Chesterton Tribune

 

 

Planners vote 5-2 against John Nekus post office development

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By KEVIN NEVERS

John Nekus returned to the Chesterton Plan Commission Thursday night with a sharper pencil, but in the end it wasn’t sharp enough to ease planners’ concerns about the density of his proposed planned unit development and its possible impact on the Primrose Circle and Richter Street neighborhoods.

Planners voted 5-2 to forward the PUD to the Town Council with an unfavorable recommendation. Voting against the PUD were Tom Kopko, Fred Owens, Sharon Darnell, Jim Kowalski, and Nate Cobbs. Voting in favor of it were George Stone and Jeff Trout.

The PUD ordinance will now go to the Town Council for final action.

The meeting began with members’ unanimous vote to re-open the public comment portion of the public hearing, which was formally closed in December. Nekus’ attorney, Greg Babcock, then walked the commission through an amended plan of development, under which Nekus had reduced the total number of living units to 62, from the 71 presented in December: 58 paired patio homes, down from 68; and four single-family “cottage” homes, up from three.

Also: the rear-yard setbacks for the four lots on the west edge of the PUD, bordering Primrose Circle, were increased to 25 feet, per the Zoning Ordinance for R-2 districts; the front-yard setbacks for all lots were increased to 25 feet, also per the Zoning Ordinance; and the total number of variances for all lots was reduced by 16 percent.

By Babcock’s calculation, the resulting density of the proposed PUD--62 living units on 11.82 acres--would be .190 units per acre, comparable to the .184 units per acre for the Pere Marquette Cottages project, the .190 units per acre at the Touch of Green, and the .197 units per acre for the Village Green Townhomes at Coffee Creek.

Members then opened the floor to comments from the public. Two persons spoke in favor of the PUD. Joe Troop, who resides on North Brummitt Road, said, “I think it’s a good idea. It fits the mold for me personally.” Rob Carstens, who resides on East Oakhill Road, concurred. “This is what I’ve been looking for. Less maintenance. You don’t see a lot of property like this.”

Six persons, all residents of Primrose Circle or Richter Street, spoke against the PUD. Kelly Clark began by reading in its entirety the text of her Voice of the People published in a form edited for length in the Tuesday, March 19, edition of the Chesterton Tribune. “Mr. Nekus made an investment,” Clark stated. “He sat on it. If he chooses to flaunt accepted ordinances it’s not our responsibility to allow his development. He made a bad investment under the impression it was going to be pushed through. That is his fate.”

Tom Albano, for his part, questioned the propriety of planner Jeff Trout’s sitting in judgment of the PUD, inasmuch as he was one of the developers who originally sold the property to Nekus 20 years ago. “Mr. Trout, no disrespect, but you were part owner of that land,” Albano said. “Conflict of interest, that’s all we’re saying.”

Albano also suggested that Nekus’ amended plan of development didn’t go far enough. “I didn’t really address the density,” he said. “You still got a major density issue. You’re looking at a lot of traffic going down Richter Street and Second Street. You’re talking about another (South) Calumet (Road).”

Linda Vogt, a resident of Richter Street, acknowledged that Nekus has reached out to the Primrose Circle residents over the last few months. “He met with people in Westchester South,” she noted. “But there are six houses on Richter Street. He never met anyone on Richter.”

Bonnie Thanos, who resides on Washington Ave., similarly expressed concerns about the impact of traffic generated by the PUD in her neighborhood. “The streets are narrow and right now in bad repair. A hundred more cars will be traveling those roads.”

Tom Byrnes wanted to know this: if the property were developed strictly according to the Zoning Code, without variances, how many homes exactly would it support? “What’s the break-even point you could have with all houses in code?” he asked. “At what density level does it go out of code? Anyhow, stick to the code.”

Finally, Dave Krieter, who resides on Washington Ave., expressed unease about the potential impact of the PUD on runoff in his neighborhood. “We can’t take any more water on Washington Ave.,” he said. “It’s already a tough street for traffic.”

Discussion

Members then closed the public comment portion of the public hearing for discussion. Trout spoke first, specifically on Albano’s accusation that his former ownership of the property in question constitutes a conflict of interest. “There’s no need to recuse myself because I have no financial interest” in the project, he said.

Associate Town Attorney Chuck Parkinson agreed. For a recusal to be appropriate and necessary, Trout would need to have either a direct financial interest in the PUD or an indirect one, the latter being--for instance--a family member with ties to it. “I take you at your word that you have no direct or indirect financial interest,” Parkinson said. “I gather that if your interest was 20 years ago, you have sufficiently severed all financial ties with the petitioner.”

Trout premised his support of the PUD on his belief that density per se is not a bad thing and pointed, by way of example, to the Barrington Bridge Apartments directly across the street from the Chesterton Post Office, to the Enclave Apartments on Dickinson Road, and to the condo complex on South Fifth Street south of Bailly Elementary School. “People don’t mind density,” he said. “If you don’t like density, you don’t move into that kind of development.”

“I’m convinced in my heart of hearts there’s not going to be an adverse effect,” Trout concluded. “This is a small property but I think it’s a great in-fill project.”

Planner George Stone noted that the PUD ordinance was enacted exactly with this sort of property in mind: one with “unique issues” which prove challenging to its development. “So all this talk about how the development should meet strict code just doesn’t apply,” he said.

Stone also expressed doubt about the PUD’s likelihood for adversely affecting traffic patterns or runoff. “I can’t imagine why anyone would use Richter” to exit or enter the development when the South Calumet Road road cut would be so much more easily accessed, he said. And the installation of rear-yard drains on the west, east, and north boundaries of the PUD would almost certainly improve drainage on Primrose Circle and Richter Street.

Stone added that Nekus’ vision of empty-nesters finding a maintenance-free home in the PUD is a good one. “I think it’s a unique contribution to the Town of Chesterton and I support it,” he said.

Trout and Stone were in the minority, however. Planner Jim Kowalski repeated the observation he’s already made. “At the very beginning of the process I said ‘We have 10 pounds of manure in a five-pound bag.’ And I still feel that way.”

“Good developments should sell themselves,” Kowalski said. “I’ve been talking about density and lot coverage but no one’s listening to me. And I’m the one who has to vote on it. I’ve always been a proponent of development. But I want it to be a good development. Maybe we need to raise the bar. Maybe we need to step up and hold developers to higher standards.”

“If it’s zoned B and it can’t be developed B, then leave it be,” Kowalski ended his comments.

While planner Fred Owens agreed with Stone that PUDs are intended for unique properties, he also agreed with Kowalski about this one’s density. “I still do believe it is too tight, too compact, and very dense,” he said. “It’s much more dense than I would like it to be.”

Planner Tom Kopko had this to say about paired patio homes. “There aren’t a lot of these units yet in town but we have approved some,” he noted. “What’s our tipping point? My concern is that we’re going to over-build these. Everyone wants to build them and nobody wants to build a house. We’re a small town and I wonder what our saturation point is.”

Planner Nate Cobbs expressed some degree of satisfaction that Nekus had made an attempt to meet remonstrators’ concerns. But he suggested that Nekus would need to go further to secure his vote. “We’re getting closer,” Cobbs said. “It’s a heck of a lot better than when we first saw it. But I have some concerns.”

Planner Sharon Darnell, finally, called the project “wonderful” on paper but indicated that in execution it remained lacking. “The close proximity and density and the impact on these people’s lives, I don’t agree with that,” she said.

Votes

Trout made an initial motion: to endorse the PUD and forward it to the Town Council with a favorable recommendation. That vote failed 5-2: Kopko, Owens, Darnell, Kowalski, and Cobbs all voting against it.

On Parkinson’s advice, members then voted on a motion to forward the PUD to the Town Council with an unfavorable recommendation. That vote succeeded 5-2, along the same lines.

 

Posted 3/22/2019

 
 
 
 

 

 

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