Chesterton Tribune



Definition of retirement village at issue in Nekus post office concept

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Is John Nekus proposing to build, on the 11.28 acres located behind the Chesterton Post Office, a proper “retirement village” as defined by the Zoning Ordinance?

Or is he simply calling the project a retirement village in order to build multiple paired patio homes in a B-3 zone?

That’s the question on which Associate Town Attorney Chuck Parkinson and his colleagues at Harris Welsh & Lukmann will deliver an opinion, in the next week or so, to the Advisory Plan Commission.

At the Plan Commission’s meeting Thursday night, Nekus and his attorney, Greg Babcock, introduced Nekus’ concept for the “Duneland Prairie Retirement Village.” Nekus has filed no formal petition at this point, and likely will not do so until planners have received guidance from Harris Welsh & Lukmann. Instead, he and Babcock were simply interested in receiving feedback from planners.

Babcock opened his comments by saying that the retirement village concept represents a “substantial change” from the planned unit development ordinance which planners voted 5-2 earlier this year to forward to the Town Council with an unfavorable recommendation (the Town Council then voted unanimously to reject the PUD ordinance).

Those changes include the following:

--The concept provides for the construction of 42 residential units, in 21 paired patio homes, compared to the 62 units which Nekus was seeking to build in the original PUD.

--All roadways and sidewalks would be built to Town Standards and, dedicated to the town, would be public, not private, as the original PUD called for.

--The retirement village would be developed according to the requirements of the B-3 zone and there would be no need for “relief,” that is, for variances of any kind.

--A “community center” would be built for residents of the retirement village.

Babcock then read the Zoning Ordinance’s definition of “retirement village,” a permitted use in a B-3 zone: “A business venture for the establishment of a retirement village for senior citizens that will provide for the privacy of the individual residents in private dwelling units but also including such basic services as barber shops, beauty shops, gift shops, pharmacies, and a centralized kitchen and dining area.”

Further: “A retirement village must also meet all of the following criteria: (1) have a centralized kitchen and dining area to accommodate all occupants of the facility; (2) have a full-time staff member on site; (3) comply with all ADA requirements; (4) have a maximum of two persons per unit; and (5) at least one occupant of each unit must be at least 55 years of age.”

In a separate memo to Parkinson, received May 16, Nekus noted the following:

--The “entire community would be ‘maintenance-free’ living targeting active and healthy individuals 55 years of age or older where a homeowners associations (HOA) will be responsible for lawn care and the clearing of snow and ice from driveways and sidewalks.”

--A full-time staffer would be on site 40 hours per week. The Zoning Ordinance, Nekus stated in the memo, does not require a staffer to be “present at all times,” 24/7/365.

--The community building would feature a barber/beauty shop, a gift/convenience/coffee shop, the property management office, and a centralized kitchen and dining area. Nekus contends in his memo that the Zoning Ordinance’s definition of retirement village does not actually require the kitchen to provide “regular meal service.”


Babcock himself at Thursday’s meeting bluntly stated that department heads have already expressed “concerns about how we’re defining retirement village,” and planner George Stone appeared to have his own concerns as well, suggesting that Nekus is “trying to fit this into the B-3 zone” so as to avoid the PUD permitting process in which his original project foundered. “Inevitably,” Stone said, Nekus’s definition of a retirement village is a “nicety that will pass over the heads” of the Westchester South and Richter Street residents who remonstrated against the original PUD. “The subtlety of the zoning category is going to be the issue.”

Nekus, however, replied that his new concept adequately addressed the major objections voiced by the remonstrators earlier this year, by reducing the density by approximately a third, by building roadways to Town Standards, and by avoiding the need for variances.

“By reducing density, aren’t you pricing yourself out of your market,” Stone asked.

Nekus said that he isn’t. The price range will remain in the $250,000 to $325,000 range. “The fact that I lost a third of the units, guess what, my problem.”

But with fewer residents, won’t the HOA fee paid by each be significantly higher? Stone pressed.

“I don’t see it that way,” Nekus said. “Landscaping will be in a way where it will be natural and won’t require so much mowing. The (HOA) fee will be in line with competition. It will have to be.”

Planner Nate Cobbs, for his part, observed that there was one very significant objection which remonstrators made not addressed by Nekus’ concept: traffic in and out of the retirement village, which like the original PUD provides for a main entrance off South Calumet Road and a secondary one off Richter Street.

Planner Jeff Trout--one of the two on the commission who voted earlier this year to endorse the PUD--was blunt in his support of the retirement village concept as well. “Density seemed to be the biggest hang-up” the first time around, he said. “For some reason the factual information that there are several other successful developments in town of equal or greater density didn’t make any difference” to the remonstrators. But the retirement village, Trout observed would be one-third the density of the PUD.

Similarly, Nekus intends to build the retirement village’s roadways to Town Standards, “so that issue goes away.”

Nekus “certainly seems to have made a very good-faith effort to reduce density, get rid of variances, and build to Town Standards,” Trout concluded.


But is Nekus proposing to develop an actual retirement village, and not just a residential subdivision in a B-3 zone?

“There has been discussion in our office of how does this fit the definition (of retirement village) or how doesn’t it fit,” Parkinson told planners. “This is the question: does a B-3 zone allow for retirement village units to be separately sold? When you start to separately plat and sell lots, how can you maintain that as a comprehensive use?”

“I can tell you that we’re discussing this internally,” Parkinson said. “We have to generate an opinion. Because frankly this is outside the model, where you have individual lots sold. We need to come up with some kind of legal opinion in our office, so you know whether this is not within that definition. If it is, then all you have to do is the platting. If it does not, then there are other options.”

Parkinson told planners that a legal opinion would be rendered in the next week or 10 days, in plenty of time for their next meeting, Aug. 15. That opinion, in other words, will be in place at such time--whenever that might be--as Nekus formally files a petition and seeks a preliminary hearing on the retirement village. A public hearing would be scheduled after any preliminary hearing is conducted.



Posted 7/19/2019




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