Chesterton Tribune

County planners advance new rules on property maintenance, compost sites

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

The county could be getting new regulations on stormwater standards, property maintenance, LED signage and commercial composting sites as all four subjects met favorable review by the plan commission on Wednesday.

The board since November has been screening plans to amend the county’s Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) and passing them to the county commissioners who have final word over changes to the ordinance.

Suggestions made at the January meeting by county planners Sylvia Graham and Herb Read regarding the stormwater amendments are now included in the latest draft by plan commission staff and consultants DLZ Indiana.

Read along with Graham had requested the amendments include language stating that a developer would not be allowed to drain water on to a neighboring property without permission. The proposed measure would also call for the developer to reduce runoff by 20 percent.

“It’s a special protection for residents in Porter County and we’ve had instances where this was done,” said Read.

More items brought into the amendments stemming from other suggestions made by county planners include definitions of elevation and grading, requirements for retention ponds and recognition of natural areas and wetlands.

The amendments would pertain primarily to smaller developments and minor subdivisions which before had to be heard by county Board of Zoning Appeals to get a variance.

County planner and Surveyor Kevin Breitzke advocated the county watch out for developers who could fill in bioswales or place blockage in drainage ways. He also recommended the county update its topographical maps every five to ten years to show evidence of where the landscape is changing.

“Every time we amend these, it’s a positive thing,” Breitzke said.

Board President and County Commissioner Nancy Adams thanked her peers for the suggestions. “We’re always going to have drainage problems but we need to take this first step,” she said.

The board also favored 7-0 a measure giving more leverage to the plan commission in enforcing property maintenance in hazardous areas.

“It’s giving us a hammer to go out and enforce these (requirements),” said Bob Thompson, executive director of the count plan commission.

Bob Thompson said phone calls have been made to his office asking to check into neglected properties where things like “trees growing up through gutters” are seen. He said he hopes to establish a code of enforcement but in order to do so, the proper wording must be “without question” in the UDO.

County planner Richard Maxey said the measure should have “teeth” in the form of hefty fines so that the county can remove hazards for the protection of residents, especially children. He mentioned one property in Liberty Township east of the elementary school with a dangerous building that could be knocked over by a storm. He mentioned another property in the Town of Chesterton where it took more than a year for someone to remove a problem structure.

Board attorney Scott McClure said fines collected would go into the plan commission’s budget which is separate from the county’s General Fund. He said the goal ultimately would be to get more properties to comply with the commission. Many of them already do, he said, but there are those “one-percenters” who simply do not want to fix the issue regardless of any penal action against them.

Thompson said any board member who sees a property they think is hazardous should contact him.

Read said he had no hang-ups about the proposal as long as the staff employs a common sense approach, determining what objects are junk and whether it’s the fault of the property owner or trespassers dumping materials.

In a response to issues raised last year over the Duneland 28 commercial composting site in Union Twp., Thompson said the county attorney asked the plan commission to be proactive in setting its own regulation standards for future commercial compost sites.

Compost sites are required to follow regulations set statewide by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM). The agency will still control the facilities to a large degree but Thompson said it would be good for the county to have its own rules to refer to. Guidelines will require sites to include a management plan for controlling odors, setting hours of operation and creating an organic product available for the public to use.

A set of amendments was passed 7-0.

Commercial compost facilities in the county are permitted only in Industrial-zoned districts and would require a rezoning if developers wish to locate elsewhere.

In a fourth measure, Thompson brought back an amendment for billboard signage at the suggestion of the commissioners. The plan commission in November favored the idea of allowing billboards with LED lights in an industrial-zoned area as long as the firm agrees to remove four regular billboards.

The amendment was brought back to include High-Intensity Commercial (CH) districts and to increase the signs to a maximum of 400 square-feet on divided highways like I-80/94. The UDO will ask that four panels are removed rather than the billboard structure.

The commission voted 7-0 once again on the measure and it will now go before the commissioners at a later date.

Thompson said there will be at least two more sets of amendments for planners to review. One will address landscaping issues while the other will have to do with inspections.

Adams said she believes much will be accomplished with the additions to the UDO and they will make the document easier to navigate. The changes will also help developments move more quickly through the planning process with guidance from a development review committee, she said.

 

Posted 2/9/2012