Chesterton Tribune



Farm plan in Porter tabled second time; Childress blasts neighbor comments

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The Porter Plan Commission was forced to table resident Paul Childress’ request to rezone his property at 1035 Wagner Rd. to open space for a farm operation after there were not enough votes on a motion for a recommendation to the Town Council.

Two members of the Commission were absent at Wednesday’s meeting, Amy Waecheter-Versaw and Police Chief Jamie Spanier, as the remaining members split 3-2 on a motion for favorable recommendation and 2-3 on an unfavorable recommendation. A majority of four votes is needed for an action to move ahead.

Voting in support of the rezoning were planners Kenneth Timm, Tara Duffie and Public Works Director Brenda Brueckheimer. Against were Erik Wagner and Commission President Jim Erikkson.

Childress, a former Town Council member, proposes to use the property for the Childress Family Foundation which would be a self-sustaining farm that would grow produce year-round with the use of hydroponics, along with raising crops and animals. He intends to fix up the existing buildings which have been abandoned since the site was used years ago as a Nike missile base for defense of Chicago.

Last month, the Commission tabled the request to study the Town’s Animal Ordinance and Zoning Code more thoroughly on what animals the farm could have, and under what conditions.

Animals are not allowed in a R-1 residential zone but they are permitted in a designated open space, Town Planner Jim Mandon said. They, however, must be kept within a 100-foot buffer from another property.

Neighboring residents at the public hearing last month spoke in opposition to the operation, contending it would create unfavorable odors and added traffic. Others said that they simply do not wish to live near a farm. Neighbor Sue Wright presented a petition with about 50 signatures from Wagner Hills and Baillytown residents in remonstrance against the rezoning.

On Wednesday, Childress said “upset is being a very polite” way of saying how he felt after the public hearing and asserted that statements made by neighbors were lies.

“I never said I was opening a petting zoo. I have no idea how that (rumor) got started but it was a complete lie sold as a fact,” he said.

Some neighbors said they could hear noise from the two wind turbines that Childress installed on his property to generate power. Childress said that the system he installed is one of the quietest on the market and produces no noise that could be heard from a distance.

Brueckheimer corroborated that she went to the site to listen at different locations and could not hear the turbines. Timm said he did so as well and that the turbines were no louder than a house fan.

Timm added that this property has been an “eyesore” for over 30 years and said he is glad to hear that the property will get cleaned up. The issue is the animals since they are not allowed in an R-1 zoning, he said.

Childress also argued about the claims against his use of methane for natural gas in his goal of making the farm self-sufficient. The gas is odorless and would be captured and stored so it would not cause disturbances, he said.

Mandon said it is a fact that methane is odorless but it still has its dangers if not properly stored.

“A farm can or cannot be smelly. It all depends on how the property is managed,” said Mandon.

In all, Mandon said that he would expect Childress’ foundation to have less noise, traffic and odor than if he decided to make the property a residential subdivision. Childress said that with the way the property is zoned currently he could develop a subdivision with just a site plan, but has decided not to.

“It upsets me that anybody would say anything to put this down,” said Childress. “I honestly expected a little more about my neighbors.”

More than a dozen neighbors sat in the audience Wednesday with many of them raising their hands to speak on Childress’ comments, claiming they had other issues to bring up.

Erikkson reminded the audience that the public hearing is closed and the issue is now under discussion by the board.

“I don’t think (Childress) should be able monopolize the discussion,” an audience member said.

Erikkson apologized for not being able to allow the public to give additional comments but it’s a rule the Commission has to abide by.

As Timm had said earlier, Erikkson said he thinks Childress’ proposal “is a good thing” but the issue is the zoning does not allow animals. If the property is rezoned to open space, Erikkson said he worries that the next person who owns the property could hypothetically use the property in a different manner.

Commission Attorney Laura Frost said the planners could place written conditions on the zoning which would then stand for future owners.

In a motion for favorable recommendation, the conditions would be to limit the animals and livestock to up to two cows, four beef cattle, 20 rabbits, 30 chickens, ten turkeys and two goats. The property owner would also need to follow the provisions of the Town Code, such as keeping the animals within a 100-foot setback.

The favorable motion failed with Wagner and Erikkson dissenting.

The Commission voted 5-0 to table the matter until the next meeting on Oct. 19 in hopes of having a full board to hold a majority vote.


Posted 9/22/2016






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