By KEVIN NEVERS
Their names are redolent of the English countryside, of dewy summer mornings
in the shire, of golden days in greener times: Oak Place, Rose Hill Estates,
Westwood Manor, Abercrombie Woods, Golfview Estates.
They are, however, only residential subdivisions—or planned unit
developments—and in the last few years the Chesterton Plan Commission has
approved—or endorsed—a bunch of them. By the count of planner and now Town
Council Member Mike Bannon, R-5th, something like 500 single-family units
have been platted since he took his seat on the commission in 2000.
And while those subdivisions are proof, were anyone to need it, of the
desirability of living in Chesterton, the cost to a municipality of serving
homeowners—in terms of police and fire protection, road and sidewalk
maintenance, stormwater drainage, trash collection, and park upkeep—has
historically been greater than the revenues generated by those homeowners’
property taxes. Residential simply hasn’t paid its own way. Business and
industrial have, though, and more, by assuming a proportionately greater
share of the property-tax burden and by using a proportionately lesser share
of municipal services.
How tax restructuring and court-ordered reassessment may change that balance
is, at this point, anybody’s guess, but as Bannon suggested Monday night at
a planning workshop convened by the council to establish a rough agenda for
its next four years, the time in any case may have come in Chesterton’s
history to put the brake on residential development and encourage business
and light-industrial instead. “How many more residences do we welcome into
the community?” he asked.
In fact, planners have very little discretion when it comes to subdivisions
pure and simple. Under state statute they have no choice but to approve
primary and secondary plats when developers meet certain criteria. Yet
Chesterton is growing not simply in population but in acreage as well, as it
pursues an ad hoc policy of friendly annexation, and here, Bannon said, the
council may have an opportunity to shake up the mix. Under Town Code all
parcels of land annexed by Chesterton come into the town with an R-1 zone to
give planners the maximum degree of control over their use. Should
developers wish to do something else with them, they must apply for re-zones
or variances or otherwise develop them as PUDs.
Perhaps, as Bannon broached the idea Monday, that provision of the code
should be amended to give parcels annexed by the town a different zone. Call
it, he said for want of a better term, a B-1A zone: a version of the most
restrictive of all business zones, the B-1 of the Downtown, without its
peculiarities, such as zero setbacks. Such a zone would put the burden of
proof, so to speak, on the developers who simply want to build subdivisions,
would give planners a firmer handle on residential creep, and would signal
the town’s interest in fostering economic development.
Bannon’s colleagues liked his suggestion, as far as it went, and they agreed
with him on the need in particular to diversify the town’s tax base.
Business and especially industrial development would not only create jobs,
noted Member Sharon Darnell, D-4th—at a time when meaningful jobs
desperately need to be created in Duneland—but would spread the property-tax
burden more evenly and generate revenues sufficient to maintain the quality
of life which has made Chesterton such an attractive place for the Lake- and
Cook-county crowd. “We have to have these kinds of developments,” she said.
As Darnell quickly added, however, there’s a hitch: not every resident is
eager to see the sort of economic development envisioned by the council.
And there’s another hitch: companies are hardly beating down Chesterton’s
What, then, is the council’s role in economic development? Does it even have
Bannon believes that it does. Chesterton is a wonderful place to live and
work, with a quaint Downtown, safe neighborhoods, and fine parks, served by
an excellent school system, situated close to the dunes and possessed of
such added amenities as the Coffee Creek Watershed Conservancy and the
first-class golf course at the Sand Creek Country Club. His point: “We have
a great story to tell,” a story which entrepreneurs and light-industrialists
in search of a place to re-locate need to hear. In short, the council can
find ways, and make ways, aggressively to promote the town.
But the council has one more task, members concurred, and it may be the
tougher of the two: persuading residents wary of economic development of its
benefits, of its potential actually to lower their own property taxes and at
the same time to increase the town’s revenues. “Not in my back yard” may be
a prevailing attitude in some neighborhoods, Darnell observed, but “the
public has to be more “ of the importance of economic development. “It’s
nice to have residential but it doesn’t pay the lion’s share of services,”
she said. “We have to make it understood on the town council that we need
Take, for instance, the development of the Lakeshore Bone and Joint
Institute at Coffee Creek Center. Why only the one medical facility? Why not
an entire medical campus? “Health care may be what we should focus on,”
“Another Mayo?” Bannon asked.
“There’s never a time when you don’t need it,” she replied.
For Member Frank Sessa, D-4th, the council may simply have to bite the
bullet, make the hard decisions, and proceed regardless of the political
consequences. “If we really believe this is the right direction for the
town,” he said, “we can’t worry about the handful of people who bitch about
Certainly the council will need to find additional sources of revenue if
members are to have any hope of acting on the shopping list of priorities on
which they reached a consensus Monday:
• The Chesterton Police Department, as Member John Kosmatka, R-1st, has said
on previous occasions, is underpaid and undermanned. If at all possible, its
officers need raises and its ranks need swelling. Not that other town
employees are overpaid, Clerk-Treasurer Gayle Polakowski said—their wages
could use a boost too—but a rough parity with the pay scales in other local
departments would help keep Chesterton’s police officers from seeking
employment elsewhere, after the CPD has expended time and money on their
• In any event, Bannon said, at issue is the public’s safety. Chesterton’s
drug problem is significant, addicts are turning to thievery and burglary to
support their habits, and while no community will ever eradicate the use of
drugs, the town can make it risky and inconvenient for the dealers to do
their business here. And so, Bannon urged his colleagues: the council should
find a way to re-up or else replace, when it expires, the three-year federal
grant which has allowed the CPD to place a dedicated school resources
officer in the Duneland School Corporation; and it should find a way to
allow the CPD to place an officer with the Porter County Drug Task Force.
“I’ve got young kids,” he said, “so this is pretty high on my radar screen.”
• Darnell had an idea of her own: the improvement and beautification of
South Calumet Road as a major gateway into town. Such a project would entail
the elimination of the open ditches along South Calumet and the curbing and
guttering of the roadway; the construction of sidewalks on the east side of
South Calumet from the Chesterton Post Office south to C.R. 1100N; the
signalization of the intersection at South Calumet and C.R. 100E; and the
placement of decorative street lamps. What about the town’s other gateways?
Bannon asked. His two ideas, funding permitting: the construction of ribbon
curbs along both sides of Porter Ave. in the area of Morgan Park; and the
burial of utility lines where possible.
• No one at this point really knows the full impact of reassessment, but
members are fearful of one possible effect: the spike in some residents‚
property-tax bills could act as a disincentive to spend the money necessary
to improve their homes and property. Indeed, those bills could prompt some
homeowners simply to sell. “You’re going to see a greater turnover in those
homes,” Crone said. “I guarantee it.” And though Bannon acknowledged that
“there’s nothing we can do about reassessment,” he did wonder whether the
council could make available some mechanism by which homeowners would have
the incentive to maintain their homes, along the lines of the revolving loan
fund which has assisted storefront businesses in the Downtown.
• Meanwhile, Darnell wants to see the council continue to ensure that all
town residents have access to town services. Thus members agreed at their
last meeting to pursue a grant which would fund the engineering of a water
line to Crocker, while the Utility has already secured a grant, thanks to
the assistance of U.S. Pete Viscloksy, D-1st, which will fund the connection
to Chesterton’s sanitary sewer system of a cluster of homes at the terminus
of North Calumet Road.
• Ind. 49 has never been far from the minds of any council, and this latest
council is no exception. Darnell, while taking note of the fact that the
LaPorte District of the Indiana Department of Transportation finally
installed a left turn signal at the intersection of Ind. 49 and Porter Ave.,
took note of one other fact: the intersection of Ind. 49 and C.R. 1100N
needs a similar left turn signal. Members concurred, and resolved to pursue
a closer relationship with the LaPorte District and, failing tangible
results in that direction, to go over the head of the LaPorte District all
the way to Indianapolis if necessary. Bannon remarked that one sure way to
improve the situation on Ind. 49 would be to remove some of the traffic from
it, by extending Dickinson Road north to Indian Boundary Road and south to
the Indiana Toll Road. A long-term project to be sure, President Bob Crone,
R-3rd, said. Yes, Bannon agreed, but one which could be financially feasible
should the tax increment district yield a reliable revenue stream. Yet
another reason, Bannon added, to pursue a program of economic development.
“It seems like on a lot of these issues we’re on the same page,” Bannon
concluded at the end of the workshop.
“I’m just thankful to you guys for taking the time to do this,” Crone said.