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St. John Plan Commission rejects high density development, defers St. John Commons vote

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The St. John Plan Commission rejected a high-density development during their Wednesday meeting. 

ST. JOHN — A 120-unit development proposed in St. John has been deemed too dense by the Plan Commission. 

During a Wednesday meeting, the Plan Commission rejected a primary plat amendment for the Gates of St. John, Unit 17B, a development that would include 120 row homes, a type of town home, at 10705 and 10775 Park Place.

On Nov. 10, St. John Police Chief Steven Flores and Fire Chief Kevin LaDuke each sent a letter expressing their concerns about the project's density and safety.

Though the seeds were planted a few years ago, the Patnoe Park Family Gardens in St. John are finally in bloom. Here's what those behind the initiative had to say about the project. Video by Mary Freda

"We feel there are way too many units in such a small piece of land," Flores wrote. "The amount of units in each structure and the proximity they are to each other, will create traffic issues within the property itself."

Flores also said the nearby roundabout could create "an additional traffic hazard." Both Flores and LaDuke were concerned about the developments' lack of entrances and exits, writing that the design could be dangerous in times of emergency. 

"I don't know about the other Plan Commission members, but I know it concerns me when I have two long letters from both the police chief and the fire chief," said Robert Birlson, commission vice president. "You could have a situation, and it might be rare, but a catastrophic fire where buildings are burning and there's somebody blocking the entrance and you can't get out." 

Tim Kuiper, attorney for John Lotton — the developer of the project, said because the project was originally designed with 242 units in mind, the nearby roundabout was built to accommodate far more traffic. Kuiper also explained that much of what appears to be grassy area will include a hard surface underneath so that it can be driven on if necessary. 

Flores suggested reducing the number of units to accommodate a road that loops around the entire property. However, Kuiper said the development already has "impervious surface almost all the way around it."

"It would be very unusual for any development to have a road that's fully around the lot," Kuiper said. 

Because of how quickly "fires can spread between units" LaDuke said the development's fire walls may not be enough. LaDuke was also concerned about water access during a potential fire. According to Kuiper, there are 12 fire hydrants on multiple water mains within 300 feet of the development. 

"Even if all the current town fire vehicles ... were to connect to all the hydrants over there, they still could not out-pump the amount of water that is running through those lines," Kuiper said. 

Ultimately, Birlson said the density of the project was still concerning and the Plan Commission unanimously voted to deny the amendment. 

St. John Commons

A July 16 rendering of St. John Commons, a proposed mixed-use development in St. John. The Plan Commission will vote on the development's revised design during a Jan. 5 meeting. 

The commission was also slated to vote on the proposed rezone of St. John Commons, a mixed-use planned unit development (PUD) that would sit on 20 acres of land at 10201 Calumet Ave.

A crowd of about 15 people filled the town hall for a scheduled public hearing on the development. However, the developers were required to post notice of the public hearing in two newspapers 10 days before the meeting. A notice ran in The Times of Northwest Indiana on the correct date, but publication in a second newspaper did not occur until Nov. 24. Because proper notice was not given, the commission voted to defer the vote until its Jan. 5 meeting. 

The St. John Commons proposal includes 10 paired villa homes, 10 condominiums, 12,000 square-feet of office space and two 12,756 square-foot retail buildings. The proposed development has already been revised multiple times to reduce density, at the commission's request. 

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