Chesterton Tribune                                                                                   Adv.

WBEZ radio tower okayed at former Andershock site in Porter

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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 including antenna.

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 Andershocks 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 WBEZs 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 towns Board of Zoning Appeals stemming from the 2006 denial of a proposed 499-foot tower.

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 cameras 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 WBEZs 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 WBEZs 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 parcels 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 its 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.

Economic jump-start

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 Andershocks.

DeLaney asked how many actually notice the nearby more than 400-foot Indiana State Police tower. Although it wasnt 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 its 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 Andershocks 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 Tremont.

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 agencies.

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 its 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 WBEWs 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 Porters master plan.

Mandon also said the park, dubbed Tremont Place, would create jobs, increase Porters 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 area.

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 commissions 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.




Posted 1/17/2008




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