It was agreed Thursday that specific details regarding new zoning
requirements for the three areas that comprise Chesterton’s downtown will be
contained in a separate document apart from the comprehensive plan.
The town’s Advisory Plan Commission voted 7-0 directing zoning consultant
SEH Inc. to pull out the downtown overlay language so the ongoing
comprehensive-plan update won’t get bogged down.
As tentatively scheduled a final draft of the revised comprehensive plan
will be reviewed by the commission in February and a public hearing
conducted in March. Final adoption is up to the Town Council.
Commission member George Stone recommended bifurcating the work, suggesting
that Burns Harbor last year adopted its downtown district plan as a separate
document and so could Chesterton.
Fred Owens, re-elected as 2010 commission president, said that approach
makes more sense. Sig Niepokoj was retained as vice-president.
Among the points to be addressed in Chesterton’s downtown overlay are
building massing and height, building facades, awnings, signage, street
plantings, lighting, seating, sidewalks, private pathways,
streetscape/landscaping and parking.
Chesterton’s three designated downtown districts will share some common
goals and regulation yet be treated as individual areas with unique needs
and opportunities. They are the Central Business District bounded by Grant
Avenue, Coffee Creek Park, Porter Avenue and 4th Street; the North Calumet
Road corridor between Indian Boundary Road and Grant Avenue; and the West
Broadway corridor between 5th Street and 15th Street.
An approximately $720,000 stormwater/sanitary sewer separation and
replacement project is expected to close in phases South Calumet Road from
the Norfolk Southern Railroad crossing north of Broadway to West Indiana
Avenue for about two months this spring.
Town officials have stressed they will work with local businesses to
maintain access to the extent possible, and it’s hoped the project can be
completed by the Memorial Day start of the summer tourist season.
Stone said it’s logical that when the road is replaced downtown, streetscape
improvements recommended in the new downtown overlay are built. Town
engineer Mark O’Dell said doing so could add weeks to the fast-track sewer
project, and how the streetscape improvements would be funded hasn’t been
Commission member Jeff Trout said business owners would gain more from the
streetscape improvements and aesthetic enhancements, but O’Dell said
dragging out the project as now planned could temporarily make things worse.
A second, later phase to do streetscape upgrades could follow the initial
sewer project, he noted.
O’Dell assured that central-district business owners will be consulted and
kept informed of the status of the sewer replacement, and what to expect
when it occurs.
The commission directed its attorney, Charles Parkinson, to prepare a draft
of proposed sign-ordinance changes discussed at length Thursday.
The revision was prompted by a request from a group of local business owners
represented by Heather Ennis, executive director of the Chesterton/Duneland
Chamber of Commerce. She asked and the commission concurred that the sign
changes would be uniform across the board for all businesses.
Specifically, the commission favored blade signage perpendicular to a
building facade but reduced the sign size Ennis’ group requested. Members
also decided not to allow business wayfinding signs in the public
right-of-way fearing roadsides would become too busy, and they supported
making more clear the current language that allows sandwich-board sidewalk
Rejected was the request to nearly double the amount of signage allowed for
While many owners would be responsible, “The propensity for abuse on this is
too great,” said Owens. Commission member Emerson DeLaney suggested giving
the blade and sandwich-board signs a year or two to prove their worth.
Ennis said there’s confusion now why decorating the inside surface of a
business window sometimes can be interpreted as a sign itself, and why
changing only the name on an existing sign isn’t automatically allowed.
Commission member Jeff Trout said if the message on a billboard can be
changed, so should the name on an existing business sign without having to
obtain a building permit.
Parkinson said the solution might be to better define what constitutes a
sign and a sign structure.
Owens also serves on the town Board of Zoning Appeals that hears individual
requests to waive or change terms of the sign ordinance. Ennis said her
group brought their recommendations because the majority of BZA variance
petitions have been for business signs, and the majority were approved.
Owens said by not accepting all the business group’s suggested changes,
“We’re not restricting anything. The BZA hears all comers on signs.”
It would be up to the Town Council to make the final decision on the
sign-ordinance amendments after the commission conducts a public hearing and
makes a recommendation.
Welcomed Thursday to the Plan Commission was new member Jeff Ton.