Chesterton Tribune

Chesterton looks to buy land for missing link in Dickinson Road

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In the six years since the Chesterton Town Council established the tax increment financing district, the Dickinson Road extension—one of the four projects officially listed as rationale for the creation of a TIF district in the first place—hasn’t even been a glimmer in the eye of the Redevelopment Commission.

At a special meeting Monday night, however, the commission finally pulled the trigger, when it voted 5-0 to ask the Town Council to approve an appraisal of Outlot B of Duneland Cove IV with the idea of purchasing it.

Outlot B extends from the intersection of Sand Creek Drive and Michael Drive south to the CSX right-of-way and would be the first leg of the Dickinson Road extension.

At its own meeting later in the evening, the council accordingly voted 5-0 to retain the services, at a cost of $1,500 each, of Bochnowski Appraisal Company and Vail Appraisal Group. So far, so good. But one possible route for the second leg of the extension—extending from the other side of the CSX right-of-way south to Porter Ave.—falls across land currently owned by the Smith family, and before it can be similarly appraised with the idea of purchasing it a preliminary engineering study needs to be done to assess its suitability for road construction.

Maybe, Member Sharon Darnell ventured, the Smith family property isn’t suitable at all for road construction and for a reason having nothing to do with engineering. Rather, she intimated, the entirety of that sizable property is zoned B-2 and the construction of a road right through the middle of it could open a huge new swath of retail sales. “There’s been a lot of talk about robbing the Downtown,” Darnell said. “Would that not be an issue too? Just thinking long term.”

“Are you suggesting the zoning should change?” Member Mike Bannon asked.

“Just thinking out loud,” Darnell replied.

For his part President David Canright—managing editor of the Chesterton Tribune—noted that the issue of zoning is properly a concern of the Plan Commission, not of the Redevelopment Commission, and that in any case, if memory served him, the current B-2 zone was originally so designated over the objection of the Smith family.

More to the point, though, the whole idea of the Dickinson Road extension is to provide a north/south alternative to Ind. 49, not only to relieve pressure on that heavily used route, but also as a direct and easy link from the business district on Indian Boundary Road to the business districts on Porter Ave. and in Coffee Creek Center. “The TIF district as drawn from the very beginning had this as one of its priorities,” he said. “We never had anyone show any hesitation that this is needed as a safety alternative. I don’t know if the issue of zoning should affect this project.”

Canright added that the purchase of the land in no way “sets a time table” for actually beginning the project. “It would only be prudent to get that land into the town’s possession so we don’t have to pay through the nose later,” he said.

Still, Canright was amenable to tabling discussion of a preliminary engineering study of the Smith family land to another time. Bannon, however, urged his colleagues not to wait, and in the end they agreed by consensus to schedule a special meeting for 6:30 p.m. April 10 for the purpose of hearing Town Engineer Mark O’Dell report on the specific parameters of such a study.

Meanwhile, the big question remains unanswered, though not unasked: would the Dickinson Road extension go over the CSX railroad tracks or beneath it?

O’Dell said that an underpass would be more expensive than an overpass, would have more impact on CSX operations, and would necessitate the construction of a temporary bridge for the railroad. The cheapest and easiest option, of course, would be an at-grade crossing, O’Dell observed, but the town would likely have to relinquish two other at-grade crossings in exchange.

“They don’t come free,” Bannon said.

“No, they come with strings attached,” O’Dell replied.


Posted 3/14/2006