parcel—cast the lone vote against the motion.

Members declined to suspend the rules and approve the re-zoning ordinance on second reading. They will do so at their next meeting, June 27.

The re-zoning ordinance came to the council with a 4-1 endorsement from the Advisory Plan Commission. Planner Jeff Ton—a resident of Morgan Park, just across East Porter Ave. from the ambulance barn—voted against the endorsement.

Attorney Greg Babcock, representing the Porter County Commissioners, has explained that Chesterton/Duneland Chamber of Commerce needs the re-zone in order to obtain financing for its proposed $170,000 welcome sign and LED message board, located south of the ambulance barn on the Commissioners’ property.

The Porter County Commissioners have agreed to written commitments which would exclude a number of future B-2 uses of the property: nursing home, retirement village, greenhouse, all auto-service uses, retail food sales and fast food restaurants, recreational uses, fireworks, alcohol sales, and convenience stores.

The following B-2 uses would still be permitted: bank without drive-through, business offices, child care, medical/veterinary, tanning salon, funeral home, church, antique store, florist, and office supply, among others.

At a public hearing which preceded the vote, one person, Jill Long, a resident of Morgan Park, spoke at length against the re-zone. Long said that she lives 115 yards from the ambulance barn and that Porter hospital EMS personnel have always been “excellent neighbors.”

Long based her opposition to the re-zone chiefly on any possibility of the Porter County Commissioners’ electing to close the ambulance barn and sell the property to a business. Doing so, she said, would leave the Duneland community “without an ambulance service and we know what Ind. 49 is like when it’s slippery.”

“We have enough traffic on Porter Ave. and Roosevelt Street,” Long added. “It’s a clone of the Indianapolis 500.”

Long also argued that Member Jeff Trout, R-2nd—whose business, Trout Glass & Mirror, belongs to the Chamber—should not vote on the re-zone because to do so could constitute a conflict of interest.

Babcock opened his response to Long’s remonstration by saying that the Future Land Use Map of the newly revised Chesterton Comprehensive Plan provides for a commercial zone of the property in question.

More to the point, Babcock said, “the Porter County Commissioners have indicated that there’s not one ounce of truth that they’re going to close the ambulance center.”

Jim Ton, however, noted that he has seen no such commitment in writing from the Porter County Commissioners. “Why not make a statement that it will stay the ambulance station?” Ton asked. “Why should all these (B-2) exemptions be given, when it would be just simple to say it will stay an ambulance station?”

Both Trout and Member Emerson DeLaney, R-5th, for their parts, noted that they’ve been in contact with Porter County Commissioner John Evans, R-North, who expressed his wish to know “where the rumor started” in the first place that the ambulance barn would be closed.

“The rumor got started because the county put in for a change of zoning,” Ton responded.

DeLaney, as it happens, was the first to broach the issue of the Vietnam War Memorial. “That’s not going anywhere,” he said. “Everybody would pretty much be up in arms if it did.”

Ton agreed. “It’s sacred ground,” he said. “I don’t want anything to disrespect or make it difficult to honor our veterans. Any kind of business on that corner is going to hinder access to that memorial. And it’s sacred ground.”

“I feel (the Porter County Commissioners’) assurances are valid and sincere and they have no intention of selling that property,” Ton added. “But tomorrow is never sure. At some point that could change in the blink of an eye.”

Members then voted 4-1 to re-zone the property.

Trout did note later in the meeting that, even should the Porter County Commissioners close the ambulance barn—which he said is highly unlikely—Duneland will still have the ambulance service to be provided by Saint Anthony Memorial’s new 24-hour freestanding ER facility on Indian Boundary Road, once it opens.

A Second Re-zone

Earlier in the meeting, members voted 5-0 to approve on first reading an ordinance re-zoning from B-3 to R-1 two parcels at 190 E. Mekeland Lane, 5-0 to suspend the rules, then 5-0 to approve the ordinance on final reading.

The parcels—located north of U.S. Highway 20 and west of Veden Road—are owned by Lewis and Lisa Graff, who want to build a home on the site.



Posted 6/14/2011