Chesterton Tribune



Nekus PUD hearing continued again; resident says Trout should recuse self

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The Chesterton Advisory Plan Commission split-voted at its meeting Thursday night to continue--for the third consecutive time--its public hearing on John Nekus’ proposed planned unit development, Duneland Prairie, on 11.28 acres located behind the Chesterton Post Office.

Meanwhile, two different residents who would be affected by the PUD took issue with planner Jeff Trout’s role in the proceedings.

First the continuance, requested by Nekus and his attorney, Greg Babcock, who notified the Plan Commission last week that they require more time to complete an amended design of the development. Nekus was in attendance at Thursday’s meeting but didn’t speak. Babcock--his flight home from Mexico delayed--was not.

Planners Tom Kopko, Fred Owens, Sharon Darnell, Nate Cobbs, and George Stone all voted to grant the continuance. Planner Jim Kowalski--who quite clearly told Nekus and Babcock at the commission’s January meeting to be prepared for the February meeting--voted against the motion. Planner Jeff Trout was not in attendance.

After the meeting Kowalski told the Chesterton Tribune that, although Nekus and Babcock have said that they’ve been in communication with Westchester South residents about the proposed PUD, they apparently haven’t reached out to other neighbors whom the development would likely impact: those who live on Richter Street, Creita Street, South Second Street, and Washington Ave. “What about the people on Richter?” he said. “What are they, chopped liver?”

Now in the matter of Jeff Trout, who at the January meeting read excerpts of a letter forwarded to the commission by Jim Jeselnick, who at the December meeting vociferously opposed the proposed PUD but later changed his mind after meeting “privately” with Nekus. In that letter Jeselnick stated that his previous concerns--about density, drainage, and the number of variances--were without merit.

On Thursday, Westchester South resident Tom Byrnes wanted to know why--with the public comment portion of the public hearing formally closed at the December meeting--Trout was able to read that letter into the record at the January meeting.

“I understand your concern,” Darnell said.

“I think that’s something to consider,” Kowalski concurred.

Associate Town Attorney Chuck Parkinson’s legal opinion: essentially, no harm, no foul. That’s because planners made no final decision on the PUD at the January meeting. Had they made such a decision, however, it would have been inappropriate for them to have based it in any way on Trout’s reading of Jeselnick’s letter inasmuch as it was not, and could not have been, part of the official record of the proceedings.

“That letter should not be part of the record of the public hearing, because the public comment portion of the hearing was not re-opened for it to be read,” Parkinson said. “That letter was not a proper part of the public comment portion of the public hearing. But it’s a moot point because the developer is changing the plan and the public comment portion will be re-opened.”

Planners agreed with Parkinson that--assuming Nekus and Babcock do in fact submit a revised plan of development in time for the March meeting--the public comment portion of the hearing will be re-opened at that time and that residents will have the opportunity to speak again on the matter.

Byrnes was followed on the floor by Linda Vogt, a resident of Richter Street. Vogt’s concern: that Trout’s prior business relationship with Nekus should disqualify him from voting on the PUD and that he should recuse himself.

The nature of that relationship: Trout and Jeselnick originally owned the property which Nekus is proposing to develop. That acreage was part of Trout and Jeselnick’s Venturi project but they opted not to develop the acreage and instead--in 1998--sold it to Nekus.

“I can’t imagine (Trout’s) making an unbiased decision,” Vogt said.

Planners did not respond to Vogt’s comment.


In other business, planners split-voted 5-1 to approve an amended primary plat for the Springdale PUD, located south of 1050N and immediately west of the Abercrombie Woods subdivision.

The primary plat for Springdale--a mixed use residential and commercial project--was originally approved in 2008 but the developer never sought secondary plat approval. Eleven years later, the time frame for construction under the original PUD has closed and Olthof Homes LLC was required to seek primary plat approval all over again.

But, as Town Engineer Mark O’Dell told the Tribune, there are in any case multiple, if minor, amendments in the original primary plat, concerning for example lot sizes and setbacks.

Voting against approval was Kopko, who said after the meeting that he has always opposed the specific location of Springdale’s detention pond: on the acreage set aside for commercial. That location significantly reduces the amount of property available for commercial development in the PUD.

“The town doesn’t have enough commercial property as it is,” Kopko said.

Double Hotel

Finally, planners voted unanimously to continue to their March meeting consideration of secondary plat for the double hotel project at Coffee Creek Center, located immediately north of the Culver’s restaurant.

At issue, O’Dell told the commission: the developers, two different entities of the Amerilodge Group; the hotel companies themselves, Fairfield Inn & Suites and Holiday Inn Express; and the property owner, Lake Erie Land Company, are still working on a landscaping plan for the project.

Parkinson told planners that if a landscaping plan isn’t submitted in time for the March meeting, they can take the matter off the agenda.

No one representing Amerilodge was in attendance on Thursday.



Posted 2/22/2019




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