Chesterton Tribune



Porter moves to reduce square footage mandate

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The Porter Plan Commission decided at its meeting last night that it will hold a public hearing on a proposal to reduce Porter’s minimum floor area requirements for residences.

The Planners had a lengthy discussion at their last meeting and decided to take a month to review proposals for reducing the minimum floor area required in Town Code from Town Planner Jim Mandon and Building Commissioner Michael Barry. Barry’s proposal allowed for smaller homes than Mandon’s.

Per Porter Town Code last updated in 2003, a single-family home on land zoned R-1 (single-family residential, large lot) must be a minimum of 1,500 square feet for a one-story, 2,000 square feet for a two-story, and 1,800 square feet for a bi or tri-level. There are similar restrictions on multi-family units and for each zoning type.

Under Barry’s plan, a one-story in R-1 would have to be at least 1,200 square feet. Two-story homes would have to be at least 1,600 square feet, and bi and tri-levels would have to be at least 1,400 square feet. On lots zoned R-2 (single-family residential, small lot) and in R-3 and R-4 multi-family zonings, Barry proposed the smallest allowable units should be 1,000 square feet, down from 1,200.

Mandon and Barry were on the same page about R-3 and R-4, multi-family residential, zones, and differed slightly on R-2 requirements.

In some cases, Mandon recommended the total minimum area shouldn’t be changed, such as for one-story homes in R-1. Under his plan, two-story homes would have to be at least 1,800 square feet and bi and tri-levels would have to be at least 1,500 square feet.

Barry said Porter’s minimum floor area requirements were changed in 2003 to require larger homes after the 1991 version of the code, that allowed smaller builds, fell out of favor. His proposal is intended to meet in the middle of the 1991 and 2003 Codes.

Mandon said he proposed some larger numbers in his plan as a compromise in case the Plan Commission wasn’t in favor of Barry’s changes. He doesn’t disagree with Barry’s proposal.

Mandon said, for his part, a larger house doesn’t mean a higher-end house. “When people are entering the housing market, they’re on a budget,” Mandon said. “If you have a certain number of dollars to work with, you’re spreading those dollars across more square feet, and you can end up with a cheaper product.”

Barry said his motivation for bringing the issue before the Planners was to make it easier for people to build on the remaining vacant lots in Town. Barry reported he commonly gets calls from people wanting to build houses 1,200 or 1,300 square feet.

They’re turned off when they find out Town Code doesn’t allow it, and they’d have to get a variance from the Board of Zoning Appeals. “Most people walk away when they find out they have to go to two months of meetings and spend several hundred dollars,” Barry said.

Barry said the proposal wouldn’t change the character of the Town, since there are few places left to build in Porter. Plenty of homes under 1,500 square feet also already exist, including most of the houses on 23rd Street, the new Summer Tree condos, and the new subdivision at Mineral Springs Road and W. Beam Street, where 1,200 square foot houses were allowed as part of a Planned Unit Development (PUD).

According to Barry, there are about 30 vacant lots left in Town, some of which were platted for a small structure at only 40 feet wide, and no land left for new subdivisions. “The lots we have left don’t support 2,000 and 1,500 square foot houses.”

Barry asked, “Every single subdivision we’ve approved has varied from our standards somehow. I can’t tell you one that hasn’t gotten a variance. What’s the point of having standards if you don’t follow them?”

He added, "If people walk away from the Town’s current standards, why not give them something they can work with?”

Mandon agreed the Code should be changed when the BZA is so often hearing, and granting, requests for variances on minimum floor area.

Board President Jim Eriksson recalled the Plan Commission had its reasons in the past for being against smaller houses, but offered, “I don’t want to hurt somebody first starting out, because that’s where I started.”

“I never thought about the people that would say ‘heck with it, I’m going to Chesterton,’” Eriksson added.

Member Laura Madigan said she preferred Barry’s proposal to Mandon’s. “I think people should be able to build as small as they want,” Madigan said. “I want the empty lots in our neighborhood developed.”

Member Tara Duffie concurred, going back to cost. “As far as I can tell the price of lumber and labor is way up, so I think we need to consider that.”

Barry said homes with a smaller footprint are going for just under $200,000, which is attractive to buyers right now.

The members voted, with Eriksson dissenting, to direct Barry and Mandon to finalize the proposal. Residents will be able to weigh-in at a future public hearing. Then, the Plan Commission will make a recommendation to the Town Council, which has the final say.


Posted 5/16/2019





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