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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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
“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
pledged to follow the Morgan’s Corner planting list.
“We build really
great communities and really great quality homes,” Lenehan concluded.
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
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.