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
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.
requirements add extra hurdles for people wanting to build homes smaller
than 1,500 square feet on much of the vacant land in Porter.
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
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
Barry noted the
market for smaller homes is on the rise and the character of those homes is
“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
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.
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.”
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.