Chesterton Tribune



Proposed senior living center developer gets taller signs but caves on sidewalk

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The developers of a proposed senior assisted living center at Coffee Creek Center have gotten their hearts’ desire simply by agreeing to do what the Chesterton Town Code requires them to do anyway.

At a special meeting Thursday night, the Advisory Plan Commission voted 4-2 to endorse a planned unit development ordinance which provides, among other things, for two variances from code believed by the developers to be absolutely vital to the project’s success: taller than permitted monument signs.

Those were the variances the developers got. The one they didn’t get would have absolved them of the responsibility to install some 660 feet of public sidewalk.

The 110-unit, $20-million Residences at Coffee Creek--under development by Westshore Senior Housing Consultants LLC--would be located immediately south of Sidewalk Road, west of Kelle Drive, north of Village Point, and east of Ind. 49. Some 250 temporary construction jobs would be created by the project and 100 permanent jobs, the developers have said.

But Town Code presented Westshore with two evidently extraordinary hurdles. Hurdle No. 1: the monument signs permitted by code would be insufficiently tall to be seen clearly and recognizably from Ind. 49 and Village Point. Hurdle No. 2: the 660 feet of sidewalk which Westshore would have to install on the north edge of the site--along Sidewalk Road from Kelle Drive west--would only lead strollers, dangerously, in the direction of Ind. 49.

Planners split-voted 3-2 at their meeting in July to endorse the PUD, with George Stone, Jeff Trout, and Bob Poparad voting for it, and Tom Kopko and Fred Owens voting against it. Three members of a seven-member body don’t comprise a majority, though--absent from that meeting were planners Jim Kowalski and Jeff Ton--and in their haste to break ground this fall the developers paid for a special meeting, ahead of the commission’s regular Aug. 18 meeting, in an effort to enlist a fourth vote.

That potential fourth vote was in attendance on Thursday: Kowalski. And once again the developers made their arguments for big signs and against a sidewalk.

Of the two monument signs at issue, the larger and more important would be the one sited along Ind. 49. But a sign conforming to Town Code and no higher than 6.5 feet would be partially blocked by the white paddock fence in the field along the east side of Ind. 49, project architect Tom Panzica said. For that reason the developers want a 12-foot sign, for a variance of 5.5 feet.

Panzica contended that motorists traveling at a 50-mph clip would only have five seconds to view the sign, which if obstructed by the paddock fence would be virtually unreadable. And it’s critical that motorists recognize the development for what it is--a multi-story licensed healthcare facility--and not a hotel or apartment building.

Sort of a funny story. Turns out that Westshore’s sister development in Schererville used to get confused all the time for a hotel by motorists on U.S. Highway 30, who would disturb staff and residents at all hours looking for a room for the night. Westshore solved that problem during Phase II by erecting a 28-foot sign, Panzica said.

“It is not a capricious request,” Panzica added. “It was well thought out and necessary to the success of a $20-million investment.”

On the subject of the sidewalk to nowhere, Panzica insisted that it would put both the old and the young in peril, by creating “an attractive nuisance drawing children or seniors toward the dangers of a busy highway.”

It would also add some 2,280 square feet of impervious concrete to the project area, Panzica added, with an uncalculated but not negligible impact on stormwater runoff.

Planner Stone, hopeful of moving things along, suggested that Westshore ditch the whole notion of monument signs and instead place a sign on the building’s facade. The developers were having none of that, however. A facade sign would present structural issues like snow drift on the roof and maintenance issues like light-bulb replacement. “We think it’s more pastoral to leave it out by the highway,” Panzica said.

In the end Kowalski joined Trout, Stone, and Poparad in viewing the requested variance as rather a quibble against the magnitude of the project. “It looks like we’re holding up a $20-million investment that will create hundreds of jobs for a five-foot variance. Sounds pretty petty to me,” Trout said.

Then Westshore, for its part, caved on the sidewalk. “The sign is more important than the sidewalk,” said Westshore principal Lori McLaughlin. “We can live with the sidewalk.”

Kowalski, Trout, Stone, and Poparad accordingly voted to endorse the PUD. Kopko and Owens once again voted against endorsement.

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


Posted 8/12/2016





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