Chesterton Tribune

Rethinking 2002 vision: NiSource answers town's questions on LEL's future

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By PAULENE POPARAD

“If you walked in my shoes, see what I saw, it wasn’t fun,” Denise Starkey told the Chesterton Advisory Plan Commission on Thursday.

As assistant general counsel in NiSource’s Ohio legal department, she’s had to help pick up the pieces after a 2006 joint partnership with Illinois developer James Gierczyk and NiSource Development Co.’s wholly owned Lake Erie Land ended in Gierczyk transferring land back to LEL in lieu of foreclosure in 2010.

The partnership was intended to jump-start development at the sprawling Coffee Creek Center, approved a decade ago with much fanfare as a retro-urban live/work/play environment; instead, much of it sits idle and aging today at Chesterton’s Indiana 49 south gateway.

Commission and Town Council member Emerson DeLaney said potholes and broken pavers line the project’s streets with replacement pavers on-site yet sitting unused for eight months. “The sense of urgency on your part is not there,” he told Starkey.

While some of the developed areas like a small residential pocket, the Coffee Creek watershed preserve/pavilion and a medical campus are assets to the town, DeLaney continued, its officials can’t overlook what’s left undone.

Finally, after commission and council members publicly have questioned the status of Coffee Creek Center for months --- and according to DeLaney with some feedback that he’s being too tough on LEL --- Starkey provided some answers.

She said there’s a contract to repair the bricks but questions have arisen whether pavers are the best long-term solution. They originally were chosen, she noted, because of the proximity of the sensitive creek watershed as a way to reduce pollution and slow stormwater.

DeLaney said it was made clear when Coffee Creek Center was approved that the town “would never, ever accept responsibility for the bricks.”

Starkey said they’re addressing the lack of a certificate of insurance for the development that must be on file, and as for an original commitment that 17 acres of park land be given to Chesterton, she said there may be an opportunity to swap land elsewhere.

"We are really, actively looking into these things,” she assured.

Starkey noted that LEL needs to rethink its own goals, and those of Chesterton’s new comprehensive plan, because there’s no point in LEL trying to market an outdated 2002 vision for Coffee Creek Center.

DeLaney said the site puts LEL in a good position as a developer; it’s located at an Indiana Toll Road interchange and near the new Porter Hospital slated for 2012 occupancy.

In other business, the commission set an Oct. 20 public hearing for Cosmos Hospitality Services LLC, which is seeking zoning approvals needed to bring an 80-room Holiday Inn Express & Suites to Indian Oak Mall on the south side of Indian Boundary Road west of Indiana 49.

Commission members said they only received copies of the proposed ordinance related to the approvals last night, so the public hearing may be continued if too many questions are outstanding.

Members did indicate concern Thursday over preserving access to land for future development south of the Holiday Inn parcel; how traffic will be directed to the hotel past Walgreen’s to the east, then south; and why a 69 foot-tall sign is proposed when the Valparaiso Holiday Inn has a much-lower monument sign.

Attorney Greg Babcock, representing Cosmos, said his client is somewhat at a disadvantage in trying to make changes at Indian Oak Mall because it was the town’s first planned unit development and documentation from that time is far less than is required for PUDs today.

The Chesterton Town Council, not the Plan Commission, will make the final determination whether the proposed PUD amendment will be approved.

Posted 9/16/2011