Rezoning Put on Hold; Planners Hear Complaints

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March 14, 2011 by   - () Leave a Comment

Criticisms and questions surrounded a petition requesting a change in zoning for the Sand Creek Campground in Porter County, Ind., during the March 9 Porter County Plan Commission meeting.

The campground, which has been opened seasonally since 1935, requested county planners grant a rezoning to a (P2) Parks and Recreation district. The request hearing brought out nearly 10 neighbors who voiced concerns on the present upkeep of the 35-acre site, the Chesterton Tribune reported.

The campground is located on C.R. 350E in Jackson Township near the Indiana Toll Road.

Representing the request is Brent Wagner of Wagner Architects in Valparaiso who said it is the wish of the owner to replace the check-in office with a new building and is inhibited to do so under the parcels current zoning, Rural Residential.

Chesterton resident Allan Stirling made his case that the campground is becoming more of a "storage facility" for motorhomes than a recreational camping area and that some patrons are staying longer than should be allowed, even "living there." He said the site has become blighted and something needs to be done about it.

"It is my opinion this is not a good neighbor," said Stirling.

Neighbor Pat Winter said while the trees around the park create a buffer in the summertime, teenagers from the campground have a habit of wandering through neighbors properties and "cussing" long into the hours of the night.

"We look up and see guys walking through our yard," she said.

Neighborhood farmer Ralph Gloyeske spoke of safety concerns as he witnessed younger campers "running around neighbors' yards" and through his fields. Gloyeske also feels the many campfires burning throughout the grounds present a hazard to the neighbors. One neighbor estimated that 35 to 50 campfires are lit each night which create noise pollution as well as air pollution.

Others like Justin Jeffress said he hopes the rezoning will be a step forward for the campground owners to make the needed improvements. He also said he knows for certain transients have lived at the site. Audience members openly addressed the matter saying the campground has seen its share of "unusual characters."

County planner Rick Burns said it would be wise for the county to find out if people are living there year-round as he has noticed vehicles parked there permanently.

"Some of them look like they've been there quite a while," he said.

Fellow planner Tim Cole said the campground is set in a beautiful area, although its littered with junk and trash that has been unattended to for over a year's time.

Furthermore, Cole questioned what alterations the new zoning would allow. Under the P2 heading in the countys Unified Development Ordinance, sports complexes could be built and multi-story buildings. He instead would like it if the ordinance allowed setting aside more open space. Cole also suspects the zoning would require more policing for the area.

Questions regarding the exclusivity of the park were asked by the residents and Cole, whether it is a public campground or private or semi-private as some campgrounds are religiously affiliated.

Wagner says he believes the facility is open to all campers judging by its website. He said he does not know of any other improvements planned aside from the check-in office. Wagner did mention the owners have upgraded to a new septic system put in by The McMahon Group of Valparaiso.

Planner Herb Read suggested the commission place conditions on the rezoning such as placing capacity limits on the area based on the septic sewer standards. Without the owner of the property or someone designated by the owner to speak, Read says it puts the plan commission at a disadvantage not having anyone to answer the concerns.

"There are issues that go far beyond this. I cannot consider (this petition) at all," said Read.

Read mentioned there was one time a similar case before the plan commission where they ended up granting the request because the owner was present to answer questions and make commitments.

Adding to Read's comments, planner Elizabeth Marshall said she believes the petition is lacking information and believed the commission could not make a sound judgment without hearing directly from the owner.

Wagner said the owner lives in Atlanta and the grounds are managed by a relative who resides in the Chicago area.

Marshall asked Plan Commission Executive Director Robert Thompson if any complaints have been filed with the county health department. Thompson said he did not know of any but would check into it.

Marshall also mentioned the design for the new office building would need to be reviewed by the state.

The planners ultimately decided 7-0 to table the request until the owner could provide answers to the concerns addressed. The petition will be revisited at the next meeting, scheduled for April 13.

Plan Commission Executive Director Robert Thompson said he will check to see the campground's status on a matter of issues: long-term residents, garbage, unplated vehicles, a discarded trailer and waste water treatment.

Planners said they would venture out to assess the area on how improvements could be made. County Surveyor and planner Kevin Breitzke said he hopes the board will motivate the property owners to take action.

The campground's manager could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

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