John Nekus returned
to the Chesterton Plan Commission Thursday night with a sharper pencil, but
in the end it wasn’t sharp enough to ease planners’ concerns about the
density of his proposed planned unit development and its possible impact on
the Primrose Circle and Richter Street neighborhoods.
Planners voted 5-2
to forward the PUD to the Town Council with an unfavorable recommendation.
Voting against the PUD were Tom Kopko, Fred Owens, Sharon Darnell, Jim
Kowalski, and Nate Cobbs. Voting in favor of it were George Stone and Jeff
The PUD ordinance
will now go to the Town Council for final action.
The meeting began
with members’ unanimous vote to re-open the public comment portion of the
public hearing, which was formally closed in December. Nekus’ attorney, Greg
Babcock, then walked the commission through an amended plan of development,
under which Nekus had reduced the total number of living units to 62, from
the 71 presented in December: 58 paired patio homes, down from 68; and four
single-family “cottage” homes, up from three.
Also: the rear-yard
setbacks for the four lots on the west edge of the PUD, bordering Primrose
Circle, were increased to 25 feet, per the Zoning Ordinance for R-2
districts; the front-yard setbacks for all lots were increased to 25 feet,
also per the Zoning Ordinance; and the total number of variances for all
lots was reduced by 16 percent.
calculation, the resulting density of the proposed PUD--62 living units on
11.82 acres--would be .190 units per acre, comparable to the .184 units per
acre for the Pere Marquette Cottages project, the .190 units per acre at the
Touch of Green, and the .197 units per acre for the Village Green Townhomes
at Coffee Creek.
Members then opened
the floor to comments from the public. Two persons spoke in favor of the PUD.
Joe Troop, who resides on North Brummitt Road, said, “I think it’s a good
idea. It fits the mold for me personally.” Rob Carstens, who resides on East
Oakhill Road, concurred. “This is what I’ve been looking for. Less
maintenance. You don’t see a lot of property like this.”
Six persons, all
residents of Primrose Circle or Richter Street, spoke against the PUD. Kelly
Clark began by reading in its entirety the text of her Voice of the People
published in a form edited for length in the Tuesday, March 19, edition of
the Chesterton Tribune. “Mr. Nekus made an investment,” Clark stated.
“He sat on it. If he chooses to flaunt accepted ordinances it’s not our
responsibility to allow his development. He made a bad investment under the
impression it was going to be pushed through. That is his fate.”
Tom Albano, for his
part, questioned the propriety of planner Jeff Trout’s sitting in judgment
of the PUD, inasmuch as he was one of the developers who originally sold the
property to Nekus 20 years ago. “Mr. Trout, no disrespect, but you were part
owner of that land,” Albano said. “Conflict of interest, that’s all we’re
suggested that Nekus’ amended plan of development didn’t go far enough. “I
didn’t really address the density,” he said. “You still got a major density
issue. You’re looking at a lot of traffic going down Richter Street and
Second Street. You’re talking about another (South) Calumet (Road).”
Linda Vogt, a
resident of Richter Street, acknowledged that Nekus has reached out to the
Primrose Circle residents over the last few months. “He met with people in
Westchester South,” she noted. “But there are six houses on Richter Street.
He never met anyone on Richter.”
Bonnie Thanos, who
resides on Washington Ave., similarly expressed concerns about the impact of
traffic generated by the PUD in her neighborhood. “The streets are narrow
and right now in bad repair. A hundred more cars will be traveling those
Tom Byrnes wanted
to know this: if the property were developed strictly according to the
Zoning Code, without variances, how many homes exactly would it support?
“What’s the break-even point you could have with all houses in code?” he
asked. “At what density level does it go out of code? Anyhow, stick to the
Krieter, who resides on Washington Ave., expressed unease about the
potential impact of the PUD on runoff in his neighborhood. “We can’t take
any more water on Washington Ave.,” he said. “It’s already a tough street
Members then closed
the public comment portion of the public hearing for discussion. Trout spoke
first, specifically on Albano’s accusation that his former ownership of the
property in question constitutes a conflict of interest. “There’s no need to
recuse myself because I have no financial interest” in the project, he said.
Attorney Chuck Parkinson agreed. For a recusal to be appropriate and
necessary, Trout would need to have either a direct financial interest in
the PUD or an indirect one, the latter being--for instance--a family member
with ties to it. “I take you at your word that you have no direct or
indirect financial interest,” Parkinson said. “I gather that if your
interest was 20 years ago, you have sufficiently severed all financial ties
with the petitioner.”
Trout premised his
support of the PUD on his belief that density per se is not a bad thing and
pointed, by way of example, to the Barrington Bridge Apartments directly
across the street from the Chesterton Post Office, to the Enclave Apartments
on Dickinson Road, and to the condo complex on South Fifth Street south of
Bailly Elementary School. “People don’t mind density,” he said. “If you
don’t like density, you don’t move into that kind of development.”
“I’m convinced in
my heart of hearts there’s not going to be an adverse effect,” Trout
concluded. “This is a small property but I think it’s a great in-fill
Stone noted that the PUD ordinance was enacted exactly with this sort of
property in mind: one with “unique issues” which prove challenging to its
development. “So all this talk about how the development should meet strict
code just doesn’t apply,” he said.
expressed doubt about the PUD’s likelihood for adversely affecting traffic
patterns or runoff. “I can’t imagine why anyone would use Richter” to exit
or enter the development when the South Calumet Road road cut would be so
much more easily accessed, he said. And the installation of rear-yard drains
on the west, east, and north boundaries of the PUD would almost certainly
improve drainage on Primrose Circle and Richter Street.
Stone added that
Nekus’ vision of empty-nesters finding a maintenance-free home in the PUD is
a good one. “I think it’s a unique contribution to the Town of Chesterton
and I support it,” he said.
Trout and Stone
were in the minority, however. Planner Jim Kowalski repeated the observation
he’s already made. “At the very beginning of the process I said ‘We have 10
pounds of manure in a five-pound bag.’ And I still feel that way.”
should sell themselves,” Kowalski said. “I’ve been talking about density and
lot coverage but no one’s listening to me. And I’m the one who has to vote
on it. I’ve always been a proponent of development. But I want it to be a
good development. Maybe we need to raise the bar. Maybe we need to step up
and hold developers to higher standards.”
“If it’s zoned B
and it can’t be developed B, then leave it be,” Kowalski ended his comments.
While planner Fred
Owens agreed with Stone that PUDs are intended for unique properties, he
also agreed with Kowalski about this one’s density. “I still do believe it
is too tight, too compact, and very dense,” he said. “It’s much more dense
than I would like it to be.”
Planner Tom Kopko
had this to say about paired patio homes. “There aren’t a lot of these units
yet in town but we have approved some,” he noted. “What’s our tipping point?
My concern is that we’re going to over-build these. Everyone wants to build
them and nobody wants to build a house. We’re a small town and I wonder what
our saturation point is.”
Planner Nate Cobbs
expressed some degree of satisfaction that Nekus had made an attempt to meet
remonstrators’ concerns. But he suggested that Nekus would need to go
further to secure his vote. “We’re getting closer,” Cobbs said. “It’s a heck
of a lot better than when we first saw it. But I have some concerns.”
Darnell, finally, called the project “wonderful” on paper but indicated that
in execution it remained lacking. “The close proximity and density and the
impact on these people’s lives, I don’t agree with that,” she said.
Trout made an
initial motion: to endorse the PUD and forward it to the Town Council with a
favorable recommendation. That vote failed 5-2: Kopko, Owens, Darnell,
Kowalski, and Cobbs all voting against it.
advice, members then voted on a motion to forward the PUD to the Town
Council with an unfavorable recommendation. That vote succeeded 5-2, along
the same lines.