Chesterton Tribune

Mall opponents outnumber supporters; vote is 6-0 in favor

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By PAULENE POPARAD

Try as they might, 19 remonstrators weren’t able to convince the Chesterton Advisory Plan Commission that rezoning 51 residential acres on the town’s far southeast side for business/commercial use is a bad move.

The commission voted 6-0 Thursday forwarding a favorable recommendation on the I-80 Partners LLC request to the Town Council for final action on a planned unit development (PUD) ordinance. The vote followed a more than one-hour public hearing.

Drawing applause during public comment from approximately 40 opponents was a warning from John Rittel. “You’ve got people coming in because you’re Mayberry. If you keep poisoning it, Chesterton won’t be known as a friendly town. It’ll be a town of greed,” he told the commission.

Its members were quick to point out that the rezoning is only the first of many steps in development of the parcel, which voluntarily was annexed into town in 2007. Commission member Mike Bannon assured the audience, “I’m confident we’ll be good shepherds of the process. We’re not afraid to tell a developer what to do to acquiesce to what we need.”

Added member Emerson DeLaney, whose own property was annexed by Chesterton six years ago, “If you don’t think I understand, I do. I have concerns and I’m listening.” He challenged the remonstrators to help find solutions rather than dwell on the problems.

Four persons supported the PUD ordinance, which lays out broad parameters for future development of potentially up to 300,000 square-feet of retail space, a hotel or medical offices/facilities as well as a possible Walmart, Meijer, Home Depot or other big-box store.

These often were criticized by remonstrators as a being a significant attack on the quiet, rural lifestyle they now enjoy in Liberty Township. The proposed Coffee Creek Crossing would be located at the southeast corner of State Road 49 and the Indiana Toll Road at the north end of Calumet Avenue, which would be relocated at the mall’s entrance.

Proponent Kim Goldak said in light of a recession, $4.20 per-gallon gasoline, lost jobs and lost homes, the site is the perfect place for the project and economic development shouldn’t be stopped there as this area is no longer exclusively rural. She also said seeking permission for up to a five-story mall building, rapped by remonstrators, is not out of line.

Other proponents said the mall will create jobs, be beneficial to tourists along the gateway to nearby state and federal parks, and Janet Ryan, while neither for or against, said as a board member of the Coffee Creek Watershed Preserve that group is interested in a new mall’s stormwater management plan and possible thermal pollution that would affect downstream Coffee Creek, a trout/salmon stream.

A separate letter also was received but not read aloud from the Coffee Creek Watershed Preserve.

Growth is inevitable

Mall project manager Jeff Ban of DVG Inc. representing I-80 Partners said their land is prime real estate. “Something is going to happen there. We are trying our best to accomodate concerns of good quality economic development, traffic, stormwater and environmental impact.”

He emphasized that Thursday’s vote was by no means approval of the mall itself, and that the PUD ordinance as written gives the town significant strength to control what happens there in the future. I-80 Partners attorney Cliff Fleming said the ordinance fulfills the annexation agreement by seeking uses consistent with a Business-3 zoning with some exclusions for the property.

Ban also stated that his group has had discussions with the Toll Road Commission about development plans for projects along their corridor, and he said the State Road 49 interchange is an ideal area for responsible development and growth like Lake Erie Land is doing at 640-acre Coffee Creek Center at the northeast quadrant.

Commission member Jeff Trout said Fleming helped develop that project, including a watershed conservancy, and he has confidence under his and Ban’s direction the new Coffee Creek Crossing site will be handled equally as well.

As they have at several previous meetings, remonstrators cited the danger of increased traffic from the mall, especially along Calumet Avenue traveled by tractors and school buses and populated by parents and grandparents with small children.

Mary Sequin said of the area, “It’s a dangerous intersection and to begin overtaxing it would be ludicrous.” Ban said he is working with the Indiana Department of Transportation and a traffic impact analysis would be done at the appropriate time.

J.F. Schrader raised drainage as a major concern; so was the loss of Liberty Township farmland. “It’s in your hands if you want to keep our agricultural land from being destroyed,” said Alan Hewitt representing the Liberty Landowners Association. The group is committed and “will not sit quiet or have our lifestyle destroyed without a fight,” he added to another round of applause.

After the meeting Hewitt said the comment was not a threat of a lawsuit to derail Coffee Creek Crossing although Trout alluded to litigation filed by Liberty Landowners against the Porter County Commission challenging their rezoning of a U.S. 6 parcel planned for the new Porter Hospital. “You’re not concerned with much of anything being developed in Liberty Township,” Trout told Hewitt.

Regarding loss of farmland, Ban said their 51 acres haven’t been farmed for at least a decade and is in pasture and woodland now.

Reg Blouin told the commission he’s unsuccessfully fought flooding in the area for 15 years. “When it rains, (County Road) 900N is like a lake.” Drainage would be addressed with the goal of containing their water so it stays on their land, said Ban, adding that hundreds of thousands of dollars will be spent to develop a future site plan for the mall.

Possible Walmart rapped

The possibility of a Walmart there did not sit well with some speakers including Pat Sequin, who said assertions that the mega-chain would draw premium retailers is deceptive and manipulative. Other remonstrators said local Chesterton stores would close, jobs would be lost, and big-box litter, noise, crime and light-pollution would result.

John Heinold said Walmarts are within a short driving distance now from Chesterton. “Why would we want it here?” he asked, prompting yet another burst of applause.

Al Rioli said a major mall would threaten the town’s long-time Kmart and “will definitely kill the (Chesterton) downtown that’s struggling already.” Maureen Blouin said the town has empty buildings and eyesores and some parts of the Indian Boundary area look like a slum. Commission members later said several areas of town are undergoing revitalization, not stagnation.

The city engineer in Crown Point, Ban said despite growth in other locations, that downtown never has been more vibrant. “It’s not about a building. It’s about the people of the community, not whether a Walmart or Meijer is there. You people need to take ownership of that.”

Rioli said medical and retail uses would not be compatible in the same mall, but Trout said it’s a growing trend and a very attractive combination today. “We’re not scaring them off if one comes before the other.”

Tim Cole questioned why the town would allow so many new subdivisions as well as a mall to tap into Chesterton’s sewage treatment plant, which he said “bypasses once a month and closes beaches” because it outfalls into the Little Calumet River that feeds into Lake Michigan. Commission member and Utility Superintendent Steve Yagelski said after the meeting, “That’s not an issue. We don’t bypass every month.”

Some bypasses have occurred in heavy rains.

Leonard Sullivan asked if the town financially can afford to allow the mall when its street, police, fire and utilities are stretched to the limit.

“I think this will cost Chesterton much more money.” Ban said a fiscal impact analysis done for the annexation showed it benefits the town by bringing in significant new property-tax revenue and fees, and I-80 Partners will pay for all capital needs necessitated by its project.

Cheryl McCraw said service stations and 24-hour retail should be excluded uses for the mall. She and Jeff McCraw said they have between 125 and 150 signatures in opposition to it. He also said it’s not logical that a big-box retailer would locate next to an existing gun club. “I don’t know how they can make that work.”

Remonstrators called for bringing in good-paying jobs rather than minimum-wage retail with part-time hours.

Bannon said property on the north side of the Toll Road has been part of Chesterton since 1981 so there should have been a realization that something eventually would be proposed on the south side. “Either it’s terrible it’s happening or we’ve been lucky it hasn’t happened up to now.”

Commission president Fred Owens, a civil engineer, said of the I-80 Partners land, “I think this is the area for a development there.” The town has good standards, an excellent town engineer in Mark O’Dell and safeguards that a PUD development is done properly, he added.

In other business, the commission voted 6-0 with George Stone absent to continue the public hearing for the 362-home Sand Creek Farms residential subdivision proposed by brothers Vlad Gastevich and Eric Gastevich at the eastern terminus of East Porter Avenue. More time is needed to review the engineering plans.

Public comment has been closed.

 

Posted 7/18/2008