By PAULENE POPARAD
What a difference a half mile makes.
Rejected in 2006 following stiff remonstrance to a site just west of State
Road 49, radio station WBEZ coasted past the Porter Plan Commission Wednesday
winning a favorable recommendation to erect a 595-foot FM transmission tower
There was support from town staff and the public but no opponents to WBEZ
Alliance Inc.’s plan to locate the tower on 5 of 21 acres it would purchase
on the east side of State Road 49, now the abandoned Andershock’s Fruitland
at Tremont Road.
With more than half the industrial/commercial land to be offered by WBEZ for
sale and development, the project was hailed as an economic development
stimulus for the U.S. 20 corridor, however, uses such as cartage, fuel
storage, fireworks, truck stops and additional towers would be prohibited.
Key commitments in the 7-0 commission vote advancing the planned unit
development (PUD) petition to the Porter Town Council was WBEZ’s intent to
demolish the derelict farmstand buildings and loading docks on the site and
fill and seed the area, and to drop a pending lawsuit it filed against the
town’s Board of Zoning Appeals stemming from the 2006 denial of a proposed
Chicago-based WBEZ also would provide and install a moveable, web-based
weather camera at 500 feet on the new tower that could be used for public
safety and tourism promotions; WBEZ president Torey Malatia said Porter would
have primary control over the camera’s use and could designate secondary
users if desired.
Porter town departments also could locate a free antenna on the WBEZ tower to
improve radio communications. Omitted this time was WBEZ’s 2006 offer to
provide equipment and tower space for the town to operate its own WiFi
wireless network for residents.
Added Thursday to the PUD ordinance was WBEZ’s pledge to remove its antenna
equipment, a planned 20-foot by 30-foot concrete building, other structures
and fencing, and to restore the premises in the event the tower is abandoned
for lack of use for nine continuous months.
Plan Commission member Jim Eriksson asked why WBEZ stopped short of agreeing
to remove truckloads of apparent construction debris dumped years ago on the
parcel’s south end; WBEZ proposes to grade, level, cover and seed the area
but a future purchaser of that lot would be responsible for debris removal
and environmental clean-up, if required.
Said Eriksson, “I was concerned about plowing it under if it’s contaminated.”
Local WBEZ attorney Greg Babcock said covering the debris is the most
expedient approach. A 1999 violation for the previous dumping was issued and
referred to the U.S. Justice Department but the file was subsequently
administratively closed. WBEZ has requested more information regarding the
file and its disposition, he added.
During a public hearing, Chesterton resident and Porter property owner
Emerson DeLaney, the closest residential landowner, stated, “I believe this
would be a good economic engine for the Town of Porter and Route 20
development. It would rid an eyesore I see, you see, we all see every day,”
referring to Andershock’s.
DeLaney asked how many actually notice the nearby more than 400-foot Indiana
State Police tower. Although it wasn’t addressed last night, DeLaney also
said engineering evidence presented in 2006 satisfied any concern he had
whether the WBEZ tower would present a danger if a collapse occurs. A
consultant said by design it would fold in on itself.
Jay Gottleber of Coldwell Banker Commercial, who represents the current
property owner the Maronos family of Chicago, said they want to sell all 21
Andershock acres to one buyer and if it’s not WBEZ, the land likely will sit
for a few more years.
Jennifer Klug agreed the WBEZ proposal including site clean-up and the
weather camera is good, and that covering the dumped debris may be adequate
at this time.
Babcock said Lake Erie Land, which owns both the mostly vacant Munson Place
commercial/industrial park adjacent to Andershock’s on the west as well as
the former Dickey farm on the east side of Tremont Road, submitted a letter
in support of the WBEZ PUD. The Porter County Convention, Recreation and
Visitor Commssion also endorsed the petition by letter.
Plan Commission member Ken Timm asked about future road cuts onto Tremont.
Babcock said the south lot has its own driveway access onto Tremont, and
there are two road cuts onto U.S. 20 for the north lot although those
potentially could change. If any future landowners off U.S. 20 require
semi-trucks, an interior road system could be built to serve them avoiding
Babcock noted that development of the three non-tower parcels would be
regulated by the town and those lots could be further subdivided per town
code unless variances are requested. The attorney also emphasized that the
WBEZ tower will be closely regulated by federal communications and aviation
Cultural boost promised
Malatia said the reason the tower is needed is to boost the signal of its
WBEZ-owned 89.5 FM WBEW, now broadcasting from a low-power transmitter in
Michigan City. The station has a Chesterton bureau and studio since 2006, but
WBEZ wants to expand programming here and become a regional resource for up
to 2.5 million listeners.
During public comment Chesterton resident Heather Augustyn said, “I am a
(National Public Radio) junkie and it could be a real honor to have this
programming in our community. This is a rich, cultural, artistic tourist
destination and it’s a win/win situation for the radio station and the town.”
Malatia said the Federal Communications Commission gave WBEZ a narrow
geographical slice of territory within which to erect a new tower that boosts
WBEW’s signal without harming existing ones. The Andershock parcel is a good,
viable FCC site, said Babcock, and would afford WBEZ the opportunity for
income from an undetermined number of antenna tenants that wish to co-locate
on its tower.
Town planner Jim Mandon praised the strong redevelopment aspect of the WBEZ
PUD, which would specify Industrial-1 zoning on most of the parcel and
Business-3 along U.S. 20. Mandon said town staff considered the guyed lattice
tower, which Babcock said would be 600 feet off U.S. 20 and 420 feet away
from Tremont Road, to be an ancillary use to the proposed business park,
which is consistent with Porter’s master plan.
Mandon also said the park, dubbed Tremont Place, would create jobs, increase
Porter’s assessed valuation and be a magnet for more of the same. “That kind
of good development is contagious because other people want to be in the same
Babcock told the commission that future end users, not WBEZ, would be
required to extend sewer and water lines and upgrade town lift stations as
needed for their individual sites. He also said the tower would pose no
adverse effect for its neighbors, have bird deflectors and the least
obtrusive lighting package with a white daylight strobe and intermittent
on/off red light at night.
The commission’s specific motion forwarded a favorable recommendation subject
to the final drafting of the PUD documents between the parties with no major
changes; those would return to the commission for reconsideration.
BZA, Plan reorganize
Meeting briefly Wednesday as its only business, the BZA elected Bruce Snyder
president and Lorain Bell vice-president. The Plan Commission welcomed new
members Dave Babcock and Michele Bollinger, both Town Council members, and
elected Bell president and Timm vice-president. All votes were unanimous, and
both boards recommended that the Town Council reappoint Kara Mitchell as
their respective secretary.