Chesterton Tribune

Porter Brickyard project density raises parking concerns

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By PAULENE POPARAD

The Porter Redevelopment Commission’s planned Brickyard project is intended to mirror the neighborhood feel of downtown Porter, and that’s a good thing, said two town Plan Commission members Thursday.

But the same conditions that lead to problems downtown --- narrow streets and congested on-street parking --- shouldn’t be duplicated in the new Brickyard, they stated.

Commission member Lorain Bell said the Brickyard’s proposed 194 living units on 25 acres will generate a lot of traffic including the 24/7 employees of a planned senior living/assisted living complex having about 90 residential units.

Large areas of open space on the 2.86 acres set aside for the centrally located senior housing likely will have to be reduced to provide more employee and visitor parking, agreed A.J. Monroe of Brickyard consultants SEH Inc.

“I appreciate what you’ve done, it looks great,” commission member Jim Eriksson told Redevelopment Commission president Bruce Snyder. However, “The density scares me. The (current) downtown is really so congested with people parking in front of their houses.”

Monroe said no thought has been given to banning on-street parking in the Brickyard, to be located at the southwest corner of Beam Street and Sexton Avenue on land the Redevelopment Commission purchased last year for $350,000.

The exception would be no parking on Beam, Monroe said, adding that many of the condos, single-family homes and rowhouses would have garages to keep vehicles off Brickyard streets.

A traffic-impact analysis of the project site and surrounding area will be provided in the future as part of the approvals the Redevelopment Commission is seeking from the Plan Commission to make the Brickyard more attractive to a private development partner yet to be chosen.

The impact to town police, fire and public works departments; to garbage collection, stormwater drainage and the Duneland School Corp. all will be analyzed, too.

Duneland’s Yost Elementary School is directly across the street from the Brickyard.

Town planner Jim Mandon said the senior/assisted living density skews the Brickyard’s impression because those 90 units will be in two, two-story buildings. Mandon also said on-street parking slows traffic.

Plan Commission member Matt Keiser, Porter’s director of engineering, made the point the assisted-living units will provide physical assistance, not financial assistance, to its residents.

From the audience, Debbie Bowen said she hopes the facility will provide space for handicapped residents needing living assistance as well.

Bell asked if anything the commission had brought up last night would change the Brickyard plans. Replied Snyder, “That’s why we’re here. The short answer, I believe so.”

Monroe said after meeting recently with town department heads to discuss Brickyard plans, some changes already have been made. The senior living buildings originally were to be three stories tall but the Porter Fire Department doesn’t have an aerial truck to fight three-story fires.

Still being studied, continued Monroe, is who would maintain the Brickyard’s open spaces, and who would have responsibility for the pond on an adjacent 6.7-acre parcel that will anchor the development’s stormwater system.

The larger 25-acre parcel includes 4.7 acres of land for a new Porter fire station when funding is found for construction; the current station across the street would be vacated and its space turned over to the Public Works Department. The balance of the 4.7 acres would be held in reserve for future municipal use some day.

Monroe said since the project site was once an operating brickyard, it’s anticipated that brick will be a prominent architectural element in the overall Brickyard design.

Here a trail, there a trail

The discussion also focused on a portion of the separate Brickyard hike/bike trail slated to be built on the new residential development’s east side adjacent to Sexton Avenue.

Keiser said the 8 foot-wide trail with 1-foot shoulders on each side would be built from Beam Street south to Lincoln Street as planned, likely next year. Current Brickyard residential-project plans include a trail on the development’s far west side from Beam to the south, then east on the extended Lincoln Street to the original trail terminus at Wagner Road.

Once the latter perimeter trail is built, Keiser said most trail users would be directed by signage and design to use that one as the primary trail and not the Sexton route. At that point the original trail leg could still remain, or be used for parking for the Brickyard housing development, said Keiser.

Its far northeast corner at Sexton is eyed for limited neighborhood commercial uses.

After the meeting Keiser was asked if the federal funding agency would approve paying to build a section of a hike/bike trail, then redirecting users away from it and even abandoning it for parking. He said the federal grant’s goal is to have a trail connecting the Calumet Trail to the Prairie Duneland Trail and a new perimeter Brickyard-project trail would do that.

Today, Keiser said, “After thinking about it more last night, we would not use the trail along Sexton for parking. The trail would remain along Sexton, but the new trail around the Brickyard would be considered the main conveyance.”

Smolios lots combined

Although listed on the agenda as a preliminary hearing, the commission conducted a public hearing for Mike Smolios, who was granted 7-0 approval to combine two lots he owns at 240 Howe Rd. into one parcel of record.

Smolios said he wants to build a 40-foot by 60-foot pole barn on the former Lot 15, which is vacant, to store personal property and vehicles. No one commented during the public hearing.

Attorney Greg Babcock said his client would agree to remove the shed once an occupancy permit for the new pole barn is issued

Also Wednesday, Mandon distributed a proposed addition to the Porter Beach zoning overlay requirements intended to facilitate more orderly future development there. The new language would address and prevent the spread of invasive plant species, in part by maintaining a list of banned plant materials.

A public hearing on the overlay amendment was set for the Sept. 15 commission meeting.

Allowing non-native invasive species to overtake the dunes environment would destroy part of the reason why the beach area is so special, said Mandon.

Posted 8/19/2010