Chesterton Tribune

Porter BZA splits 3-2 to reject variance for former Waverly community center

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The owners of the historic building located at 955 Waverly Rd. near the intersection of Oak Hill Road were denied permission by the Porter Board of Zoning Appeals to use the building as a showroom for custom cabinets.

Petitioners Paul and Valarie Piotrowski of Beverly Shores requested a use variance be granted to operate their business in a residential area. Included was a request to permit signage for the business on the site.

Before neighboring residents voiced a handful of remonstrations, the Piotrowskis’ attorney Greg Babcock gave a timeline description on the building itself for the board which he compiled with the help of Eva Hopkins of the Westchester Public Library.

The building originally started off as a one-room school from 1881 when it was established until 1932. In 1934, it became a community social club.

“It was utilized for square dancing,” said Babcock.

The school board sold off the building in 1968 while dances still continued until about 1979 when a new owner wanted to use the space to open a store but the endeavor never came to fruition.

Babcock mentioned the building was built during a time that zoning regulations were not yet enforced by the state or the town. The state set zoning statutes for cities and towns around 1947.

The property was sold to the Piotrowskis in 2006 who made several improvements such as hooking up water and sewer lines to meet residential standards. Paul Piotrowski said he has been using the building as a guesthouse.

The proposed cabinet showroom would include even more enhancements, Piotrowski said, and he would keep it maintained on a regular basis while preserving the historical aspects of the building.

“We want to make this place as cute as a button,” he told the board.

Piotrowski insisted he would not sell any retail at the building and doors and cabinets sold would be delivered to customers’ addresses. He said he was willing to work within whatever parameters the board would set regarding the business sign.

Babcock later added that 792 square-foot building has never been used as a residence and is a unique piece of property since it predates the existence of the town’s zoning codes. He still felt that the business could co-exist well in the neighborhood allowing them to flourish as seen with the Schoolhouse Shop on CR 1500N.

However, local neighbors did not exactly share Babcock’s viewpoint.

Local resident Norman Berman presented a petition to the board with approximately 50 signatures from neighbors saying they oppose the change from residential to commercial. Berman said he appreciated the intent of unifying the community but insisted the neighborhood should be a place for peace and quiet.

Safety was also a key component in the opposition. Berman said the neighborhood is home to a special needs child and felt additional traffic could impose an endangerment to the child.

Others like Berman’s wife Pilar Berman and fellow neighbor Paul Baker complained about the Piotrowski’s use of a large dumpster on the property saying it is used at all hours of the day. Berman said if Piotrowski wants to operate a commercial business, he should seek it along U.S. 20 just two blocks away or in the area where the proposed Gateway to the Dunes will be.

“We want to remain a neighborhood of happy families,” said Baker.

Town attorney Patrick Lyp clarified the petition is not for a rezoning to commercial, but just to acquire a use variance in a residential district. All other rules for residential zoning would still apply.

“It would not be a free-for-all for any commercial use,” he said.

Lyp also said if the petition is granted, it would only apply to the petitioner and would not carry on to any subsequent owners of the property.

Piotrowski said he uses the dumpster to dispose of material from other projects he handles as a means of cost effectiveness. He said that he is not violating any town regulations by using the dumpster on the property.

He said the dumpster will be removed once the building is open for business.

Town Planner Jim Mandon said a use variance has to meet five conditions before it can be granted: will not be injurious to the safety and welfare of the community; will not adversely affect property value for adjacent parcels; arises from a condition peculiar to the property; arises from unnecessary hardship if the zoning ordinance is strictly applied; and does not interfere with the town’s comprehensive plan.

Believing not all requirements were met in some fashion, a slim majority voted to deny the petition 3-2. Voting for a motion to deny were BZA members Elka Nelson, Greg Stinson and Lorain Bell. Voting against the motion were John Kremke and BZA President Henry Huyser who said he had no problems with the petition.

Mandon told the Chesterton Tribune afterwards getting a use variance is “very tricky” due to the requirements and very rarely are they given by the BZA.

Hearing for Gateway Project

The Porter Plan Commission board met briefly following the BZA on Wednesday night to decide how it will move forward with the Gateway to the Dunes project plan.

Under the suggestion by member Michelle Bollinger, the board made the unanimous decision to schedule a special plan commission meeting for March 30 at 7:30 p.m. that will be conducted specifically for the public hearing of the Gateway plan.

“I think that something like this is that important; it should have its own separate meeting,” said town engineer and plan commission member Matt Keiser agreeing to the motion.

Bollinger said she plans to speak with the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority later in April regarding second and third year funding for the project. The RDA has authorized a $19 million grant for the development and has given $1.8 million already.

Bollinger said it would be great to show the RDA the progress the town has made for the plan. Even if the plan does not clear the plan commission or the town council by the time the RDA meets in April, she said the petition for further funding will not be affected.

In other business, the plan commission also granted a petition by local developer Brett Carney to combine two lots at a property in Dunes View Manor subdivision near the end of First Street. Carney’s plan is to put up a single-family residence.


Posted 3/17/2011