Chesterton Tribune



Vern Brown looking to open distillery in old Westchester Lanes building

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Vern Brown, owner of the Chesterton Brewery, 1050 Broadway in the Factory, has plans for the old Westchester Lanes at 124 N. Eighth Street, whose 11,000 square feet he’d like to lease from its current owner, Lukas Weldon.

For one thing, Brown wants to open a distillery in the part of the building formerly known as the “Westchester Lounge,” For another, he wants to convert the east portion of the building into a mini-storage facility, taking advantage of its 13-foot garage door and concrete floor to rent out space to the owners of cars, boats, campers, and jet skis.

For the distillery, however, Weldon will need to obtain a use variance from the Chesterton Board of Zoning Appeals, as the Zoning Ordinances’ table of uses makes no provision for a distillery.

For the mini-storage facility, Weldon will also need to obtain a special exception, as the Zoning Ordinance does permit such a use in a B-3 building but only subject to certain criteria.

As Brown’s attorney, Greg Babcock, noted at the preliminary hearing on Thursday, the only entrance to the storage facility is the 13-foot garage door on the north side of the building facing Wabash Ave., which means that Brown alone would have access to it, not the renters. The old bowling alley is also located behind and across the street from the I-1 zoned Republic Services operations. “We think the location is good,” Babcock said. “We have the ability to control access to it, so it would be generating some revenue without a whole lot of activity.”

Both Fire Chief John Jarka and Building Commissioner Mark O’Dell have specific concerns, however, related to each of the proposed uses. With volatile spirits being distilled on one side of the building and gasoline-fueled vehicles being stored on the other side, the old bowling alley could present a fire hazard if safety measures--like smoke alarms, a sprinkler system, and fire doors--aren’t installed. O’Dell noted that the previous user of the building--Road to Life--was required by the state to have both smoke alarms and a sprinkler system, but that requirement expired with the use and the alarms and sprinklers have since been stripped out. “So it’s not up to code right now,” O’Dell said. “That building is not currently protected well enough for indoor storage.”

Jarka concurred. “I have a large concern about that building,” he told the BZA.

“Is there any obstacle to putting a fire safety system in?” Member Rich Riley asked.

“That’s up to the building owner,” O’Dell replied. “There are safety features we would like to see. The state required them for the previous use.” And at the moment, Jarka added, “we haven’t seen their architectural drawings, so we don’t know what’s planned.”

Those drawings “are a couple of weeks out,” Brown offered. He noted, though, that the distillery would limit its gallonages and use a spirit safe, an enclosed box which among other things captures the liquor’s volatile vapors. “We’re obviously aware of the hazards around the still, so a spirit safe would have to be employed.”

In the end, members voted unanimously to schedule a public hearing on the two petitions at their next meeting, July 23, with the understanding that Brown and Weldon would sit down with Jarka and O’Dell to prepare a list of specific conditions which the latter wants attached to special exception and variance, if granted.

3525 Drivers Way

In other business, members voted unanimously to hold a public hearing at their next meeting on the petition of Michael and Melissa Topor for a side-yard setback variance to allow the installation of an above-ground swimming pool on their property at 3525 Drivers Way.

The Topors are seeking a variance of six feet, from the minimum side-yard setback of 10 feet required by the Zoning Ordinance to four feet.

223 S. Eighth Street

Members also voted unanimously to hold a public hearing at their next meeting on the petition of Earl and Kathy Clark for two variances to permit the construction of a larger garage on their property at 223 S. Eighth Street.

The Clarks are seeking one variance to increase the maximum lot coverage of 30 percent to 41 percent; and another to reduce the side-yard setback from eight to three feet, a variance of five feet. The current garage, built in 1928, isn’t actually large enough for a pickup truck and, looking toward the future, the Clarks are hoping to increase the sellability of their home.

BenLew Enterprises LLC

At the request of Brian Lewandowski, a principal of Benlew Enterprises LLC, members voted unanimously to continue once again a preliminary hearing on Benlew’s petition for multiple variances for the property at the southeast corner of South Calumet Road and East Porter Ave.

Lewandowski is seeking to subdivide the property and continue to use the house on one of the parcels as a single-family residence but to develop an unknown commercial use on the other parcel.

Two Lot-Coverage Public Hearings

Later in the meeting, the BZA held a pair of public hearings, both on petitions for lot-coverage increases:

-- Peter and Karen St. Mary’s petition to increase lot coverage from 30 percent to 32 percent, to allow the construction of an enclosed sunroom at the rear of their duplex at 1505-07 Washington Ave.

-- And Ron and Jordana Zarchara’s petition to increase lot coverage from 30 percent to 36 percent, to allow the construction of a swimming pool and patio at their home at 2121 Pradera Trail.

The BZA voted unanimously to grant both variances. At public hearings which preceded the votes, no one spoke in support and no one in opposition.


Posted 6/30/2020




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