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Porter planners favor waterpark rezone despite opposition

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By LILY REX

There was standing room only at the Porter Plan Commission’s meeting Wednesday night for a public hearing on a rezoning request that would allow a developer to build apartments on the site of the old waterpark at the northeast corner of U.S. 20 and Waverly Road.

In a three-and-a-half hour meeting, 22 members of the public spoke in a public hearing that lasted approximately one hour and 35 minutes. Only one person was in favor of the proposed apartment complex. Three said they were on the fence, but said nothing positive about the proposal.

After closing the public hearing, the Planners took turns reading into the record 10 letters, the authors of which all oppose the suggested development. One letter was sent by the Summer Tree homeowner’s association, which said it represents the interests of 88 Porter residents who live across Waverly Road, immediately east of the old waterpark.

Members of the audience applauded after each person who spoke in opposition stepped down. The meeting was raucous at times, with audience members interrupting the petitioner and the Board throughout.

Attorney Richard Anderson requested the property be rezoned from B-3 general business, to R-4, multi-family residential, on behalf of petitioner Indiana Land Trust. Weiss Entities, the same developer who designed and built Lakes of Valparaiso, is proposing an apartment complex with upscale features and amenities for the site.

The property is currently still owned by the company that operated the waterpark, White Stallion, LLC. White Stallion is in the process of tearing down the existing buildings and water slides as part of a sale agreement, according to Porter Building Commissioner and Director of Development Michael Barry.

Anderson said the $35 million development will have 318 high-end apartments built in two phases, with amenities including a clubhouse, an on-site dog run, a pool, and 249 covered parking spaces made possible by the first floor of the largest building serving as a garage.

The first phase would consist of a large L-shaped building with the Clubhouse and attached apartments, three smaller apartment buildings, a sports court and dog run, parking, and three detention areas--one dry bed and two ponds. Phase two would add two more buildings with parking and a dry bed detention area.

If the rezone goes through, Weiss will be asking for three variances--two related to rear setback, one to slightly reduce the parking ratio, and one to allow the tallest building to be 56 feet when Town Code stipulates a maximum height of 50 feet.

President of Weiss Entities Don Weiss said the apartments will be “first class in every manner,” and the Town of Porter would be proud to have such a development. “This follows the success of Lakes of Valparaiso. Everyone in Valpo has acknowledged it’s been one of the most important additions to the city in a long, long time,” Weiss said. “And we think this is a step beyond Lakes of Valparaiso.”

One resident said he was in favor of the rezone and the development because it would be good for the Town, similar to a development on U.S. 20 in Buns Harbor. He said they don’t have major traffic issues there.

Three residents who said they were on the fence urged the Planners to carefully consider drainage, traffic, and how the new development would affect neighboring properties. The properties to the north have long been victim to drainage problems and flooding, Waverly Road may not be able to handle the influx of people, and the roadcut onto U.S. 20 would be “planned disaster,” according to those three residents.

The 18 residents who spoke against the rezone had a host of common concerns, including: the proposed development is too dense and too big, making it out of character for Porter’s small town feel; the influx of people would be too much for local services and infrastructure to handle; traffic would be negatively impacted, especially during peak tourism season; and neighbors will be negatively impacted by noise, lack of privacy, drainage problems, and overcrowding.

There were also concerns that what the developer calls “luxury” could be section 8 down the road; the apartments could be turned into Airbnb rentals; phase two of the project might never be built; a complex like this encourages “transients” who aren’t invested in the area to flock to Porter; and maybe the whole thing is already a done deal because of money.

Plan Commission President Jim Eriksson later responded to the latter: “I resent this talk of this being a done deal. Everybody on this board lives in this Town, and we give our time,” he said. “We’re gonna look out for the best interest of this Town.”

A handful residents made positive comments about the proposed development, but said it just isn’t right for Porter. The residents suggested a myriad of other uses for the decrepit waterpark, including making it a County- or Town-owned park, putting in single-family homes, putting in Townhomes or duplexes, making it a new waterpark, or trying to attract businesses to it.

Jennifer Klug was one who said she’d rather see a business take root there. Klug noted that Towns tend to profit more from businesses than residential developments. “Businesses are the life blood of a community, and they bring in a lot of the tax money,” Klug said. “We have limited area for the Town to grow, and I wish we wouldn’t take prime real estate for homes.” At least two other residents made a point to say they’d prefer a business at the site.

Robert Setlik summed up his complaint with the development: “This is like dropping something from outer space into our community.” Setlik and his wife Sandy Setlik said the new development is too big and would overwhelm public services and worsen already dangerous traffic on Waverly Road. “That area would work very nicely for single-family homes, townhouses, appropriate businesses, but nothing on this scale,” Robert Setlik said.

Judith Chemma echoed Setlik’s and many others’ statements. She said the proposed apartment complex is beautiful, but it’s too much. Chemma asked, “I’m sure the design is gorgeous, and it would probably bring a lot of good people into our community, but at what cost to the people that are here?”

Anderson, Weiss, Weiss Vice-president of Design and Development Bob Billick, and Abonmarche Consulting Civil Engineer Randy Peterson said on rebuttal that the residents have legitimate concerns, but all the bases are covered.

INDOT has been informed of the planned development and says planned improvements to the intersection of U.S. 20 and Waverly will support the influx of traffic. As it stands, traffic studies indicate the amount of trips generated by the complex wouldn’t overwhelm the area, Peterson said. Peterson also noted the detention basins planned should greatly improve the drainage problems property owners to the north have had historically.

Weiss, for his part, noted that businesses come where populations support them, and the proposed complex will bring those people who will eat and shop in Porter and Duneland. Weiss also said growth in NWI has stagnated while Chicago suburbs expand: “Too many people are leaving NWI including your kids.”

“If you don’t build this housing, those people will go elsewhere. I don’t think 20 years form now that you’ll think it was a good decision, that everybody went elsewhere,” he added.

Porter Fire Chief Jay Craig, who’s also a Planner, said he’s concerned that every apartment building won’t have an elevator, which can delay emergency responses. He also said the Porter Fire Department doesn’t have a truck that can fight a fire in a building 56 feet tall, though other nearby departments do.

Weiss said the buildings will be sprinklered, but Craig said he still takes pause for the fact that the Town would eventually incur equipment costs to best protect the complex.

Planner and Town Council member-elect David Phillips was concerned about drainage and asked Weiss how the development would benefit Porter. Weiss said the development would increase property values and the tenants will invest in the community.

Town Planner Jim Mandon said the parcel is too small for single-family development, and if it were parceled out into smaller lots for businesses, traffic would likely be a bigger concern because there could be more than one roadcut onto U.S. 20. Mandon also said space is money for businesses, and a commercial development likely wouldn’t leave as much greenspace as Weiss has proposed.

Mandon noted that calculations related to stormwater runoff, sewer capacity, and traffic patterns are done by engineers. “Those aren’t guesses.” The rezone makes sense, according to Mandon.

Barry clarified that despite appearances, what’s done on the west side of Waverly Road doesn’t add to the drainage patterns on the east side of Waverly. The water stays on whatever side of the road it originates from.

The Town Council has the final say on rezoning requests. The Planners voted 5-2 to favorably recommend that the Town Council approve the rezone. Phillips and Spanier cast the no votes.

 

 

Posted 11/22/2019

 
 
 
 

 

 

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