Chesterton Tribune



Residents speak out against proposed storage unit development on Brown Ave

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Four residents of the Pere-Marquette subdivision spoke at last night’s Chesterton Board of Zoning Appeals meeting against the proposed expansion of a storage unit business on Brown Avenue.

Two additional residents wrote letters in opposition.

Richard Neal, represented by Attorney Greg Babcock, petitioned the BZA for permission to construct four additional principle structures on his 3.28-acre property at 100 Brown Avenue, zoned Light Industrial. The four proposed structures would contain 94 storage units. Neal also wants the front yard setback on two of the buildings reduced from 30 feet to 19 feet.

Neal said he has been in the storage business in Duneland for 15 years, and bought the property in question last year. He already has a 25,000 square foot building, where there are existing storage units, and tenants on the property who do other work permitted in industrial zones, varying from auto and furnace repair to a flooring store across Brown Avenue from George’s Gyros.

Neal said he’s been fixing up the inside of the buildings on the property over the winter and plans to put up to $3,000 toward improving the outside of the main building now that weather allows. Babcock pointed out that Neal cleaned up a lot of items that were left outside by the previous owner.

Babcock said stormwater from the site will drain into a swale on the northeast corner of the property, potentially though an underground piping system. “When the time comes, we’ll work with the town to keep water flowing in the right direction,” Babcock said.

Babcock emphasized that Town Code allows for this kind of development in Light Industrial zones where a company’s main office is on the property. If Neal had a main office in one of the buildings on the property in question, the four proposed buildings would be allowed because they would be considered accessory structures. The only reason Neal had to come before the BZA is because his main office is located on Wabash Avenue, according to Babcock.

The public hearing began with Pat Scott, who had multiple concerns with the proposed additions. First, Scott said she counted 94 storage units already on the property, and thinks doubling the number of units is excessive.

Scott also suggested a traffic impact study should be done on the areas because the Pere-Marquette subdivision becomes a target for people trying to beat the train line on Calumet Road, despite having no outlet, and parking can be an issue when there are events in the neighborhood, such as George’s pancake breakfasts. Finally, Scott said drainage is an issue for many homes in the subdivision, and this development could worsen the issues that she and her neighbors already have with occasional flooding.

“I’m afraid it’s really going to impact our value,” Scott continued. “No more industrial down there. There’s not enough room for it.”

Next up, Ken Wilkie said the condition of the property has attracted crime, and he and some of his neighbors have experienced thefts. Wilkie also said the property is unsightly, and he planted a line of trees in his yard so he wouldn’t have to see it. Wilkie said he was concerned about stormwater from the development affecting the drainage ditch on his property.

Michelle Lauer seconded the concerns about stormwater and traffic. “I also am very concerned about the value of my property, as well as the traffic. There is a lot of traffic in that area,” Lauer said.

Ashley Koney was also concerned the new development would worsen existing stormwater issues on her property.

Donna Cunningham and Christine Roberts also wrote letters in opposition, which Clerk-treasurer Stephanie Kuziela read aloud for the record. Cunningham and Roberts made similar points about being concerned for safety and property values in the neighborhood. They both said the development would add to already high saturation levels.

In rebuttal, Babcock said a storage unit business, where people come infrequently to remove or add items, doesn’t generate as much traffic as some other businesses that could operate in Light Industrial zones, such as beauty shops or bowling alleys. He added that there are no plans to construct additional road cuts or driveways onto the property and reiterated that Code allows this kind of development in Light Industrial zones.

As for stormwater, Babcock said he has talked to Town Engineer Mark O’Dell about containing the site’s water in the northeast corner. “We are not using the detention area that would be part of the residences,” Babcock said. “We’ll be having swales or underground water piping to take our water to our site. We’re not allowed to increase drainage, as a matter of fact we have to capture it and move it.”

Board President Richard Riley said the following conditions have been proposed for the petition, if it is approved: a final site plan and final engineering drawings must be approved by O’Dell and other relevant Town department heads, the petitioner must obtain all required state and local permits, no driveway cuts will be allowed, and the stormwater infrastructure for the proposed development must meet all Town standards, including MS4 standards.

Babcock had no objections to those conditions.

Board member Fred Owens asked Neal if he planned to fence the property. Neal said he had no plans to build a fence on the west side, where homes abut the site, because some of the homeowners there have fences or tree lines.

Neal said he does plan to fence the north and east sides of the property to help with security. He’ll be installing more lights on the property for the same reason.

Riley asked if Neal has certain hours of operation. Neal said he doesn’t, but he discourages people from visiting their storage units after dark by not providing internal lights in the units. Neal said most of his renters visit their units during daylight hours.

Owens, for his part, said the proposed buildings would be too close to the houses, with only 65 feet of clearance between. “My main concern is the location of the buildings in relation the houses. It’s very close. That’s one of my main concerns and my things that I can’t get over on this petition,” Owens said. “I think it’s too much, and a privacy fence isn’t going to convince me.”

Riley responded to renewed concerns from the homeowners in the audience about stormwater and density. “You have to recognize that there are many uses that can go in there. They can have noise, machinery. They can operate round-the-clock,” Riley said.

Riley also reminded the residents of what Babcock said, the case is only before the BZA because Neal’s main office isn’t on the Brown Avenue site. “When all is said and done, you’re getting a benefit from going through this process through here.”

“I know it’s a lot of units. I don’t think that it is an intense use where all the traffic comes at one time, and I think what he says about lights at night is probably true,” Riley said.

The residents said they feel the Town has let them down in the past, including with ongoing stormwater issues and complaints about the former owner of the Brown Avenue property that were never addressed. Riley responded that O’Dell has identified the water issues in the proposed development, and Neal would be required to abide by the Town’s conditions if his development is approved.

Riley and Board member Jim Kowalski pointed out that Chesterton didn’t have a Town Engineer when the Pere-Marquette subdivision was built around 2001. “We have no control over what’s been done in the past, but I can tell you that these issues now are getting far more attention than they ever have in the past,” Riley said, adding that that last thing the Town wants to do is create headaches.

The Board asked Babcock if Neal was willing to make any changes. Babcock said Neal is amendable to installing a combination of opaque fencing and trees on the west side of the site to create a buffer for the concerned property owners, and he plans to improve the property with landscaping. Babcock said Neal was also amendable to maintaining the required front yard setbacks by eliminating two units from the plan.

At the advice of Board Attorney Julie Paulson, the Board opted to continue the public hearing to its next meeting, April 25. “I think these conditions are significantly complex enough that we need to sit down separately so we’re not cobbling together something that nobody intended,” Paulson said.




Posted 4/1/2019




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