Chesterton Tribune

Rhoda Coffee Creek farming proposal gets Plan Commission hearing June 21

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Lake Erie Land’s petition to allow Robert Rhoda and his family to farm about 200 acres at Coffee Creek Center advanced to public hearing June 21, but only after Chesterton Advisory Plan Commission members asked a number of questions Thursday.

Providing the answers were Rhoda, his attorney Greg Babcock, and LEL project manager Keith Sharpe.

Once nationally touted as an example of the future’s live/work/play design concept, 640-acre Coffee Creek Center instead sputtered and stalled with large tracts of land still undeveloped. Commission member George Stone asked if allowing farming for up to 10 years as LEL is requesting will take land off the market and deny Chesterton a development opportunity.

Babcock said Rhoda might not enter into an LEL lease for the full 10 years and if LEL needs the land for other purposes, Indiana statute protects farmers by assuring the value of that year’s crop loss can be recovered.

An additional permitted use to farm corn, soybeans, wheat or hay is being sought by LEL as an amendment to the development plan for that portion of Coffee Creek Center. Babcock said farming in Chesterton is restricted to industrial districts but no rezoning is being sought.

Commission members Emerson DeLaney, a Town Councilman, and Thomas Kopko, president of the town’s Stormwater Management Board, both expressed concern over potential environmental problems a farming operation could create due to the proximity of Coffee Creek, its Watershed Conservancy District and scattered wetlands.

DeLaney said the creek is one of the cleanest freshwater streams around and shouldn’t be polluted with farm chemicals.

Stone noted the land to be farmed is quite overgrown and will need to be cleared. Kopko inquired about Rhoda’s planned dust-control measures so the creek waters don’t become muddy. “You’ll have a lot more uncovered ground than we do at an average construction site.”

Rhoda said, “We’ll be diligent in any applications we do --- spraying, fertilizing.” He also said he farms other local properties, follows best-farming practices including being very aware of weather conditions, and takes into account all residential or commercial neighbors.

Town engineer Mark O’Dell said he, too, has a concern about erosion. Babcock had proposed a 50-foot buffer near the Conservancy property and existing homes, but O’Dell asked it be increased to 75 feet.

DeLaney said commission members need to consider carefully Rhoda’s proposal because of the residents living in that area. “People have planted roots there.”

The farmed parcel generally would be located south of the second addition to Coffee Creek Center at Morgan’s Corner, and lying adjacent to and on the east side of County Road 200E. Rhoda said he will enter the farmland from 200E and not drive farm equipment down Dickinson Road, its roundabout or on LEL streets, many that are paved with bricks.

Kopko said he has a problem that the farming will benefit both Rhoda and LEL yet that company has not cooperated with the town in getting broken street pavers replaced or an expired stormwater permit renewed.

Sharpe replied, “We are working on the damaged bricks but you can’t replace every brick like you can’t fix every pothole.” He assured the commission LEL has made costly repairs and will continue to do so, and Sharpe explained the status of the permit.

He also said LEL has farming leases for other properties it owns, and that Rhoda’s proposal has been discussed with the Coffee Creek Watershed Conservancy board, which has approved a favorable recommendation.

Using a tablet reader and smartphone to view and enlarge maps, the farmland’s exact boundaries were discussed and the commission asked that a more detailed map showing additional information such as what areas are feasible to farm be submitted for the June 21 hearing.

Vote to schedule the hearing was 7-0.


Posted 5/18/2012