Chesterton Tribune

 

 

Morgan's Corner oldtimers object to look and price of Olthof LLC homes

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By KEVIN NEVERS

When it was planned and permitted, nearly two decades ago, Morgan’s Corner at Coffee Creek Center was meant to capture the imagination of a particular kind of person: someone who grew up in--or whose grandparents had lived in--or who indulged a second-hand nostalgia for--the sort of urban neighborhood common in America before World War II.

It was a place where folks could walk to the market or to their store-front business because it was just down the block. Where, of a summer evening, they might have a cold one on their front porch and trade gossip with passers-by. Where they knew their neighbors really well, because their neighbors lived only a few feet away.

In this version of Americana, tight-knit community grew out of the close quarters in which people lived and worked, out of the intersection of corner shops and pocket parks and cozy little houses. And it was the memory of such a community--someone else’s memory, to be sure--that the Lake Erie Land Company was selling in Morgan’s Corner, designed along the so-called “New Urbanist” lines: high density, mixed uses, small lots, reduced setbacks, garages behind homes accessed via alleys.

At the time it seemed an easy sell. Who doesn’t want to live in a golden communal past?

Turns out, hardly anyone at all. Turns out, the imagination of the kind of person who could afford to build in Morgan’s Corner tended to be captured instead by big houses on big lots in isolated subdivisions.

A few handfuls of houses went up in Morgan’s Corner but that’s it.

So when Olthof Homes LLC of Lake Station came before the Chesterton Advisory Plan Commission and asked--so to speak--to turn forward the clock, by reducing the density of Morgan’s Corner Phase A/B by almost a third, eliminating the alleys, and frontloading the garages--for price points ranging more bite-sizeably from the upper $200,000s to the lower $300,000s--planners were happy to listen, seeing a chance to make Morgan’s Corner actually marketable and for the first time get it on track.

Those few who did build in Morgan’s Corner, however--who got the dream and still want to live it--are feeling betrayed, as they made clear on Thursday night when the planners held a public hearing on primary and secondary plat approval for the project.

The Public Hearing

No one spoke in favor of the plat approvals. Four spoke, vehemently, in opposition.

Ken Dowdy recalled how, “11 to 12 years ago,” he was “sold on the belief of building in a New Urbanist community, with the parks and the fountains and all those goodies,” and accordingly spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on his home and property on Gossett Mill Ave.

Now here comes “the Olthof people,” with their less expensive homes, built of “different materials” and of a “quality that probably won’t be as good,” Dowdy said. “Our own property values will go down.”

With the frontloaded garages, Dowdy added, the Olthof project will “look like any other cookie-cutter subdivision” in Northwest Indiana. “We thought we were buying into something really unique, something really great. I feel we were kind of duped.”

Dowdy’s neighbor, Shawna Burke, made much the same argument. “We all bought into a concept, a belief system,” she said. “But that vision, that promise, that brand has been broken. Instead of a unique style of neighborhood, there’ll be five different colors of vanilla.”

“People have followed (the Lake Erie Company) design standards and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Burke pressed. “There are $300- and $400,000 homes there now. But Olthof will be putting in $250,000 homes. The concept has very much fallen apart.”

Bob Kollar expressed two specific concerns: whether--fearing an infestation in the neighborhood of some exotic species--Olthof will adhere to the Morgan’s Corner list of prescribed and proscribed plantings; and what exactly Olthof’s price points are, inasmuch as Kollar said he suspects they’re in fact in the lower $200s or even below.

“I hope you see what we’re doing in this town,” Kollar warned the planners.

Larry Warren echoed Dowdy and Burke. “We all have unique homes,” he said. But Olthof homes “have the same windows, the same siding, the same overhangs. They all look the same.”

“I don’t appreciate the fact that this is even being considered,” Kollar noted.

Olthof rep Joe Lenehan said in response that he understands the concern. “But the point was made, and I think it’s correct, that it wasn’t happening” at Morgan’s Corner. “There was an opportunity for a new idea.”

Lenehan, meaning to reassure Kollar, stated baldly that there’ll be no price points in the lower $200s. On the contrary, he said, there should be closings in the lower $300s.

Lenehan also pledged to follow the Morgan’s Corner planting list.

“We build really great communities and really great quality homes,” Lenehan concluded.

Discussion

Town Engineer and Interim Building Commissioner Mark O’Dell opened the discussion by advising the four remonstrators that--notwithstanding the many phone calls received by the Building Department--it “does not have control over the issues you’ve raised.”

Siding, windows, building materials: these are the purview of the homeowners association, O’Dell said. “We don’t have jurisdiction over LEL’s design standards.”

That point settled, planner Jeff Trout appeared to speak for everyone on the commission when he said that Morgan’s Corner failed to live up to its promise. “We had great expectations that this would take off and it never happened. It doesn’t seem like there are enough people who get it.”

Trout--who may be the only planner still on the commission who had a hand in the original permitting of Morgan’s Corner and Coffee Creek Center--observed in passing how odd it is that New Urbanism and Traditional Neighborhood Development should “work better in warmer climates, like Tennessee or Florida.” In Chesterton, Ind., though, “it’s been a disappointment.”

The Olthof project “will be different,” Trout acknowledged. “I hope it will be complementary. I’m convinced that when development starts, it will hold property values up. It won’t knock them down.”

Planners then voted 6-0 to grant primary and secondary plat approval. Planner Emerson DeLaney was not in attendance.

 

Posted 7/17/20015

 
 
 
 

 

 

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