VALPARAISO | Residents of Pine Creek Subdivision appear to be caught in the undertow of the changing tide in the housing market that has shifted from an emphasis on single family homes to high-end apartments.
The rezoning that would allow construction of 408 luxury apartment units on 72 acres along with a 46-acre business park on Evans Avenue adjacent to the subdivision will be up for final passage at the City Council's Dec. 17 meeting. Between 150 and 250 people have attended two plan commission meetings and last week's council meeting to protest the proposal.
Lily Schaefer, a lawyer representing many of the residents, said opponents are not simply opposed to the development by Don Weiss because they don't want anything built in their backyard. Resident Tony Hreha agreed.
"When we bought our homes, we knew it was zoned for residential use," Hreha said. "We even had drawings from (a developer), and that was what we expected: single family homes our size or larger. Single family homes shows they are committed to the city. We like to see that kind of stability and people committed to the area."
Single family home owners are better for small businesses, like his carpet cleaning business. Hreha said he gets barely 1 percent of his customers from apartments, which usually have someone to handle maintenance problems and would not need local service people. He said Weiss should have to prove the need for the luxury apartments and asked if they will still be the trend 10 years from now.
City Planning Director Tyler Kent said the city's new comprehensive plan, which will be completed this month or next by Kendig Kiest Collaborative, discusses the changing housing market, especially after the economic collapse. The consultants also looked at other university towns of Valparaiso's size and found the percentage of apartments ranged from 45 to 52 while Valparaiso's is at 45.
"It's part of the economy," Kent said. "Seven years ago we never thought we'd have the collapse we had in 2008, so we need to plan appropriately and be able to provide different types of housing for individuals. We continue to work with developers on affordable housing as well."
Under the property's current general residential zoning designation, which requires minimum 6,000-square-foot lots, a developer could build 600 or more homes on the 118 acres, allowing for streets, drainage and other amenities. The homes could be priced higher or lower than the current $200,000 average assessed value in Pine Creek.
Single family homes generate an average of about 9.5 vehicle trips a day as opposed to 6.5 for apartments, and the impact on East Porter County Schools would be considerably higher. Even the 400 homes proposed by a previous development that was never built because of the recession would be expected to have about 300 children as opposed to between 60 and 80 for the luxury apartments.
East Porter Superintendent Rod Gardin said, "We know growth and development is going to happen, especially in that corridor east of Ind. 49. The east side is a prime area. We'd just like the city to keep the schools in mind when projects emerge so we can gauge the impact on the schools and we can prepare for it."
While a single family development probably would result in more children, it also might have developed over a longer time period to make it easier for the schools to handle. More expensive homes tend to have fewer, older children. If the growth in student population is clustered by age group rather than spread out, that could create problems for the schools.
Gardin said, "The key is no (tax increment financing)."
A TIF would allow the city to keep any additional property tax revenue resulting from the expected $50 million project. Eventually, that would mean about $130,000 a year for the school district's capital fund for building new classrooms. Gardin said it costs about $500,000 to build and equip one classroom, and it can't be done quickly.
"We can't say we won't take the kids," he said. "If the kids move in, we'll be ready for them."
Hreha said the city shouldn't rush to make a decision just because Weiss has a Dec. 31 deadline to decide whether to complete the purchase of the property. Pine Creek residents also oppose proposed road connections from their subdivision east to the apartment complex and north to the business park.
Kent said the city is willing to look at that and other concerns expressed by residents. If the rezoning is approved a planned unit development ordinance would be drafted specifying how the land would be developed. If the developer were to fail to meet those requirements, the rezoning could be rescinded.
Hreha said he expects another large crowd for the Dec. 17 meeting adding, "Nobody has given up hope yet. We will see it through. I think a lot of the things the mayor has done are great, but this is moving along so quickly. Time should be taken to make the right decision."