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St. John PlanCommission

St. John residents listen to a short presentation from developer Bruce Boyer regarding his proposed development Shops 96.

St. JOHN — Some residents like the idea of the Shops 96 retail development which they believe would drum up more tax money and business in the growing town.

Others point out problems like increased traffic and say the plan has not been well thought out.

Despite those concerns, the St. John Plan Commission in a 4-3 vote at a meeting which ran from 7 p.m. Wednesday to 1 a.m. Thursday approved the zone change for Shops 96.  A public hearing on the rezone request for Shops was part of the lengthy commission agenda.

Shops 96 is a proposed commercial development on 23 acres on the east side of U.S. 41 to Joliet Street and the railroad tracks. Developer Bruce Boyer, of Boyer Properties, said the company is ready to proceed with the commercial project.

St. John Town Manager Steve Kil said the Plan Commission recommendation to rezone the land from commercial 2 and industrial zoning to commercial planned unit development will go to the Town Council July 26. The proposal still requires subdivision approval which is a three to four month process.

Nearly 100 people attended the meeting, many of whom were upset about problems they did not believe had been resolved.

Resident Dennis Davito said he's happy to hear there are plans, but he has some concerns about the project.

"The Plan Commission needs to enhance the plans for Shops 96 project better. I generally support the project, but I have some concerns about the increased traffic snarls, the extension of pedestrian sidewalks to U.S. 41 and green space and the size parking spaces (to comply with) correctly to St. John code," he said.

Theresa Birlson, a 20-year-resident of St. John, said the project looks very nice but she wants St. John leaders to be completely transparent.

"There has been a lack of transparency," she said. "There's been a lack of transparency and a lack of collaborative planning."

She said people received short notice on offers to buy their property.

Resident Carol Webb said back in the 1990s, "everybody" was building strip malls and "many of them are empty now."

Resident Joe Hero asked if the development was being handled "the right way."

He said town leaders are creating a "severe" traffic problem. "Go back to the drawing board. There are too many unanswered questions," he said.

Resident Jack Slager said he likes the idea of the new development which will create businesses and restaurants, something he said the town needs.

Developer Boyer has said more than $2 million already has been invested in the project that includes land acquisition, engineering, legal and architectural pre-development costs.

He has said all existing buildings on the 23-acre site will be demolished, including an abandoned car wash. St. John Malt Brothers Brewing, currently on the site, will relocate within the new shopping development. The brewery recently expanded into neighboring Rascals Pizza-Pub-N-Grub, which closed in November.

Boyer said a new traffic signal at West 96th Place and U.S. 41 already has been approved by the Indiana Department of Transportation. Plans also call for West 96th Place to eventually extend to Joliet Street. An access road is planned behind the development's outlots that will continue south and tie in to the existing road that goes beyond McDonald's.

In other action, the Plan Commission approved a road impact fee which would be charged to developers. The move calls for developers to pay a 10 percent impact fee, with an additional 7 percent each year for five years. The money raised will be used for road work related to growth issues. 

Kil said the money cannot be used for deficiencies regarding the current road, only new construction.

The commission also approved a similar park impact fee, where developers will be required to pay $1,868.01 for upgrades and improvements made at town parks.

Kil said the town has had a park impact fee for two decades and the charge is only $138 higher.

"It's a fee charged to developers for the construction of a new home," he said.

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Education reporter

Carmen is an award-winning journalist who has worked at The Times newspaper for 20 years. Before that she also had stints at The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., The Post-Tribune and The News Dispatch in Michigan City.