Chesterton Tribune

 

 

Plan Commission joins neighbors in saying no to US 6 rezoning

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

It was clear at Wednesday’s Porter County Plan Commission that Tanner Trace residents are passionate about keeping their neighborhood a peaceful place.

What wasn’t clear is what plans petitioner Tooraj Torabi has for the property if the County were to grant his request to rezone the property at 53 and 57 East U.S. 6 in Liberty Twp. from Single-family Residential to a Moderate Commercial district.

The planners voted 9-0 to recommend the County Commissioners deny the request. The Commissioners, who have the final say on rezonings, will hear the request at their August 5 meeting, said Plan Commission Executive Director Bob Thompson.

Representing Torabi, attorney William Ferngren said the rezoning to commercial would fit in with new development triggered by the construction of Porter Regional Hospital, as well as the neighboring St. Andrews medical campus development which was previously rezoned to Moderate Commercial on its southernmost 15 acres by the County.

Torabi’s three parcels total about 10.5 acres. “At this time,” Ferngren said, “no specific use” has been decided for the property.

After conversations with representatives of St. Andrews, Ferngren said the petitioner would agree to the same restrictions placed on that commercial rezoning, such as no tattoo parlors, automobile repair stations, parts suppliers, or gas stations allowed.

During the public hearing portion, St. Andrews’ attorney Todd Leeth also made four other suggestions that the plan commission consider to help preserve the character of the neighborhood -- landscaping provisions with an enhanced buffer on the west side of Torabi’s property, cooperation with the property owners association, no light pollution, and no additional egress or ingress on U.S. 6.

Neighbors urge to table

A dozen or so neighbors also spoke, none were in favor of the request.

“I believe it should be dumped because we don’t know what (Torabi) wants,” said Tanner Trace resident Don Trowbridge, who also said traffic on U.S. 6 has been “terrible” and would be exacerbated by new development.

He and neighbor Kathy McEwen questioned what would be left of the buffer zone on the east of the subdivision to shield the light from the roadway and the hospital.

“These (residents) are going to have lights in their backyards, in their living rooms, in their bedrooms,” McEwen said.

McEwen also feared that if the property were to be rezoned, it could never revert back to residential. “What controls do we have? (Tanner Trace) is a wonderful place to live and its changing rapidly,” she said.

Liberty Twp. resident Edwin Gutt said he and others worked on a steering committee for the U.S. 6 overlay plan that gave guidelines for housing and development they wanted to see for the area based on input from the public. The plan has never reached the Commissioners for implementation.

Ed Seykowski, president of the Woodville Foundation which looks to preserve the rural character of the townships of Liberty and Jackson, said he doesn’t want U.S. 6 looking like “another Merrillville” with uncontrolled growth and said he prefers development comparable to the Aberdeen, a planned unit development south of Valparaiso.

Torabi has the right to try to develop his property as he sees fit, Seykowski said, but should consider the concerns of his neighbors. If Torabi’s property were rezoned, it could be sold to a “stair-step” of owners with different motives, Seykowski said.

Before the meeting, The Woodville Foundation sent letters to the Plan Commission urging it to activate the U.S. 6 overlay plan and the Liberty Township TIF plan, which was shelved by the County’s Redevelopment Commission, and asking that Torabi’s request be tabled.

A little piece of heaven

The planners heard more remonstrations from Tanner Trace residents speaking of their dread of what will happen with traffic, property values, drainage and the detention pond that sits on Torabi’s property.

Mary Collins said when she bought her home nearly 40 years ago, she “got a little piece of heaven” surrounded by wildlife which is now being threatened with “too much construction.” She and neighbor Gerald Hebert said they have seen more litter come into their yards.

“We want to be left alone; happy, safe and secure,” said Collins.

Howard Besch complained of hearing nothing about plans for a buffer zone and added that the trees providing a buffer now are dying.

Liberty Twp. resident and former county planner Herb Read said the Plan Commission had previously decided to reduce buffer zones with the hospital and the St. Andrews development. “Cutting the buffer zone in half is not an enhancement,” he said.

Read encouraged the planners not to act on the request until “an honest-to-God real life owner comes up with a real design.”

Planners Vote No

Commission members pointed out they didn’t have any traffic study in front of them or how the property would be accessed.

“I think additional plans need to be made. A full buffer should be established and I still have questions about the pond,” said planner Luther Williams.

Planners Rick Burns and Lyndsay Ploehn said they considered Torabi’s property to be the buffer needed between Tanner Trace and the office and commercial areas of St. Andrews. Removing that buffer “is going to change the character of the property,” said Burns.

Planner Dick Maxey said he would be more comfortable if the part of the property abutting Tanner Trace would remain residential and there was a plan to control traffic. Extra planning is needed, he said.

Hearing the outpouring of traffic concerns, planner and County Council member Robert Poparad, D-at large, said that given U.S. 6 is a federal highway, it should be realized that it is out of the county’s reach to control traffic and increases in volume will happen.

“We can’t sit and beat ourselves up because of traffic on the highway. That’s all I’m going to say. It is what it is,” he said.

Under the motion made by planner Mitch Peters, the Commission voted unanimously to deny the request.

 

 

Posted 7/10/2014