Chesterton Tribune



Porter planners discuss square footage requirements

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The Porter Plan Commission discussed changing the Town’s minimum floor area requirements at its meeting last week.

The issue of Porter’s restrictive rules on minimum floor area has come up in several petitions to the Board of Zoning Appeals and discussions at both Plan Commission and BZA meetings in the last couple years.

Per Porter Town Code, 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.

Town code also requires that homes comply with minimum lot size requirements and yard and setback requirements that dictate where a home can be placed on a given lot--all without exceeding maximum lot coverage for a given zoning type.

Collectively, the requirements add extra hurdles for people wanting to build homes smaller than 1,500 square feet on much of the vacant land in Porter.

Building Commissioner Michael Barry said the requirements also make neighboring Chesterton more attractive to buyers looking to build new homes.

Barry said he gets 10 or 12 calls each year from people wanting to build smaller homes in Town. They almost always lose interest when they find out they’d have to get a variance from the Board of Zoning Appeals first.

Though the BZA would rarely deny a variance for a proposed house that fits the character of the Town and the particular neighborhood it’s in, Barry said approval from the BZA is still a two-month process that can be costly for the petitioner.

“The fact that they have to go through the process turns them away,” said Barry.

There are several areas in Town where a new subdivision could go in, according to Barry, and 20 to 30 vacant lots in Town--including small lots on Dunes Forest Trail and the downtown area.

Per current code, variances would be required to allow smaller houses on most of that land. On certain lots, building any conforming structure would be difficult.

“It’d be almost impossible to build a 2,000 or 1,500 square foot building on one of those lots downtown. It takes too much lot,” Barry said.

Planner Ken Timm has said at previous meetings that because these requirements are fairly new (early 2000s) many homes in Porter do not comply with current regulations, and if one of those homes burned down tomorrow, the homeowner would need a variance from the BZA to be allowed to rebuild.

This was a sticking point for Plan Commission President Jim Eriksson. “We’re not here to hurt anybody that already has something. We’re looking at the future,” Eriksson said.

Eriksson also said the requirements were meant to dissuade developers from putting in dense developments of small homes, which could cause fire safety concerns and increases in traffic, as well as not fit the character of other development in Town.

Barry noted the market for smaller homes is on the rise and the character of those homes is improving.

“A smaller home doesn’t mean a cheaper built home anymore. People are putting a lot of amenities into a smaller footprint,” Barry said.

Town Planner Jim Mandon and Barry each made recommendations for changing the code.

Under Barry’s plan, a one-story in R-1 would have to be at least 1,200 square feet. Two-storys 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.

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-storys 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.

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

Barry also suggested the Commission look at the lists of allowed uses for different zones, which are out-of-date and incomplete.

“I think we’re always trying to control what goes where, and maybe in some places there’s too much control and in some places there’s not enough.”

The Plan Commission’s role in amending Town code is proposing changes, holding a public hearing, then recommending changes for final approval by the Town Council. The Commission voted to table the discussion until its next meeting to give members time to review both proposals.



Posted 4/25/2019




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