Chesterton Tribune

 

 

Porter Town Council unanimously approves waterpark PUD

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By LILY REX

The Porter Town Council last night unanimously approved a planned unit development (PUD) for a proposed apartment complex at the site of the old Splash Down Dunes waterpark at the northeast corner of Waverly Road and U.S. 20.

Despite nonstop opposition from an impassioned group of residents, many of whom have followed the proposal from the beginning, the Town Council members each said they thought the proposed development will turn out to be a boon for the Town.

There was standing room only at the Porter Town Hall for the meeting. The crowd erupted in frustrated murmurs and even shouting following the vote. Many in the audience sighed and scoffed, and some repeatedly yelled phrases such as “You don’t represent us” or “Shame on you.”

Chicago-based Weiss Entities, the developer who built Lakes of Valparaiso, has proposed an apartment complex it says will feature approximately 318 high-end dwellings in six buildings and amenities to include a dog run, clubhouse, and pool. Weiss plans to build the development in two phases and has made plans to address the long-standing stormwater issues on the site, according to their staff.

The proposal has garnered criticism from residents who say an influx of renters would put an undue strain on municipal services, increase crime, and negatively change the character of the Town. Residents have also complained that the proposed development is too dense, will worsen existing stormwater and traffic problems in the area, and won’t live up to the promises of high quality.

Council member Erik Wagner made the motion to approve the PUD ordinance. He said he’s acting in the best interest of the Town he loves. “I’ve lived in this town for my entire life. I ran for office because I love this town so much. I would never vote in a way that I thought would hurt the people,” Wagner said.

Council member David Phillips, who lives close to the proposed development, said he appreciated the public input on the project, though he said it’s also easier to participate when things are contentious. “I think this could be a very good thing for us, and I live on Waverly. If anyone’s going to be affected by this, I will be too, and I know the issues out there,” Phillips said.

Member Brian Finley said tax revenue from the development could help the Town fund fixes for infrastructure issues that contribute to the traffic and drainage problems residents have brought up: “Infrastructure needs money.”

Council Vice-president Bill Lopez, who seconded Wagner’s motion, said the Council members have all put a lot of time and thought into their stances on the issue.

Council President Greg Stinson began by addressing rumors that have spread, not without the help of a flyer that was put in Porter residents’ mailboxes, that says “Preserve Our Quality of Life” at the top and makes about a dozen nonfactual or misleading claims about the project. Stinson spent significant time refuting the claims, highlighting the fact that if the new apartments hit full occupancy, the influx of residents would increase the Town population by only 12 percent, and residents’ taxes will not increase because of the new apartment dwellers.

Stinson’s final issue was with the flyer’s statement that Porter elected officials have “routinely dismissed the concerns of Porter citizens,” despite the fact that the Town Council has accepted hours of public comment on the development beyond the one public hearing required by State law.

Stinson said the Council and Town employees have done their due diligence on the project and listened to resident concerns, which have all been addressed by the Weiss. “Clearly I understand you’re not happy with me, but I’m not dismissing you. I just happen to disagree. I’ve taken your concerns. I’ve studied them and analyzed them. Disagreeing is not dismissing,” he said.

10 people spoke against the proposal, two of whom got up to speak twice. One person asked questions about the clean-up that is underway on the site, which is being done by the current owner, White Stallion, LLC, in anticipation of sale.

Larry Starett asked how many residents each Council member has spoken to in their respective districts about the development; none were able to approximate a number. “It sounds to me like you’re not representing the people in your wards, you are representing yourselves, and frankly, it’s why we don’t believe a lot of the stuff that comes out of this Board,” Starett said.

“I think one of the biggest things everyone has a problem with is apartments usually bring crime and property values go down,” Kyle Wimmer said. Stinson replied that context and environment matter in studies about crime in high-density housing (one of which was referenced on the flyer) and had said earlier in the meeting that he conducted such studies as a research fellow at University of Chicago. Wimmer responded, “You can make your fake studies look the way you want.”

Rob Pieters said Porter should seek more businesses, per language in its own Master Plan. “Our town plan says we are under-retailed in this Town. We don’t even have anywhere to buy socks in this Town without driving to Michigan City or Valparaiso,” Pieters said. “We don’t even have a grocery store. We go to Chesterton.”

Pieters continued, saying the parcel could become more marketable and suitable for retail following the new National Park designation at the Dunes and the future South Shore Line double-tracking project. “I think it would be shortsighted to rezone the one large remaining marketable piece of B-3 [general business zoning type] land in this town.”

Stinson, for his part, said the there’s been little business interest in the parcel and businesses follow populations that can sustain them. “This will be attractive residential. It will hopefully create an anchor so the rest of that corridor will be more attractive in the long run,” he said.

Earlier, one of the first people to speak was Plan Commission President Jim Eriksson, who looked around the packed room and said that in his 20 years of serving the Porter Plan Commission, he’d never seen “99 percent of these people before” at meetings.

“You don’t understand what this Board has to do. Now I’m not sticking up for the Board, I’m just telling the facts,” Eriksson said. “I had a sick wife for 12 years, I run a business, but we can’t find anybody for boards because they don’t have time. So if you really care about this Town, get involved.”

As it happens, Stinson said there would be an opportunity for interested residents get involved, as the Town is forming a three-person economic development commission that will hold public meetings and research and make recommendations about whether future developments in Town should receive tax abatements. The three people will all be citizens--they cannot be elected officials or Town employees, per State law. The only requirements to apply are that applicants are residents of Porter over 18. One member of the commission will be appointed by Stinson, one by the Council as a while, and one by the County Council. Those interested are asked to submit a letter of interest to Clerk-treasurer Carol Pomeroy no later than end of business Tuesday, Feb. 4. Letters can be emailed to cpomeroy@townofporter.com or mailed/hand-delivered to the Town Hall, 303 Franklin Street, Porter.

Stinson had earlier mentioned that he would be announcing an opportunity to be part of the economic development commission, but by the time he gave the details on how to apply, the majority of people had left the building.

 

 

Posted 1/29/2020

 
 
 
 

 

 

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