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
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.
private roadways--a variance from the Zoning Ordinance requiring 30-foot
roadways--which would be maintained and plowed under the aegis of a property
stormwater drains in all yards, collecting runoff and flowing it to a
metered detention pond at the center of the PUD.
demographic: professionals, empty-nesters, folks looking to downsize,
seniors interested in owning a maintenance-free home.
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
“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.
One person spoke in
favor of the PUD: Tony Vendramin, a local real estate developer who also
identified himself as Nekus’ friend.
planners that Nekus’ PUD would appeal to an older, quieter, stable
demographic, with more disposable income to spend at local restaurants and
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.
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.”
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
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.
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