By PAULENE POPARAD
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
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
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
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.