Chesterton Tribune                                                                                   Adv.

Comprehensive plan hearing likely in March; downtown overlay plan delayed

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By PAULENE POPARAD

It was agreed Thursday that specific details regarding new zoning requirements for the three areas that comprise Chesterton’s downtown will be contained in a separate document apart from the comprehensive plan.

The town’s Advisory Plan Commission voted 7-0 directing zoning consultant SEH Inc. to pull out the downtown overlay language so the ongoing comprehensive-plan update won’t get bogged down.

As tentatively scheduled a final draft of the revised comprehensive plan will be reviewed by the commission in February and a public hearing conducted in March. Final adoption is up to the Town Council.

Commission member George Stone recommended bifurcating the work, suggesting that Burns Harbor last year adopted its downtown district plan as a separate document and so could Chesterton.

Fred Owens, re-elected as 2010 commission president, said that approach makes more sense. Sig Niepokoj was retained as vice-president.

Among the points to be addressed in Chesterton’s downtown overlay are building massing and height, building facades, awnings, signage, street plantings, lighting, seating, sidewalks, private pathways, streetscape/landscaping and parking.

Chesterton’s three designated downtown districts will share some common goals and regulation yet be treated as individual areas with unique needs and opportunities. They are the Central Business District bounded by Grant Avenue, Coffee Creek Park, Porter Avenue and 4th Street; the North Calumet Road corridor between Indian Boundary Road and Grant Avenue; and the West Broadway corridor between 5th Street and 15th Street.

To streetscape or not

An approximately $720,000 stormwater/sanitary sewer separation and replacement project is expected to close in phases South Calumet Road from the Norfolk Southern Railroad crossing north of Broadway to West Indiana Avenue for about two months this spring.

Town officials have stressed they will work with local businesses to maintain access to the extent possible, and it’s hoped the project can be completed by the Memorial Day start of the summer tourist season.

Stone said it’s logical that when the road is replaced downtown, streetscape improvements recommended in the new downtown overlay are built. Town engineer Mark O’Dell said doing so could add weeks to the fast-track sewer project, and how the streetscape improvements would be funded hasn’t been determined.

Commission member Jeff Trout said business owners would gain more from the streetscape improvements and aesthetic enhancements, but O’Dell said dragging out the project as now planned could temporarily make things worse. A second, later phase to do streetscape upgrades could follow the initial sewer project, he noted.

O’Dell assured that central-district business owners will be consulted and kept informed of the status of the sewer replacement, and what to expect when it occurs.

Sign amendments coming

The commission directed its attorney, Charles Parkinson, to prepare a draft of proposed sign-ordinance changes discussed at length Thursday.

The revision was prompted by a request from a group of local business owners represented by Heather Ennis, executive director of the Chesterton/Duneland Chamber of Commerce. She asked and the commission concurred that the sign changes would be uniform across the board for all businesses.

Specifically, the commission favored blade signage perpendicular to a building facade but reduced the sign size Ennis’ group requested. Members also decided not to allow business wayfinding signs in the public right-of-way fearing roadsides would become too busy, and they supported making more clear the current language that allows sandwich-board sidewalk signs.

Rejected was the request to nearly double the amount of signage allowed for businesses.

While many owners would be responsible, “The propensity for abuse on this is too great,” said Owens. Commission member Emerson DeLaney suggested giving the blade and sandwich-board signs a year or two to prove their worth.

Ennis said there’s confusion now why decorating the inside surface of a business window sometimes can be interpreted as a sign itself, and why changing only the name on an existing sign isn’t automatically allowed.

Commission member Jeff Trout said if the message on a billboard can be changed, so should the name on an existing business sign without having to obtain a building permit.

Parkinson said the solution might be to better define what constitutes a sign and a sign structure.

Owens also serves on the town Board of Zoning Appeals that hears individual requests to waive or change terms of the sign ordinance. Ennis said her group brought their recommendations because the majority of BZA variance petitions have been for business signs, and the majority were approved.

Owens said by not accepting all the business group’s suggested changes, “We’re not restricting anything. The BZA hears all comers on signs.”

It would be up to the Town Council to make the final decision on the sign-ordinance amendments after the commission conducts a public hearing and makes a recommendation.

Welcomed Thursday to the Plan Commission was new member Jeff Ton.

 

Posted 1/22/2010

 

 

 

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