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Just to give a follow up on my post regarding the parking lot on South Main Street. I attended the BZA meeting last week. Raubyn Barich, the homeowner to the south, did an excellent job of presenting her case against the proposed use. She ended up finding a lot of the points I made previously here, plus some others that were quite good.
Despite the Plan Commission’s recommendation that the site plan be changed to angle parking in lieu of 90 degree parking, the Town Council and Redevelopment Commission decided to push for the 90 degree option. This would have put the parking lot within 12″ of the Barich lot line leaving no room for a landscape buffer. All they would have received was a 6′ fence on the lot line. Seeing opposition to this from the BZA, the applicant modified the request to give a 7′ buffer. Buffering such as shown to the right would have been better, both on the south and east, but that’s not going to happen… A solid white fence is what planned, which won’t be attractive at all. At this point that is all about dollars, so suggestions something more attractive with a staggered design or other interest is not being considered. That’s unfortunate since this has become a municipal project.
Jeff Kenny borrowed a box of pictures I was given by the Culver Post Office a few years ago. He plans to scan them for the history museum. I’ve scanned them all including a large quantity of construction records from the project showing draws and wage rates. All of it is extremely interesting and provides a glimpse into the early history of our family business. Our early history is somewhat sketchy and our earliest project record we have is the concrete marker on the Culver Elementary School Gym which credits us with the construction in 1929. (It was the High School gym then, long before the school consolidation.)
Jeff’s Throw Back Thursday article on the Culver Post Office gives some history of the site and includes a few pictures, one of which I included to here to the left. Purusing through the records from the project, I’m not sure if anyone who worked on it is alive today, but I doubt it. It was a depression era project and I have heard family stories of my great grandfather, Russell Easterday, taking the overnight train to Washington, D.C. with submittals and bids for government work during that time. At that time in our early history, the offices for the company were on the second floor of the State Exchange Bank building (currently First Farmers Bank & Trust). The current building at 402 North Slate Street was constructed on Russell’s farm in the 1950’s.
I’ve been at four meetings where a downtown parking lot has been discussed: two Redevelopment Commission meetings, a Plan Commission Meeting and a Town Council meeting. At two of these meetings I’ve listened to the adjacent property owner discuss her concerns. So far her concerns have received little sympathy, though I believe they have some merit. In my opinion there are two issues here, 1) Rezoning the property from R1 to C2 and the subsequent variance and 2) the parking lot itself. The rezoning has been completed, so that’s basically a moot point, but just for kicks and giggles, I’m going to discuss both here:
Let’s start with the Comprehensive Plan. The Future Land Use Map shows this block on Main Street as Mixed Use: “Mixed Use development is characterized as multi-story structures with retail, restaurant and service uses on the ground floor and office or residential uses on the upper floors where appropriate.” (pg 45) In the downtown district there are multiple references to the maintaining the “streetwall”, in general would imply a C-1 Zoning District.
The downtown, between Washington Street and Madison Street along Main Street, is zoned C-1. The block south of Madison Street is zoned C-2 on the east side and R-1 (with the exception of this recent rezoning) on the west side. Where this determination came from is somewhat puzzling since the description of the C-2 District in the Zoning Ordinance starts off: “The C-2 Commercial District is a general commercial district designed to serve free-standing commercial activities which may be highway oriented or those business establishments which by their nature do not readily adapt to a downtown location.” This area is obviously compatible with “downtown” since it is downtown and these businesses are in no way “highway oriented”. They also meet the requirements of maintaining the streetwall, though they do have off-street parking. So… this rezoning is a case of spot zoning, i.e. an island of C-2 in between R-1 lots. It is also contrary to the Comprehensive Plan which shows this area as part of downtown and suggests that it be C-1 to encourage the streetwall.
The adjacent property owner has legitimate complaints. 1) This will not enhance her property and will no doubt be detrimental to it as a residence which she hopes to maintain and 2) by making this a spot zoning and not rezoning the entire block as a commercial district she has not even benefited from the possibility of increasing the value of the property as a potential future commercial development site.
And to address the variance, the C-2 rezoning created this problem. C-1 has zero side yard setbacks, so this could have been moot on that basis.
I would argue that if rezoning was to occur here, the entire block should have been rezoned as C-1.
There is some question in my mind regarding the need for additional downtown parking. Again, looking at the Comprehensive Plan I found the following references to parking:
And there are more references such as the section on creating Parking Policy on page 65 and the discussion of Complete Streets on page 94 continue to talk about avoiding parking lots on Main Street and encouraging on-street parking or parking in the rear. There are also sections that suggest parking be screen, include planting islands and trees for shade. None of which have been included in the plan up for consideration.
The parking lot proposal is a collaboration between the Town and the developer of the building at 232 South Main Street. At the public meetings it is being discussed as a public project and fulfilling a need for downtown parking. In actuality it seems to be more of a response to the relocation of the Lake Shore Clinic to 232 South Main Street and the perceived increase in parking needs. This is somewhat frustrating since prior to construction in 2007, the developer was granted a parking variance from ordinance standards. It would seem that if the building had included the required parking spaces this new lot would not be required. But doubly so, since as the Comprehensive Plan, just completed last year, discusses parking availability and underutilized parking lots as positives.
I would also question whether the proposed parking lot meets the Zoning Ordinance parking requirements, specifically 1) There shall be onsite stormwater detention (pg 54, Design and Maintenance #7) and 2) There shall be no parking in the front yard (pg 54, Design and Maintenance #11) While there are drywells called out on the plans, I would rather see an above ground detention structure that can be cleaned and maintained. Regarding the front yard, I had an interesting discussion with the Building Commissioner. He does not consider this property as having a front yard since there is not a building on it, but also noted that the setback is considered the front yard when looking at site distance in L-1. That also then brings up whether the parking lot is considered a structure, which it would be under the definitions on page 14, at which point it might again need a variance for violating the front setback. And then there is the impervious surface restriction. I’m not sure how they are going to keep less than 60% impervious surface with a parking lot that is only setback 12″ from the side lot lines. The Building Commissioners position is that parking lots are not defined in the Zoning Ordinance which means everything is up for interpretation by the Plan Commission. Fair point, but not particularly helpful heading into a hearing.
A couple of final thoughts I have. First, I would probably not be in favor of the variance request tonight (though I won’t speak against it). If the entire block had been rezoned, I would have been more likely to support it, but the spot zoning seems quite odd. The decision making seems a bit schizophrenic in that we’re shoehorning in a spot zoned commercial use, without making the commitment of expanding the surrounding residential area as commercial use. Second, I am very disappointed that the Comprehensive Plan was not consulted in this decision. I did not see it discussed in any of the above meetings and that’s unfortunate when the plan is not much more than a year old. True it is just a plan and as with all plans, subject to change, but my feeling is that it was ignored, not changed. Such is life in the big city… or Culver…
See an after-meeting follow-up post here.
INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana (October 6, 2015) – At 10 a.m. this morning in Indianapolis, a team of regional leaders representing more than half a million people in Elkhart, Marshall and St. Joseph counties, presented a transformational economic development plan called Innovate Indiana to state officials from Governor Pence’s Regional Cities Initiative. The plan outlines a projected budget of $703 million with more than 60 percent coming from private sector investment.
“It is extraordinary to think of the ideas that will be presented to this Regional Cities committee over the next two days,” said Indiana Governor Mike Pence, who opened the daylong session with a welcome message for all attendees. “I want to ensure all of you that as we reconvene the General Assembly in the ongoing future that the existing collaboration we’ve seen means this is just the beginning of the Regional Cities Initiative.”
Today’s presentation represents the final phase of an application process for a portion of $84 million in grants from the Indiana Economic Development Corp. (IEDC) that fall under the Governor’s Regional Cities Initiative. The Initiative was funded earlier this year by the state legislature’s tax amnesty program.
Dallas Bergl, President and CEO of INOVA Federal Credit Union in Elkhart set the stage for Northern Indiana’s 90-minute presentation by thanking state officials and complimenting the Governor for developing the Regional Cities Initiative.
“The Regional Cities Initiative has already proved successful in that more than 2,000 leaders from throughout our region have been working together on transformational projects that will benefit every man, woman and child in our three-county region,” Bergl said.
Bergl is one of five Regional Development Authority (RDA) board members who helped guide the multi-county development work and who approved the detailed Innovate Indiana application that was submitted on August 31st. John Affleck-Graves, Executive Vice President of the University of Notre Dame serves as President of the RDA; Regina Emberton, President of Michiana Partnership serves as Vice President. John DeSalle, Vice President of Engineering & Manufacturing for Hoosier Racing Tire Corp. and Pete McCown, President of the Elkhart County Community Foundation serve as fellow RDA board members.
All five RDA board members joined South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg for the official presentation which was held at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. All members of the Governor’s Regional Cities Initiative board of directors convened in the auditorium setting for the presentation.
“The South Bend/Elkhart region is in the middle of one of the most transformative periods of our lifetime,” said South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg. “If we can cultivate and accelerate the comeback that is now underway, these years will go down in history as the pivotal decade in the lives of our communities.”
Buttigieg, who often speaks publicly about the connected nature of cities and towns in Northern Indiana, spent a generous amount of time talking about the challenges faced in the city of Elkhart a few years ago when it led the nation in unemployment during the recession. He also talked fondly of Studebaker Corporation, but not so fondly of the 50-year legacy it left when operations ceased in South Bend back in 1963.
“Over the years, South Bend lost 25 percent of its population. But today, the region is picking itself up, seeking new opportunities that are true to our identity and history of excellence in making things, while growing in industries that did not even exist when the last Studebaker rolled off the line,” Buttigieg said. “We are ready to take full advantage of what we have always had going for us—a tradition of innovation and excellence in workmanship and production, an unbeatable work ethic, a distinctive location with an edge in infrastructure from asphalt and rails to energy and fiber, and the resources of a world-class university that has accepted a leadership role in the life of our region.”
“There are over 40,000 students enrolled in our region’s colleges, academies and universities,” added RDA Board Member Pete McCown. “More than 40 percent of them come from out of state or from other countries. So, we’re building an innovation culture to keep them here. Each of our marquee projects are designed to improve density, productivity, connectivity and amenities. We agree with the recent articles in Forbes magazine and Harvard Business Review that this is a place where collaborative partnerships are building a culture of innovation.”
Regina Emberton, Vice President for the RDA, detailed five of the 39 major projects outlined in the Innovate Indiana plan that will drive population growth, productivity, innovation and spur more activity across the region. The projects include major amenity improvements to the Riverwalk area in downtown Elkhart, the east side of the St. Joseph River near downtown South Bend, further expansion into Marshall and Elkhart counties of the “dark” fiber optic network called Metronet, major improvements to the South Shore rail system and further development adjacent to Ignition Park in the old Studebaker buildings where a technology boom is taking place.
“Today, I have the honor of presenting the marquee projects that we see as being catalysts for every other project in our region,” Emberton said. “We’re at a precise time in our regional history where we have permission to believe in bold innovative ideas.”
To view the 10-minute video Innovate Indiana, click here.
To view the 4-minute video Don’t Underestimate Us, click here.
“Ten years from now we will be bearing the fruit of the Regional Cities Initiative,” said John Affleck-Graves, President of the RDA. “We will be a region where each of our 22 cities and towns will truly be integrated into one place that attracts and retains highly talented and successful individuals. (This initiative) breaks down borders and brings people together. Our future is unlimited. We look forward to working with the state on making this a watershed moment in history. We are the South Bend/Elkhart region and we are on the move.”
Regional Cities of Northern Indiana is working with private, academic and public leaders throughout the region to nurture and formalize large-scale projects that will transform the region by spurring population growth and improve quality of life. The RDA, led by its five-member board, will be guided by this comprehensive strategic development plan as it oversees projects of regional importance.
About Regional Cities of Northern Indiana Regional Cities of Northern Indiana serves over half a million people in 22 interconnected cities and towns in Northern Indiana through a commitment to pursuing transformational economic development projects and strategic initiatives for the entire region. In doing so, the group consists of and leverages the vast experience and services of Northern Indiana’s leading business, academic, philanthropic and government leaders. For more information, visit www.RegionalCitiesofNorthernIndiana.org.
Jeff Kenny did a nice job on the coverage of the Entry Level Housing discussion at the Town Council. I’ve included the scans of the article here if you want to read it. (I only included the portion discussing Entry Level Housing.) I think you can blow up the scans on the right so they are legible.
I’m pleased that things are moving forward, but frustrated that they have moved as slowly as they have up to this point. All of the sudden we’re in a crunch to get things done since the grant deadline is November 2nd. Because the decision finally came down to putting the development on my property, I’ve been thrust into the position of getting the variances, abatements, etc. in my name. Most of this is going to require special meetings due to the timing. Not a big deal, but it’s all about time…
Jeff also did a side bar article on the property and my history with it. It was cut up a bit as it appeared in the paper, so I’ve included the text here instead of doing scans. That also let me put links into some of the things he mentions in case you want to follow up. The side bar article follows: