Chesterton Tribune

Porter plans residential and commercial neighborhood for the 'brickyard'

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By PAULENE POPARAD

The Porter Redevelopment Commission established a baseline Monday of what it wants to see built on the 31 acres it bought for $350,000 just west of Porterís downtown.

That way, said commission members, if a development partner comes knocking theyíll be in a better position to negotiate to the townís advantage.

Voting unanimously, the commission adopted as its concept plan the Oct. 26, 2009 proposal laid out by consultant SEH Inc. for whatís designated as The Brickyard: potentially 194 residential units, neighborhood commercial, open space, a fire station and future municipal uses.

Townhomes, row houses, single-family homes and senior-housing units could be built that would mirror Porterís downtown in size and scale, according to SEH, and extend Lincoln, Franklin and Rankin streets west through the site at the southwest corner of Beam Street and Sexton Avenue.

Town attorney Patrick Lyp and town director of engineering Matt Keiser were authorized to prepare a planned unit development application seeking Porter Plan Commission approval for The Brickyard, which currently is zoned PUD but a blank slate with no specifics.

The Town Council would have final authority over the PUD and a public hearing would be conducted and public comment taken prior to a decision, stressed Redevelopment Commission president Bruce Snyder.

In addition, SEH was asked Monday to prepare a town capitalization study contemplating some degree of Redevelopment Commission support for upgrading the townís antiquated sanitary sewer system. Currently $4.1 million in projects over the next three years has been recommended by a Sewer Rate Study Committee but not funded.

Snyder noted the commission has financed wholly or in part sewer projects in the past including the current upgrade of the Oak Hill Road line.

He also said the commission needs to determine the best places to spend its money to get the biggest bang for the town. Keiser said the current downtown sewer lines could take The Brickyard flow if groundwater infiltration is removed from the system.

Matt Reardon of SEH said if The Brickyard is fully developed, an estimated $300,000 in annual tax revenue could be realized. Member Micheal Genger said when the commission spends seed money to get The Brickyard going, the revenue it generates will benefit the entire town, not just The Brickyard itself.

Lyp said itís not unusual for Redevelopment Commissions to partner financially on projects and that Porter is in the enviable position of owning the property, which he added was appraised locally by Professional Appraisal Services, LLC for $1,050,000 and bought from a Lake County trust according to the law with no stealth purchase involved.

Keiser said environmental consultant Weaver Boos has completed soil borings, but additional preliminary engineering will be involved in the preparation of the PUD, which could be amended by the town or a developer at a later date.

Snyder said the PUD needs to be firm enough to convey the commissionís desire, yet have enough wiggle room to remain flexible and not turn off potential developers.

Commission member Al Raffin said he has no problem heading in a changeable direction, and he volunteered to represent the commission on a new group formed March 9 by the Town Council to review sanitary-sewer funding options. From the audience, council president Michele Bollinger said, ďItís not a committee.Ē

Town watchdog Jennifer Klug earlier told the press she was advised by a representative of the Indiana Public Access Counselorís Office that the joint groupís meetings should be public; Bolinger has indicated they will not be. The meetings of the recent Sewer Rate Study Committee were public.

Lyp said The Brickyard is so attractive because itís the largest undeveloped tract near Porterís downtown, and a Redevelopment Commissionís purpose is to take blighted or under-utilized areas and parlay its money for the benefit of the community.

Redevelopment Commissions are financed with a portion of levied property taxes designated as tax-increment financing or TIF funds. In Chesterton, the commission there is using TIF money to revitalize the South Calumet District by widening existing roads and building new ones, and it has pledged up to $200,000 to pave downtown Chesterton streets.

Genger said both the Northwest Indiana region and Porter County have taken notice of Porter. ďThey see us doing something and weíve opened their eyes. Itís time to take these projects and bring them home.Ē

Among Porterís irons in the fire are two bike trails and a Gateway to the Dunes revamp of the U.S. 20/Indiana 49 corridors, the latter funded with an initial $1.8 million grant from the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority. Porter had sought $19 million of the $30 million project.

 

Posted 3/16/2010