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
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
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
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.