Chesterton Tribune

Town Council rejects GK 3-2

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By KEVIN NEVERS

A Barrington, Ill., developer will not be building a 351,419-square foot strip mall in an industrial district near the geographic center of Chesterton.

At its meeting Monday night, the Town Council split to deny approval of the planned unit development ordinance which would have governed the design and construction of that mall. Members Jim Ton, R-1st, Paul Christofersen, D-2nd, and Mike Bannon, R-3rd, voted in favor of a motion to reject that ordinance. President Sharon Darnell, D-4th, and Member Dave Cincoski, R-3rd, voted against that motion.

Christofersen and Bannon had already voted against the PUD ordinance once before from their seats on the Advisory Plan Commission, which on March 22 split 5-2 to forward the ordinance to the Town Council with an unfavorable recommendation.

Under Town Code, GK would have to wait until April 10, 2007, to refile its case before the Advisory Plan Commission.

The Case

The Town Council rejected the PUD ordinance despite a number of pot sweeteners added by GK—and by Kohl’s, Target, and John Ameling, owner of the 40.8 acres in question—at the eleventh hour in an effort to address concerns voiced chiefly by Ton at the council’s last meeting. As attorney Greg Babcock, representing GK, explained prior to the vote:

•Kohl’s, Target, and Ameling, through GK, would have added roughly $120,000 to the $40,000 already pledged by GK for traffic improvements on C.R. 1100N west of Ind. 49. In short, GK, Kohl’s, Target, and Ameling would have picked up the entire estimated $160,000 tab of those improvements.

•In addition, Ameling would have donated to the Town of Chesterton one acre of land between the service road on the far east side of the development and the center line of Coffee Creek and adjacent to C.R. 1100N, to be used for right-of-way should traffic volume one day have made it necessary to widen the bridge over Coffee Creek.

But GK and Ameling also tried to assuage Christofersen, who at the council’s last meeting expressed his dislike for the orientation of the buildings as planned—on the eastern edge of mall fronting west and obscuring, as Christofersen said, the view of Coffee Creek, rather than on the western edge fronting east:

•GK architect Wayne Marth said that the amount of impervious surface on the eastern edge of the mall would be reduced by 10,000 square feet and all land not needed for the 25-foot service drive would be “green.”

•Ameling’s attorney, Hugo Martz, said that Ameling would donate to the Town of Chesterton approximately three additional acres from the center line of Coffee Creek west to the eastern edge of the mall as well as $25,000 to improve and beautify that corridor for use as a park or greenway.

In general, Babcock put up a good fight. The original ratio of building-to-land coverage of 19.7 percent has been reduced to 17.9 percent, he noted, which contrasts favorably to ratio of 18.3 percent for the Valparaiso Marketplace. Babcock estimated too that the mall would add around $337,000 in tax increment financing revenues, which could be used for capital improvements anywhere within the TIF district. And he observed that the mall, by putting Chesterton on the retail map along with Valparaiso and Portage, would allow the town to compete more effectively with those cities and give folks one more reason to move to Chesterton.

To the view of Bannon that the mall as planned is too dense—voiced on numerous occasions from his seat on the Advisory Plan Commission—William Moreland of Kohl’s replied that the project conforms to the “standard” design of a mall. “It’s simply not overly dense,” he said.

On the subject of building orientation Adrian Brown, representing Target, told Christofersen that while backing the buildings onto Ind. 49 might preserve the visibility of Coffee Creek, it would kill the visibility of the outlots and effectively make them unsellable.

By far the most interesting discussion of the evening, though, was Christofersen’s colloquy with Marth, who—before explaining why GK opted to do nothing at all to change the orientation of the buildings as suggested by Christofersen—observed that “development is a complex thing” which should “not be done by committee but by professionals making a presentation.” Backing the buildings onto Ind. 49, Marth said, would be aesthetically unpleasing and would make it difficult for semis to exit onto C.R. 1100N, among other things.

But Christofersen indicated that he was interested in something more creative. “You have a wonderful pulpit to sell” an innovative design, Christofersen said. “Any time you have a problem in architecture, it creates an opportunity. . . . I don’t think any of these problems are insurmountable.”

To which Marth responded with a short course, as he put it, in “Land Planning 101.” It’s just not possible, Marth said, to screen the property along Ind. 49 or to screen the truck traffic. Under the current design “what we can do is to create a landscaped entrance to the Dunes. We can enhance the landscaping along Ind. 49.”

Christofersen was unconvinced. No Chesterton resident expects Ind. 49 to be anything but the corridor which it is, he said. “Ind. 49 is not a good street to drive up and down and enjoy the view. It’s meant to be a corridor. . . . We’re willing to put up with trucks coming and going.”

Marth then played his last card. Reversing the building orientation, he said—putting the outlots on the eastern edge of the mall and the anchors at the western edge—simply isn’t feasible. “If you put the outlots on the back side, they won’t come. Those tenants feed off the highway, not traffic from the parking lot. . . . To reverse that would make it a difficult retail development.”

Evidently Marth did nothing to persuade Christofersen.

In the end Cincoski made a motion to adopt the PUD ordinance and Ton seconded it for the sake of discussion.

Ton

Ton opened his remarks by observing that he had five concerns going into the meeting and that GK addressed only one of them: the cost of traffic improvements on C.R. 1100N west of Ind. 49. The other four remained on the table, he said.

•Roughly 90 percent of his constituents—who live in the district closest to the site of the proposed mall, in South Point and Tamarack—oppose it, Ton said. “There are some negative feelings about this development.”

•The Advisory Plan Commission forwarded the PUD ordinance to the Town Council with an unfavorable recommendation, and “I have faith in the Plan Commission,” Ton said. “Those people have served faithfully and have made a clear decision.”

•No amount of traffic improvements would reduce the additional congestion created by the mall, Ton said. He remarked that C.R. 1100N leads directly to Chesterton High School, and Duneland School Corporation bus drivers on their way to CHS from the bus barn on C.R. 1050N would have no choice but to take C.R. 100E north to C.R. 1100N and make a left turn onto it. “That can’t help the situation when we talk about the possibility of a major retailer.”

•The proposed mall does not accord with industrial zoning of the land in question as outlined in the Chesterton Comprehensive Plan. That document was “well thought out,” Ton said, and “we need to stick with it.”

Christofersen

Although, Christofersen said, many of his constituents would like to see a Kohl’s or Target in town, “I don’t see that the benefits overcome the potential problem with this site. . . . I don’t see that I can vote against the members of the Plan Commission.”

Bannon

Bannon began by thanking GK, Kohl’s, and Target for their interest in Chesterton, expressed his appreciation of the fact that “you want to invest money here,” and apologized for opponents of the mall who may have used inflammatory rhetoric. “We’re friendly,” he said. “We really are. But we do have people in this community who are very concerned about this community.”

In particular Bannon took exception to opponents who are offended that GK would want to turn a profit. “Of course developers want to make money,” he said. “So do Downtown store owners. That’s not evil. That’s not wrong. That’s the way America works.”

But, Bannon continued, as much as he likes the idea of a Kohl’s and Target in Chesterton, he does not like the idea of them at the intersection of Ind. 49 and C.R. 1100N. DLZ of South Bend, the independent engineering firm retained by the town to conduct a traffic study of the proposed mall, may have confidence that improvements specified by the PUD ordinance would alleviate congestion, Bannon conceded. “But somewhere some engineer said that the Ind. 49/Indian Boundary intersection . . . would work,” he added. “I’ve heard that Ind. 49 is underutilized. But I like it underutilized for the sake of my community.”

Cincoski

Cincoski, in contrast, listed numerous advantages of the proposed mall which his constituents have communicated to him, including shopping close to home and good jobs for their children. In the end, though, Cincoski said that he was basing his vote in favor of the PUD ordinance on three issues.

•The proposed mall, Cincoski said, would in no way drain trade from the Downtown merchants and might well increase it. “I’m hard pressed to believe that this retail would compete with or affect those businesses.”

•GK has done the best job it can to make the proposed mall aesthetically appealing, Cincoski said, and more simply isn’t possible. “Only so much can be done to break up the outline of buildings. You’re going to have roof lines. You’re going to have building lines.”

•The town’s own staff is persuaded of the efficacy of the traffic solutions required by the PUD ordinance, Cincoski said, and he places his faith in the experts.

“I don’t want to send a message to other developers,” Cincoski said. “We’re creating a very high hurdle for future developers. I believe the mall would be an asset, not a detriment. I would welcome this development.”

Darnell

Darnell first addressed the issue of location. Is there a better one? she wondered. At Coffee Creek Center? Why not on Ameling’s 40.8 acres? There’s already retail to the north of it: at WiseWay Foods, at Pioneer Lumber, and—at some point—on the two outlots immediately south of WiseWay. “Why not start retail where there’s already retail and move south,” Darnell said.

On the issue of traffic Darnell echoed Cincoski. An independent consultant and Town Engineer Mark O’Dell—who has previous traffic experience—have both said that the improvements specified by the PUD ordinance would work. And Darnell said that she was confident in the expertise of town staff.

Finally, Darnell admitted that retail jobs and high-tech jobs are not created equally. “It’s not a quality job,” she said. “But it is a job to fill the void. For seniors. For students. For those in need of two or three jobs part-time jobs. . . . Jobs we need to have here.”

The Votes

Members then voted 3-2 to reject Cincoski’s motion to approve the PUD ordinance. In response to a point of order from Ton, Associate Town Attorney Chuck Parkinson told the council that a motion specifically to reject the ordinance would be necessary to close the matter. That motion was made and seconded and members voted 3-2 in favor of it.

 

Posted 4/11/2006

 

 

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