Chesterton Tribune

Developer wants to offer property tax exemptions

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Developer Cliff Fleming said he wants to incorporate environmentally-based green certification in his proposed The Village at Pope’s Farm of Chesterton to create a place of value where people want to live and work.

He also wants to offer property-tax exemptions for eligible businesses and shovel-ready designation to attract quality employers to the residential/commercial site eyed for 81 acres at the southwest corner of Indiana 49 and County Road 950N.

Chesterton Advisory Plan Commission members very preliminarily discussed the project again Thursday with Fleming, and for the first time heard from Pope’s Farm neighbors. The usual concerns in a zoning review --- traffic, drainage and density --- were mentioned by both.

Lyle Munn, who with his wife Mary Klein lives at County Road 900N and owns just under an additional 20 acres there, said they’re taking a neutral position for the time being but are concerned about water discharge onto their property; Pope’s Farm would extend south to a railroad right-of-way near 900N with high-density residential currently designated for that area.

Munn said they have experienced a considerable amount of water since Indiana 49 was rebuilt with neither Porter County nor the Indiana Department of Transportation willing to help, so drainage is their single largest concern at this time although others may surface as plans for Pope’s Farm are finalized.

Alan Hewitt, a fourth-generation farmer who owns approximately 27 acres in unincorporated Porter County on the west side of the neo-traditional urban development, said it’s not compatible with his grain and hog-farming operations. He also said it’s a waste of money to provide future access from Pope’s Farm to his land because there will be no connection, and Hewitt cited additional traffic on 950N as a problem because of the size of his farming equipment.

Both he and Munn said Fleming has been in contact with them for some time; Fleming said he is very aware of their concerns and will work with his neighbors to the extent possible. He again stressed Pope’s Farm is in its early stages of planning.

Also present Thursday were some property owners living on the north side of 950N across from the Pope’s Farm site who wanted to know how they’d be affected. Fleming said he will make them aware of what’s being planned and noted that, unlike his land annexed last year, their property is not in the town of Chesterton.

Plan Commission member Mike Bannon told the neighbors, “If the fear is that Chesterton will try and annex you, state law changed tremendously in that regard. It’s almost impossible to do a hostile annexation against (your) will.”

Bannon questioned Fleming about his intent to have the planned unit development include incentives for business under SEA 448 that would offer eligible technology-based businesses property tax exemptions if they meet several conditions. Bannon said it sounds like blanket tax abatement under a PUD.

Fleming and his consultant Jeff Ban said no, it would be up to the Town Council to authorize exemptions on a case-by-case basis, but having that option as well as a state designation that the site is shovel-ready with some permitting already in hand will make Pope’s Farm more attractive to companies wanting to locate there.

In the initial July presentation, Fleming heavily promoted medical-related businesses for his site’s 14 commercial acres because of the proximity of the new Community Health Systems Porter hospital campus on U.S. 6 at Indiana 49. Thursday he said he doesn’t want to exclude other options. About 13 acres of retail and 50 acres of residential/green space also are planned.

Commission member George Stone said the key intersection of Indiana 49 and 950N has to be upgraded to serve both Pope’s Farm and the proposed Coffee Creek Crossing retail development on the east side of Indiana 49. Ban said for two years they’ve been discussing the matter with INDOT. Stone said also crucial to Pope’s Farm will be a new north/south connector road from 950N to 900N. Fleming said he has not begun negotiations with the railroad involved, but time is on his side because he wants to develop a quality project, “not something that will be sold, boom, gone.”

Bannon, too, said traffic patterns will be a key concern, and overall density will have a lot to do with that so he’d like density better defined. Several times Fleming pointed to 640-acre Coffee Creek Center to the northeast as an example of the pedestrian-oriented type of live/work concept he hopes to have at Pope’s Farm with the same emphasis on conservation land design.

Commission president Fred Owens acknowledged the challenge of using green principles for development, and members Tom Kopko and Sig Niepokoj inquired about specifics. Fleming said he needs to strike a balance so their plans are well-received by the market or nothing will happen. Coffee Creek Center has been slow to develop.

Today kicks off a parade of homes in Fleming’s The Village in Burns Harbor, the first national single-site event featuring six homes meeting industry standards for environmental responsibility. The Village was the first project to receive national certification.

Also Thursday, A.J. Monroe of consultant SEH reported on their efforts to update the town comprehesive plan, add a downtown overlay section and enhance the plan’s economic development chapter. The next public open house is Oct. 21 at 6:30 p.m. at the town hall.

Bannon asked what the downtown overlay will do that current town zoning regulations don’t. Monroe said the downtown boundaries could be expanded and additional development guidelines proposed; the next step would be to re-evaluate the zoning ordinance to strengthen development standards.

SEH’s contract is up March 31. Stone said it could take another year to make the zoning ordinance compatible. “That’s a fair assessment,” said Monroe. For some time town zoning officials have said Chesterton’s sign ordinance needs revision.

Commission member Jeff Trout was absent.



Posted 9/18/2009