ST. JOHN — Subdivisions ranging from eight homes to more than 400 are either under construction or planned, and will provide almost 1,000 new residences in the next 10 or so years.
Other construction projects include commercial/retail developments for everything from a Levin Tire Center to a shopping center with 104,000 square feet of store space as well as the proposed Illiana Christian High School. While the former Kmart remains vacant, it's obvious the town has rebounded in a big way from the recession years when almost nothing was built.
Most of the development is being made possible by an expansion of the sewage lift station on U.S. 41 that will triple its capacity. St. John Town Manager Steve Kil said the town has known since before the recession the lift station, which pumps the town's sewage to the Schererville treatment plant the two towns share, had to be upgraded. The recession postponed the need when construction stopped.
With developers again beating down the door to start their projects, the town was forced to make the improvements to the lift station. The design is being completed, and it is expected the town will be ready to solicit bids in a couple of months for construction next year.
"We know we have all these developments coming in and we know how much vacant property still exists, so we sized it to handle all the known and expected future development," Kil said.
Kil said he's still studying whether the town will have to borrow money to fund the project. If a loan is needed, he said it won't be a large one, and it will be repaid with sewer fees and other revenue. An even bigger project will be a new well in the southwest quadrant of the town. Kil said that will be needed in the next five to 10 years, and could mean construction of a new treatment plant and/or a water tower.
The biggest concern that all this development creates for most residents is traffic. Kil said the town already has bottlenecks created not just by town residents but by residents from other communities flowing through St. John on their way to and from Illinois.
Most of that traffic is along 109th Avenue (U.S. 231), 101st Avenue, 93rd Avenue and Calumet Avenue, in addition to U.S. 41. Schilling Development is planning improvements at the major intersections surrounding The Preserves on both 93rd and 101st to accommodate the 432 homes it eventually will hold. The developer also is abiding by the recommendations of the new thoroughfare plan to dedicate 50 feet of right of way on its side of the roads for future widening of the roads.
Kil said the town is talking about similar intersection improvements for the Greystone Subdivision, also a Schilling project, and for the area nearest the proposed Illiana Christian school, which is outside the town borders on Calumet south of 109th. The school only is looking to connect to town utilities at this point.
"There are roads that need to be widened," Kil said. "The thoroughfare plan says they are running at a level of service C, and it recommends we look at it in the next decade. Widening a road is difficult because of the funding for construction and for the right of way you need to acquire and for the effect on the adjacent property owners. That's why it recommends all developments dedicate the needed right of way," Kil said.
"One of the shortfalls in Indiana is road improvement funding. Towns get very little for road improvements. It's almost non-existent compared to the amount of work we have to do. There is no dedicated funding source or it is woefully inadequate. That's why it's difficult to take on road projects, especially widening.
"It's the most challenging aspect of local government, and it's been a challenge since day one," Kil said. "I don't see a solution coming from the state in the near future. We run a balanced budget and don't issue tax anticipation warrants, and we still can't keep up with the road work."
While residents object to development destroying the bucolic view they've enjoyed outside their door for years, Kil said the town can't deny property owners the right to build as long as they meet the zoning and building code requirements because it would be considered the same as illegally taking the property.
Other vacant land exists in St. John, including one parcel that Kil estimated could some day hold more than 1,000 homes by itself. With most of the homes in town expected to sell for $400,000 and up, it appears St. John and its traffic problems could continue into the future.