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Porter planners vote for minimum square footage reduction

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By LILY REX

The Porter Plan Commission voted 4-2 at its meeting last night to recommend that the Town Council approve changes to Town Code that reduce minimum square footage requirements for new homes constructed in Porter.

Planners Erik Wagner, Jay Craig, Tara Duffie, and David Phillips voted yes. Planner Laura Madigan was absent.

With the changes, a single-family home on land zoned R-1 (single-family residential, large lot) 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. The smallest allowed residences would be 600-square-foot apartments in R-4, which allows multi-family buildings for five or more families.

The current code, which dates to 2003, requires single-family homes in R-1 be at least 1,500 square feet for a one-story and 2,000 square feet for a two story, and the smallest allowed units are 750-square-foot apartments in R-4.

Building Commissioner Michael Barry and Town Planner Jim Mandon proposed the changes because the 1,500-square-foot minimum dissuades people from building in Porter and makes building a house that conforms to other requirements, such as maximum lot coverage and yard setback, on small lots difficult.

The changes also allow a Porter property owner whose house doesn’t meet the current standard to rebuild the house to its original specifications in case it is destroyed. Currently, someone who has lost their 1,200-square-foot home to a fire, for example, would need a variance from the BZA just to rebuild what was. The Planners have agreed at several meetings that this constitutes an undue burden.

Plan Commission President Jim Eriksson and Planner Jamie Spanier voted against the changes, citing concerns about the smallest allowed units and how Porter compares with nearby Towns.

“It’s been brought up that there’s not a lot of vacant land, but my understanding is that there’s 50 acres behind Orchard Apartments,” Eriksson said, further voicing concern that a development of small houses could crop up in Town, and he had “a bad feeling” about the changes.

“What I see going up in Burns Harbor and Chesterton, those are not small houses,” Eriksson said. “The apartments are 1,100 or 1,200 square feet, and they’re filling them at $1,800. It almost seems to me that you can go to Porter if you can’t afford Burns Harbor or Chesterton,” he added.

Planner Tara Duffie noted that the new ordinance would help at least two property owners in her neighborhood, who own vacant lots and can’t build due to the square footage rules. “They’d have to build smaller because the lots are smaller,” Duffie said. “Both of them are retired, I think, and they came to Porter not because it’s less expensive, but because it’s closer to the beach.”

Spanier said he agreed with the nonconforming structures portion of the ordinance but had reservations about allowing apartments as small as 600 square feet in R-4.

No members of the public spoke against the ordinance in a public hearing. Porter resident Jennifer Klug spoke in favor of both the nonconforming structures element and allowing smaller homes, saying, “I think it’s important to let people use and rebuild on their property” and “bigger doesn’t always attract better citizens.”

“I hope that it gets passed by the Town Council,” Klug added.

Other Business

In other business, the Planners voted to table a request by Fox Chase Development for a third replat of the Summer Tree development. Fox Chase sent correspondence asking for a continuance for more time to get paperwork in order.

Eriksson appointed Philips to be the Plan Commission representative on the BZA.

Mandon reported on his progress proposing changes to the way use variances are described in Town Code. The Code currently has a standalone, out-dated, and incomplete list of ‘allowed uses’ for property in Town.

Mandon proposed sorting the uses, so each item on the list is allowed in a certain zone or multiple zones that match the use. This way, people seeking to use land in a certain way won’t need a use variance from the BZA unless they have a unique request. Mandon says this change would take away a layer of complication in the use variance process, so the BZA would decide on allowing variances solely based on whether or not requests meet all of the five criteria set forth in Indiana Law.

 

 

 

Posted 7/18/2019

 
 
 
 

 

 

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