Chesterton Tribune



Primrose Circle, Richter Street residents blast proposed PUD

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The residents of the Westchester South subdivision--especially those who live on Primrose Circle--have always known that, one day, the property immediately east of their neighborhood, behind the Chesterton Post Office, could be developed.

So it’s not the development per se of the 11.28 acres that has them concerned. It’s the density of the proposed planned unit development, the traffic patterns and hazards which they feel the PUD will likely create, and the impact which it might have on stormwater runoff.

During a public hearing at Thursday night’s meeting of the Chesterton Plan Commission, a roomful of Westchester South residents made their feelings about the PUD abundantly clear.

Planners took no action on Thursday except to vote unanimously to continue the hearing to their next meeting, Thursday, Jan. 17.

Begin with the details of the PUD, as John Nekus, the property owner, and his attorney, Greg Babcock, explained them.

* A total of 62 paired patio homes and three single-family “cottage homes.” Ranch-style 1,700-square foot models in the $220,000 to $235,000 price point; duplex-style 2,800-square foot models in the $275,000 to $320,000 price point. The average assessed valuation of the seven homes in Westchester South immediately west of the PUD, according to Babcock: $220,000.

* Primary access to the PUD from South Calumet Road, immediately south of the Post Office; with secondary access from Richter Road, immediately east of South Second Street.

* Internal private five-foot sidewalks and a walking trail.

* No public sidewalk on Richter Street but Nekus would make over to the town a sum of money equivalent to the linear length cost of a five-foot sidewalk, at such time as the town constructs an eight-foot sidewalk in front of the Post Office as part of the Dunes-Kankakee Trail.

* Twenty-foot private roadways--a variance from the Zoning Ordinance requiring 30-foot roadways--which would be maintained and plowed under the aegis of a property owners association.

* Rear-yard stormwater drains in all yards, collecting runoff and flowing it to a metered detention pond at the center of the PUD.

* Target demographic: professionals, empty-nesters, folks looking to downsize, seniors interested in owning a maintenance-free home.

Nekus emphasized that the property, which he purchased in 1998, is currently zoned B-3, and that over the years he’s been approached by a variety of interests eyeing the site for its permitted uses: boat sales, mobile home sales, major auto repair.

“But I didn’t want to do that,” Nekus said. Instead, he noted that originally he wanted to develop a retirement village with “smaller homes” in “scattered housing.” Under the Zoning Ordiance, however, a retirement village along the lines he was envisioning would have to be developed as a single multi-story structure along the lines of StoryPoint on Dickinson Road. “We could have done that, without any zoning issues.”

But Nekus wasn’t keen on that sort of thing either. So he plumped for the PUD under consideration on Thursday. “What I tried to do is come up with transitional zoning, recognizing that B-3 is not in the best interests of that location and in particular with the surrounding neighbors,” something “in harmony with what I think is the character of the neighborhood surrounding it.”

“The last thing I want to do is put something in that will make the neighbors want to shoot me in the back,” Nekus added.

For the record, Nekus’ IT consultancy was retained by the Chesterton Redevelopment Commission in 2016--under a not-to-exceed $30,000 contract--to shepherd the town through the process of getting a fiber optic network up and running.

Public Comment

One person spoke in favor of the PUD: Tony Vendramin, a local real estate developer who also identified himself as Nekus’ friend.

Vendramin told planners that Nekus’ PUD would appeal to an older, quieter, stable demographic, with more disposable income to spend at local restaurants and businesses.

Nekus “is a friend of mine,” Vendramin said. “He’s extremely meticulous. And it’s a very nice product for an in-fill.”

Eight persons spoke against the PUD, led by Jim Jeselnick, the former owner of Nekus’ property and the developer of the Venturi business park located immediately south of it, on the other side of the Pope O’Connor Ditch. Jeselnick is also a resident of Westchester South, with a home on Primrose Circle.

Jeselnick raised three main issues: the safety of the access roads off South Calumet Road and Richter Street; the overall density of the PUD, which features 109 variances for the 65 home sites; and the reduction of the standard width of the internal private roadways from the 30 feet required under the Zoning Ordinance to 25 feet.

At issue on South Calumet Road, Jeselnick said, is the absence of a true southbound deceleration lane leading into the PUD south of the Post Office. The proximity, on the other hand, of the entrance/exit off Richter Street to South Second Street “could create a very frustrating experience for drivers wanting to enter or to exit.”

The proposed density of the PUD concerns Jeselnick too, particularly, he said, because the homes would be built on smaller lots with “minimum rear-yard setbacks,” which “could cause serious drainage issues” on Richter Street and Primrose Circle.

And the narrower than standard roadways inside the PUD would “not allow for two vehicles to pass if there is a parked car on the roadway,” Jeselnick said. “How will a large garbage truck, an ambulance, a fire truck, or a school bus maneuver through the proposed subdivision?”

Linda Vogt, a resident of Richter Street, voiced her disappointment that no sidewalk would be built along Richter and her fears that homes built very nearly up to the roadway to the south will create stormwater issues. Jason Witherspoon, also a resident of Richter Street, made this plea: “Don’t flood me out.”

Kelly Clark, on the other hand, is troubled by the “sheer number of variances” in the PUD ordinance. “To have this many variances shows flagrant disrespect for the Town of Chesterton and our ordinances,” she said. “Or it shows a clear lack of planning. Or it shows someone’s trying to pull a fast one.”

Bill Bowen, for his part, is not happy with the small lots. “I see (Nekus) as a businessman who’s trying to cram as much as he can in there,” he said.

And Tom Albano, while acknowledging that sooner or later something is going to be built on the site--which backs up to his house on Primrose Circle--spoke of the density of the PUD. “We’re not against your putting something back there, seriously we’re not,” he said. “But you’re going to shoe-horn that many properties into that little space.”

“You got to take the greed out of it,” Albano added.


In the end Babcock and Nekus asked planners to continue the hearing to their next meeting, so that some scrivener’s changes can be made to the planning documents. Planners voted unanimously to continue.

Only two planners had anything to say about the PUD. Jim Kowalski--himself a resident of Westchester South--signaled that, so far as he’s concerned, his decision will be a difficult one to make. “I can understand where you people are coming from,” he said. “But this is zoned B-3. Nobody would be happy with a trailer company there. And (Nekus) wants to do something with this property after 20 years.”

Still, it’s not the development itself folks are worried about,” Kowalski observed. “They’re concerned with the density, trying to put 10 pounds of potatoes in a five-pound bag. Mr. Nekus, maybe you’ve got to sharpen your pencil a bit when you come back next month, be creative, make it easier for the board.”

Kowalski did take a moment to suggest that Jeselnick himself, when developing the Venture business park 20 years ago, is partially to blame for the traffic issue on South Calumet Road, by failing to build a connector road to the site to the north. Such a road would have allowed future residents of Nekus’ PUD to access their homes off Calumet Road through Venturi.

Planner Jeff Trout, one of Jeselnick’s partners in the Venturi project, did not directly address Kowalski’s comment but did say that Venturi “has been a good addition to the community.” Meanwhile, he suggested that, to his way of thinking, Nekus’ PUD would make “a good transition” to the single-family homes in Westchester South. “I don’t see how this would hurt anybody’s property values,” he said.

Trout also indicated that the rear-yard drains, particularly those along Richter Street, could go a long way to drying up that neighborhood, by directing that runoff south into the PUD’s detention pond. “There’s a good chance this will improve drainage. There’ll be less water shedding to the north and west.”



Posted 12/21/2019




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