Chesterton Tribune

Plan Commission favors farming compromise for LEL land; Town Council hears it August 11

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A neighbor reinforced his concerns about proposed farming near the Morgan’s Corner subdivision, but the Chesterton Advisory Plan Commission narrowly gave the request a favorable recommendation Thursday.

The petition of Lake Erie Land for farmer Robert Rhoda advances to the Chesterton Town Council for final consideration Aug. 11. The council would need to amend the area’s existing development plan.

The commission conducted a public hearing June 21 on LEL’s request to lease about 175 acres in its Coffee Creek Center development to Rhoda for crop farming. Representing Rhoda and LEL, attorney Greg Babcock last night offered to eliminate about 39 acres that would be closest to Morgan’s Corner and the Coffee Creek Watershed Conservancy property.

LEL also committed to have a 75-foot perimeter buffer around any farmed area, and to adjust the buffer if any of the farmed land is sold for the commercial/residential development originally planned for Coffee Creek Center.

Babcock noted such development would have to be platted by the Plan Commission first so members would have the opportunity to review the changing situation.

The commission’s recommendation carries a maximum 10-year farming approval, but Babcock said Rhoda and LEL haven’t finalized any lease at this point.

Thursday was the third meeting devoted to LEL’s request. Vote on the petition was Emerson DeLaney, Jeff Trout, Fred Owens and Sig Niepokoj in favor and president Jeff Ton opposed; Ton gave no reason why. Members George Stone and Tom Kopko were absent. DeLaney and Trout are also Town Council members.

The public comment portion of the public hearing had been closed June 21, but under audience participation last night neighbor Marc Jones said LEL needs to be accountable to the representations it made when luring families to Morgan’s Corner with promises of houses and a conservancy.

Jones added that residents have to comply with standards and so should LEL. “If we have the ability to exert power over them to hold them to their promises, we should do that.”

In light of the additional map and information Babcock submitted Thursday, Owens’ motion prevailed to reopen the public hearing and accept Jones’ comments as well as those by letter from Tom Smith, who said he supports the farming proposal because Rhoda farms land for Smith and he has no complaints.

From the audience, Bill Carlton inquired exactly what acreage was being excluded so Babcock showed the neighbors on a map. He said excluding the 39 acres will protect nearby wetlands and hopefully preserve the view south from Morgan’s Corner.

DeLaney said after seeing the new topography map it’s the right thing to exclude the acreage to keep water away, to separate land uses and to screen the view of farming operations. And as for the watershed conservancy property, “They can’t touch it --- no way, shape or form.”

DeLaney called the compromise a very good amicable solution for both LEL and the residents.

In other business, town engineer Mark O’Dell said Philippe Builders is proceeding to obtain modified stormwater control permits. On the recommendation of the town’s Stormwater Management Board, the Plan Commission voted to lift Philippe’s previous stop-work order at Coffee Creek Center.

Posted 7/20/2012