Each of the four stations planned to serve the West Lake Corridor commuter railroad in Hammond and Dyer are unique in their challenges and opportunities, planners told attendees at two open houses last week.
The firm Farr Associates offered its vision for transit-oriented development around the Munster/Dyer Main Street, Munster Ridge Road, South Hammond and Hammond Gateway stations, showing a variety of housing and commercial possibilities.
The plans offered were oriented toward development and don't necessarily fit with the needs of the railroad, Doug Farr, the firm's president and founding principal, noted.
"You'll see their plans and our plans don't necessarily match up yet," he told residents at a Tuesday open house in Munster.
Farr also pointed out that any development would take the cooperation of property owners with the oversight of the municipal governments.
The months-long process, including resident feedback and professional advice, yielded some of these conclustions for the various stations:
Munster/Dyer Main Street: While the area is zoned for large-lot, single-family homes, it does have relatively ample vacant land. Townhomes and other low-density multifamily housing, in buildings of up to three stories near the station, would fit the area, with nearly 600 residential units detailed on the rendering produced by Farr Associates. The immediate area also offers opportunity for mixed-use development — combinations of residential, commercial and other uses — at Calumet Avenue and Main Street. Agricultural land northeast of the Community Estates subdivision might also be a good site.
Munster Ridge Road: The immediate area has limited vacant sites but a strong housing market with potential for mixed-use commercial and residential development and a general intensification of retail and offices along Ridge Road. Townhomes and other low-density multifamily would fit, with buildings up to four stories on Ridge. The same type of development could spread to Calumet. Farr Associates' map shows 144 residential units and nearly 30,000 square feet of mixed-use around the Ridge Road and Manor Avenue intersection.
South Hammond: Connections to surrounding streets and the challenge of finding compatible, higher-density housing are constraints at the South Hammond site at 173rd Street and Lyman Avenue. The area does have the highest percentage of commuters to Chicago — 15 — of any of the station areas along West Lake. And, Hohman and Calumet avenues offer nearby opportunities for additional commercial development. Farr Associates' plan shows 136 new residential units with several "pocket parks" fit into an area stretching north from 173rd. The need to be "context-sensitive" in the residential neighborhood was highlighted.
Hammond Gateway: The area, just west of the current Hammond South Shore station, has not had strong residential or office demand, and the existing road network limits access. The junction of the West Lake Corridor and South Shore Line create opportunity, with office and some flexible space open to office or lighter warehouse/industrial use. New housing could prompt more office development. The Farr plan showed more than 60,000 square feet of office space, and more than 150,000 square feet of flexible space, some of which could include parking.
The West Lake Corridor would begin operations in 2022 at the soonest. The Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority has been tasked with leading transit-oriented development efforts, starting with the planning stages going on now, and working with communities on actual development in years to come.
A state law approved this year established transit-development districts, or TDDs, around existing and proposed train stations. The legislation includes funding, raised through incremental growth in property taxes and income taxes in the TDDs, to subsidize development.
The Farr Associates-led work, which involved other experts and engaged the public in six forums, has been undertaken in preparation to apply for a federal New Starts grant that would cover half the $615 million cost of West Lake. Meanwhile, the consulting firm KPMG also has been hired by the RDA to do deeper market studies and engage potential developers in talks.
Regional Development Authority President and CEO Bill Hanna told The Times recently that he sees the RDA as a link between the standards of the community and the demands of developers.
"We can't pretend to know what's best for a community in terms of how it's governed and how it aesthetically looks," he said. "And we can't presume to know what a developer thinks the market is. There is a nexus between those two points of view that has to be found in order for this to be successful, and that's the space that the RDA will be in."