Chesterton Tribune

Porter buying old brickyard; future development eyed

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The Porter Redevelopment Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to spend up to $350,000 plus closing costs to purchase 31.35 acres where an historic Beam Street brickyard operated in town until the early 1900s.

The site would house a future Porter fire station and perhaps up to 193 housing units and 5,000 square feet of commercial space when fully built out in what is being dubbed The Brickyard development.

A commission representative, town officials and consultant A.J. Monroe of SEH Inc., who presented conceptual plans for project, were authorized to draft requests for proposals in hopes of attracting developers to design and build the neo-traditional, pedestrian-friendly neighborhood that would mirror adjacent downtown Porter in size and scale and extend Lincoln, Franklin, and Rankin streets west through the new site.

Monroe said The Brickyard could offer townhomes, row houses and single-family homes as well as housing units for senior citizens clustered around a central park. Such opportunities would give the nearby Porter downtown a boost and promote both infill redevelopment and new construction, he added.

Because some of The Brickyard land has been dug out, Monroe speculated underground parking garages could make use of such depressions. He also said with the site being across from Yost Elementary School, young families with children would be attracted to the various housing styles available.

Commission president Micheal Genger said what’s been presented by SEH is an exciting plan for future generations, however, “Just because it’s on paper doesn't mean it’s set in stone. It’s very conceptual.”

Located at the southwest corner of Beam Street and Sexton Avenue across from the current Porter fire/public works municipal building, The Brickyard parcel is being acquired from a People’s Bank of Lake County trust; the seller's representative was present Tuesday.

In addition to the original approximately 5 acres needed for a fire station, adjacent land would be held in reserve for future municipal use as needed.

What originally prompted the land search, said Porter director of engineering Matt Keiser, is that the town would score more points on its application for federal stimulus funds to build a new fire station if it owned the land. A closed commission executive session was conducted previously to discuss land acquisition.

Town attorney Patrick Lyp said when the land’s availability was brought to the commission's attention, an appraisal and titlework were ordered.

Keiser later said a Phase 2 environmental assessment the town commissioned shows coal ash was found near the Norfolk Southern Railroad on The Brickyard’s southern border but not to the degree federal agencies would have jurisdiction and it’s anticipated the town could handle the mitigation in-house.

Monroe told the commission for reasons unknown to him the property now realizes no tax revenue for the town but by 2030 if build-out is complete, the total annualized property-tax revenue could be $305,928 based on the conceptual plan.

Commission member Bruce Snyder asked what square footage The Brickyard homes would have. Monroe said about 1,800 square feet. “We’re not looking at high end?” asked Snyder.

Monroe said an affordable project with alleys on a grid layout would complement the adjacent Porter downtown neighborhood. “The intention is (The Brickyard) is a continuation what this part of Porter is. We didn't throw in cul-de-sacs. We wanted to preserve this area.”

Resident Jennifer Klug asked if the town would be the developer or intends to resell the land it doesn’t need. Genger said those are things yet to be discussed. Klug asked if it’s right for someone else, not the town, to make money off the deal.

Lyp said the upcoming requests for proposals would allow private developers to submit alternate suggestions how to proceed and for some, requesting tax abatement from the town could be an incentive they’ll seek.

The motion approving the land purchase, contingent on Lyp’s legal review, included that Genger be allowed to sign documents and participate in the closing, and that a check be issued from the Redevelopment Fund.

After the meeting Genger said the Redevelopment Commission has about $1.6 million on hand and invested so the $350,000 will not short it or the Town Council, which has borrowed commmission money for the General Fund pending receipt of unpaid Porter County property taxes.

On The Brickyard’s east border along the west side of Sexton Avenue a leg of the planned Brickyard hike/bike trail would be built. The commission voted unanimously Tuesday to approve an enclosed steel span trail bridge with a steel-fabricated roof canopy as the chosen model to cross four-lane U.S. 20 near Howe Road.

Originally a tunnel was to have been built under U.S. 20 until the cost rose by about $780,000.

Keiser said the revised trail plans are nearly ready to submit to the Indiana Department of Transportation for review and final approval. A 2010 bid letting is eyed.

About $2 million in federal funds have been awarded for the trail; the town’s local project share is about $600,000 but Keiser said with the value of land acquisition, right-of-way and engineering paid over nearly a decade, little additional money likely will be needed.

Keiser also said at a recent trails conference he learned about ways to fund maintenance of the trail. A foundation can be formed to do it without involvement of the Porter Park Department, he noted.




Posted 10/28/2009