Chesterton Tribune

Commissioners split to approve St. Andrews medical campus rezoning

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

A concern about the drainage around the area surrounding the proposed 109-acre Porter Medical Campus by St. Andrews Development prevented unanimous approval by the Porter County Commissioners for rezoning on the land.

Still, the commissioners ended up voting 2-1 in favor of the rezoning while meeting criticisms from nearly a dozen citizens during Tuesday afternoon’s commissioner meeting.

St. Andrews Developers and architect Christopher Lannert from the Lannert Group gave the commissioners an eyeful of maps and plans for a mixed-use medical campus that will feature medical office buildings along with retirement housing and assisted living facilities to the north and a commercial area to the south designated for restaurants and pharmacies.

The four residents with homes already on the parcel, which accumulates to about 10 acres, are also joining the rezoning petition.

While there were hardly any new arguments from either the developers or the neighbors since the Plan Commission recommended the rezoning 5-1 in November, the commissioners facilitated a nearly hour-long discussion about the future of the U.S. 6 corridor now that Porter hospital will reside on the northwest corner of the Ind. 49 intersection in unincorporated Liberty Twp.

Porter County Commissioner President John Evans, R-North, said the fact the hospital will exist at the site cannot be ignored. “It’s part of today’s thing,” he said.

Fellow commissioner Nancy Adams, R-Center, said she assumes that the remonstrating neighbors from Tanner Trace subdivision have been against the hospital, but felt the proposed campus development would adequately separate the existing homes from the 430,000 square-foot, 225-bed facility.

“I would rather be next to this than right next to the hospital,” said Adams.

A small number of residents however commented they are not upset over the hospital but almost all voiced their concern for traffic safety.

Tanner Trace resident Jane Walsh-Brown said the proposed “right-in, right-out” entrance off of U.S. 6 into the proposed commercial area is most likely the most potentially dangerous, saying that is where many accidents have already taken place where the highway constricts itself from four to two lanes.

“This is a very problematical area,” she said.

Walsh-Brown said that Tanner Trace residents would find it next to impossible to exit onto U.S. 6 due to westbound traffic. She suggested the developers change the “right-in, right-out” exit to be a developed as a right-in-only entrance and direct outgoing traffic through the commercial area to the existing Frontage Rd. that will serve as entrance to the hospital.

Fellow Tanner Trace residents also raised concerns about the entrance that would start from the west end of the property. The attorney representing St. Andrews, Todd Leeth, said since U.S. 6 is under the state’s jurisdiction, the Indiana Department of Transportation will be the agency directing the developers of where and how they can place the entrance.

Evans said he would still like to see INDOT expand U.S. 6 to four lanes from Ind. 149 near Portage to the Ind. 49 bypass as it has been proposed but never accomplished.

From the audience, Alan Hewitt of the Liberty Landowners Association questioned why county officials have not publicly stated that the county’s Unified Development Ordinance prevents the proposed zonings from being adjacent to the current zonings. He said attorneys have simply called the UDO “a guide” rather than a law and contested that the UDO is there to protect county land from the encroachment of incompatible uses.

On behalf of the Liberty Landowners, Hewitt asked that the commissioners reject the proposed rezonings of Moderate Commercial (CM), Office and Technology (OT) and Multiple-family Residential (R4) since the UDO does not discern the zonings as appropriate adjacent districts to the current Single-family Residential (R1).

Leeth said he would agree to the opinion that the UDO is a guide for officials and that it gives advice on anticipated uses.

Leeth said the change in zonings would not be appropriate if it weren’t for the hospital and that it would not be very good planning now if the developers decided to just build homes, believing the campus setting is the “perfect transition.”

With the area being a hotbed for potential development, Leeth told the commissioners the campus would expectedly cut some of the pressure off from other groups.

“Businesses are going to want to locate next to this development,” he said.

The developers will provide a 50-foot heavily wooded buffer in the central Office and Technology zoning and 40 feet among the rest.

Regarding traffic concerns, Leeth said with a restaurant and pharmacy located in the commercial district, people visiting the hospital will not have to exit on U.S. 6 to travel further elsewhere.

A written agreement was also made by the developers to restrict the districts for special uses. The R4 zone will cut out multi-family dwellings like apartments and keep just assisted living facilities and some agriculture. The Moderate Commercial will exclude gas stations, car part centers, and tattoo parlors among others.

Liberty Twp. resident Edwin Gutt resurfaced discussion about the potential impact the development would have on the Damon Run drain which flows in the northern section of the property. Gutt stressed the need to have a capacity study for the drain.

Gutt asked if the county would be fully responsible to pay funds for drainage problems that arise. He compared the scenario to the county’s current consideration of spending millions on fixing stormwater troubles in South Haven.

Leeth said any water that comes onto the property will be treated onsite. Lannert said he has designed a system of retention ponds on the low points of the property and bioswales to treat the water before it is discharged. The difference between the lowest and the highest points on the property is approximately 100 feet.

County Commissioner Carole Knoblock, D-South, inquired as to the state of other nearby subdivisions regarding any mishaps they’ve encountered with drainage and traffic. She voted against because she felt more information was needed on drainage surrounding the hospital.

Knoblock was also the sole naysayer when the commissioners approved the site for the hospital because she disagreed with building it on a wetland.

The rezoning is not official until the commissioners give second reading at the next meeting on Feb. 1. There will be no public hearing for second reading.

If approved, the developers would need to submit their stormwater plans to the drainage board and then to back to the Plan Commission with development plans, which would also need to be reviewed by the county’s independent engineering firm DLZ Indiana.

Responding to Hewitt’s question after the meeting, Evans told the Chesterton Tribune that the UDO is still a work-in-progress and things are continually being “tweaked.” The Indiana state code however does give county commissioners final say in rezoning matters.

 

 

 

 

 Posted 1/19/2011