Chesterton Tribune

Planners unanimous in calling for controls on big box stores

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By a 7-0 vote Thursday the Chesterton Advisory Plan Commission recommended the Town Council adopt a zoning amendment that would give the town more control over proposed retail structures in excess of 60,000 square feet.

The intent is that even if a retail building or combination of buildings totaling 60,000 square feet on a single lot or contiguous lots would otherwise meet terms of the zoning ordinance, the potential impact of a development that size needs special review as a planned-unit development or PUD.

Town officials have said they want to fast-track the zoning amendment because big-box retailers are known to be scouting locations in Chesterton; the Town Council next meets March 27.

During a required public hearing last night most of the seven persons speaking including Laura DeSousa said the 60,000 square-foot size should be reduced even more but the commission made no such change.

No one spoke in opposition to the amendment.

Herb Read said the ordinance language did not go far enough because it doesn’t address an upper-allowable retail limit, or what to do about abandoned large retailers like the former Jewel foodcenter on Indian Boundary Road and the former WiseWay grocery store on Broadway.

Commission attorney Charles Parkinson said some communities have used a 25,000 square-foot limit to control big-box retailers and others up to 85,000 square feet. The 60,000 square-foot number was chosen because both the new Jewel and WiseWay stores east of Indiana 49 are approximately that size, he explained.

Rather than an outright moratorium, town officials have said the big-box ordinance is a start and further restrictions could be enacted later if necessary. They also said the intent is not to prohibit big-box retailers but to make sure the traffic and other impacts they would have are adequately reviewed.

Emerson Delaney, a member of the town Board of Zoning Appeals, asked if the proposed limitation included an adjacent outdoor sales area. Commission President George Stone said only the retail structure is restricted but in his judgment by virtue of their size the amendment would cover any Home Depot or Lowe’s.

Most people speaking during public comment are vocal opponents of the proposed 350,000 square-foot GK Development mall on the town’s south side. Maureen Foos said even a 25,000 square-foot retail use would change the character of an area. She supported the big-box ordinance and urged adoption rather than waiting until additional language is finessed.

Foos also recommended strengthening the PUD process, which requires both Plan Commission and Town Council approval. Stone said the commission is open to suggestions; he also said a small project, not just large ones, can be built as a PUD.

Linda Klaiber asked how much the town’s Comprehensive Plan is referenced in the PUD process. Stone said while the plan gives a general, overall view of the future, the PUD is a development tool to get there. “They do work together.” Parkinson also said as a special zoning district a PUD is a privilege, something not automatically granted, that should promote the town as a whole and be consistent with the objectives of the Comprehensive Plan.

Mark Snyder said the commission is moving in the right direction to control big-box retailers although 60,000 square feet is too large. He announced that Duneland First, a new coalition concerned about the town’s future, is working to obtain enough signatures on a petition to force a referendum on the November ballot that, if approved, would mandate stricter controls on commercial development.

Specifically, the group wants such development larger than 20,000 square feet or generating traffic exceeding 500 vehicle trips per day to be reviewed as a PUD; in addition, mandatory economic, environmental and community-impact studies would be required for the PUD to be considered. After the meeting Snyder said his group is working on specific language for the petitions and would need to obtain fewer than 1,000 residents’ signatures to get the referendum on the ballot.

George Manning, like Snyder a downtown Chesterton business owner, said the PUD process has advantages and disadvantages and shouldn’t be an opportunity for carte blanche. If applied, the Comprehensive Plan gives him hope, said Manning, and he urged commission members to read studies he previously distributed as well as a list of new questions he’s posing.

Earlier in the meeting during public comment Maryann Crayton of Dune Acres said the Chesterton sewage treatment plant recently bypassed partially treated sewage following heavy rains. “How could we be discussing more development when we can’t handle the current sewage we have?” she asked.


Posted 3/17/2006