Chesterton Tribune

Porter Beach zoning reform plan meeting draws a crowd

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“We’re not trying to stick it to anybody,” assured Porter Town Council member Mike Genger, who represents the 4th Ward Porter Beach area.

Nearly 50 people jammed the town hall Saturday to hear an explanation of the proposed new rules for future beach development after its designation by the Town Council as a Lakeshore Preservation District, which could come in December.

Residents’ comments ranged from support to skepticism. A formal public hearing on the draft overlay, originally slated for this Wednesday, has been postponed until Nov. 18.

“We want these questions but if people are coming with the attitude is everyone in this room going to be happy, no,” explained Genger. “We want to try to fix some of the problems that historically have occurred in town.”

Like landlocked homes built with no direct access other than stairs. Structures built illegally in public rights-of-way. Zoning codes waived by town officials or ignored.

Councilman Dave Babcock said while Porter can’t change history and undo what’s been done at the beach, going forward the proposed regulations should make things better.

The Porter Beach Overlay Committee’s 13-page recommendation could have been more restrictive, noted town planner Jim Mandon, but its proposal now forwarded to the Plan Commission for review is a good compromise.

“We’ve made it easier for people to develop at the beach. We didn’t make stuff worse or more difficult,” assured Mandon.

“Yes you did,” replied Ray Cahnman. “All this is you’re basically targeting underdeveloped and undeveloped properties. If you take it too far, you may have some legal challenges.”

Save dunes at what cost?

Commented Gilbert Lehmann, “I’d like us to develop an attitude to save the dunes ... not say “This is mine, I conquered it” instead of saying “I’m living with nature.”’

Melissa Cohen and Ericka Brandstetter said the draft overlay is too vague and open to interpretation regarding an approved plant list. Mandon said the town will rely on experts to provide a list of acceptable plants that won’t promote dune erosion.

“We don’t want people to knock everything down on the lot and bring what they grew on the west side of Chicago,” said Mandon. Sod is not permitted in the overlay proposal, all utilities must be placed underground, and plans submitted for the building of new homes will require that more details be supplied.

Brandstetter questioned that a town permit is necessary for any land-disturbance activity. “The way this is written makes it seem like basically you can’t do anything on your property without contacting the town.”

Jim Morsch asked if cutting a tree would require a permit. “If the public isn’t educated about when a permit is necessary, that’s a problem.” Mandon said whether an activity might have a negative impact is the trigger and the town Building Department should be called to determine that.

Some asked if town inspectors would respond in a timely manner. Genger said let council members know if a department is not perfoming up to expectations.

Mandon said the proposed zoning overlay doesn’t tackle architectural review or protection of lake views because those require too many subjective decisions for the building commissioner. He later said new provisions in the overlay referring to “very steep” slopes and “major changes” to a lot slope are not defined because engineers don’t agree.

If an existing home on a lot requires extensive maintenance or is completely destroyed, maintenance or replacement is permitted when the new home stays on the same footprint as the old house; a ranch home can be replaced with a two-story structure on the same footprint.

Rather than imposing the town’s current front, side and rear-yard setbacks of 30 feet, 7.5 feet and 35 feet respectively, at Porter Beach new houses, pools, decks, and sheds would have to be at least a minimum of 15 feet from any property line.

To promote open space at the beach, fences would not be permitted closer than 15 feet from any property line unless they are landscaping fences no taller than 48 inches and no longer than 16 feet. In the rest of town fences may be 6 feet tall along the property line in the rear and side yards and up to 42 inches tall in the front yard.

Mandon said the town Board of Zoning Appeals routinely has approved certain petitions for beach variances, so why not just change the code and allow property owners to do things that make sense by right?

Bill Lukach said he didn’t see how the overlay will change things a lot because property owners still will have the ability to ask for BZA variances.

Commission member Jim Eriksson also lives at Porter Beach. “We’re really trying to work with you,” he told the audience, urging them to be part of the solution instead of complaining about problems. “Come and voice your opinion.”

Public hearing delayed

Last month the Plan Commission unanimously scheduled a formal public hearing on the overlay for this Wednesday, but it won’t take place. Town attorney Patrick Lyp said staff felt it was important to receive feedback from Saturday’s meeting first.

Lyp said the public still can comment Wednesday on the overlay, and the Plan Commission will conduct a legally advertised public hearing Nov. 18 with the intention for a vote on the overlay that night. Written comments may be directed to the town hall.

The Plan Commission typically sends zoning changes to the Town Council with a recommendation. The council then can adopt the overlay, reject it or send it back to the Plan Commission with modifications for reconsideration, said Mandon.

The commission’s Wednesday meeting is scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. or following the BZA meeting, whichever is later. The BZA has five petitions on the agenda and has moved up its meeting time to 6:30 p.m. although the night’s public hearings won’t begin until after 7 p.m.



Posted 10/19/2009