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Porter neighbors fight commercial rezoning; planners favor it 4-3


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An angry Bruce Niepokoj told members of the Porter Plan Commission that he and his neighbors will carry their battle against a proposed rezoning to the Town Council now that the commission voted 4-3 Wednesday recommending the council act favorably on the petition.

It’s a petition Porter town planner Jim Mandon said is an opportunity the town should jump at because it’s in direct compliance with its comprehensive plan.

It’s also a petition neighboring property owners say will devalue their land and change life as they know it if their residential buffer zone is lost. A remonstrance signed by 31 residents was submitted as was a letter in opposition.

Non-profit Duneland Youth Baseball Association, represented by principal Todd Finner, is seeking to rezone 10.4 acres at 800 Canonie Drive north of U.S. 20 and west of Tremont Road to a Professional Business or PB zone so he can sell the acreage and raise money to build baseball fields elsewhere.

The western 3.9 acres of that tract currently are zoned Residential-1. The remaining 6.5 acres are zoned Business-3 and abut an office complex to the east also zoned B-3.

No one spoke in favor of the rezoning during a public hearing and 10 speakers were opposed.

All remonstrators wanted DYBA not to rezone the R-1 portion of its land because it is a buffer for their homes in Dunes View Manor and Dune Manor subdivisions to the west. Some, like Niepokoj, said they never would have bought or built homes there if they had known the neighboring field could be rezoned to PB.

Commission member Ken Timm reminded residents they don’t own the field. “You really don’t have a 300-foot buffer unless you own 300 feet.”

Mandon and commission member Jim Eriksson emphasized that the allowable uses under the PB zoning were far preferable and less intrusive than those in a B-3 zone. PB is restricted to uses such as medical and professional offices, banks, health and fitness facilities and churches while B-3 allows warehousing, truck stops, a lumber yard or gasoline station.

A PB zone also requires closer scrutiny when someone plans to develop it, Mandon added, like having more landscaping, berms and appropriate setbacks.

When Finner first presented his plans this summer, his intention was to rezone the entire 10.4 acres to Business-3. The Plan Commission’s reaction was less than enthusiastic.

Last night Finner’s attorney, Russell Milbranth, said the decision was made to seek a PB zone instead because it is intended to be a transitional district between business and residential uses under Porter’s zoning ordinance and therefore would enhance neighboring property values.

The residents weren’t buying it.

“It looks fine but it screws the neighbors,” said Laura Crownover, who owns two properties in the area. “PB is nice, provided you don’t take away the residential.”

Connie and Joseph Goysich both were opposed. “I don’t see how a bush or a tree or a shrub would increase the value of our property,” he said. She said there is no park in the area and children would lose the safety they feel playing in their neighborhood.

Niepokoj and others asked the commission not to let DYBA rezone the R-1 portion of its land. President Lorain Bell said the commission has to vote on the petition before it, and Finner did not indicate he wanted to change it. “We can’t do half this one way or another. It’s a stand-up deal. You either vote it down or up.”

Commission member and Porter building commissioner Bill Lewis said if nothing is rezoned, any new homes in DYBA’s R-1 portion would have B-3 uses as their neighbor, which wouldn’t be good for them or the existing homes to the west.

Adjacent property owner Norman Tapper asked who would reimburse him when his land is devalued with a business next door. He also said he wasn’t notified of the hearing. Milbranth said he relied on Porter County property records, and Plan Commission attorney Patrick Lyp said the fact Tapper was present made the notice issue moot.

Milbranth said a PB zoning is logical because insurance and law offices likely won’t be having late-night parties or other evening activities to which the neighbors would object. He also said with Lake Erie Land developing commercial property across U.S. 20 to the southwest, DYBA’s plans are compatible.

The Town Council of late has been actively trying to encourage economic development in Porter.

Eriksson said by going with a PB rather than B-3 zoning, DYBA would receive less money; he asked Finner to go one step farther to be a good neighbor and consider not rezoning the R-1 acreage. Milbranth said Finner understands it will be a challenge to market the site with PB’s limitations but they accept that.

It was Lewis’ motion to forward the petition with a favorable recommendation. Vote was Timm, Sandi Snyder, Greg Stinson and Lewis voting yes with Eriksson, Paul Childress and Bell voting no. Snyder and Childress are also Town Council members and will vote on the rezoning there.

Childress said he would feel more comfortable if a development plan for a specific use were before him. “I want to know what we’ll actually do before we rezone, not hope for the best.” Mandon said it makes no sense to market property with a contingency.

After a long pause Eriksson said he voted no regretfully because if the rezoning isn’t granted, “In the future if it is a B-3, it might be something we can’t stop.” Agreed Mandon, “You could have a tremendously large, obnoxious B-3 use on the property no one in town would want. It’s a tough decision, it really is --- what’s best for the whole town and what’s detrimental to the neighbors.”


Posted 11/17/2005