Chesterton Indiana describes itself as a “small, yet quickly growing town.” It is the gateway to the Indiana Dunes State Park, with a 2006 population of roughly 12,500, which grows substantially during the summer months, when thousands of tourists visit annually. One of those visitors was Wal-Mart. Local residents got their first close-up look at a proposed Wal-Mart supercenter in November of 2007. The retailer presented the Chesterton Advisory Plan Commission at a “concept review” meeting with a massive 304,977 s.f. Coffee Creek Crossing retail/commercial center. The 50-acre development is located at the southeast corner of the Indiana Toll Road and State Road 49. Developer Robert Rossman of I-80 Partners, LLC, told the Chesterton Tribune that negotiations were underway with Wal-Mart. “I think that’s one of the considerations.” Local residents were puzzled by this announcement, since there is a Wal-Mart supercenter just 7 miles away in Portage, Indiana, a second supercenter 10 miles away in Michigan City, and a third Wal-Mart supercenter 11 miles away in Valparaiso, Indiana. I-80 Partners proposed dividing their property up into 109 lots, including 15.5 acres for the 156,399 s.f. Wal-Mart. In 2006, Chesterton rejected a proposed Target and Kohl’s project because of traffic concerns. At the time, the developer himself predicted that response to Wal-Mart in Chesterton would be mixed. The state Department of Transportation indicated that roadwork would have to be done on a curve approaching the store, and the developer agreed to set aside land for the construction of a watertower for the town. Coffee Creek Crossing sought a variance from zoning rules to build five-story buildings up to 70 feet tall on two lots, and permission for a possible parking garage. A second traffic light on Route 49 would have to be added. “As ground becomes more scarce, people are going vertical and developments being proposed have those variables in them,” the developer told the Plan Commission. At that first concept review, local residents came to Town Hall to oppose the plan. According to The Tribune, Coffee Creek Crossing met strong opposition from nearby residents who never thought a mall would locate in their rural area. Commission members said at the time that the concept review of plans was satisfactory. This week, seven months later, the Plan Commission announced that the Wal-Mart project will be returning for a preliminary hearing on June 19th. The developer hopes to have the Wal-Mart open for business by August of 2009. The developer has petitioned for a Planned Unit Development (PUD) under the town’s zoning code. Once the Plan Commission makes its recommendation, the project goes to the Town Council. If the PUD ordinance is approved by the Council, it goes back to the Plan Commission for a more detailed review. The project as submitted calls for walking paths and a “public nature observation area.” Plans also could include a hotel, and a high-rise office building. The towns’ current zoning sets a height limit of 35 feet. Coffee Creek would double that height. The Plan Commission told the Tribune that a Wal-Mart supercenter will have to pass “upgraded architectural standards” to improve its appearance.
There is absolutely no market need for another Wal-Mart in the Chesterton trade area. With three supercenters within 11 miles to the northeast, west and south, Chesterton residents already have easy access to cheap Chinese imports, and drugs from India. The proposed Wal-Mart will mostly cannibalize sales from the Portage Wal-Mart, and very few new jobs will be created. Area grocery stores will also be negatively impacted. Economically speaking, the retail piece of Coffee Creek adds no new value to the area, since Wal-Mart is already there. The population of Chesterton is far too small to support a superstore on its own, but shoppers in nearby towns won’t flock to Chesterton to shop at the kind of store they already have in their community. Readers are urged to contact Jim Ton, the President of the Chesterton Town Council at (219) 926-5422 with the following message: “The proposed Wal-Mart supercenter at Coffee Creek is almost the size of three football fields. This is out of scale with the rest of your community, and will kick up traffic and crime just like the Target and Kohl’s project that your town rejected in 2006. With 3 Wal-Mart supercenters within 11 miles of Chesterton, this project adds no value economically to your mix. You can ask I-80, the developer, to pull the big box project from the mix, and to reduce the intensity of the entire project. Zoning decisions don’t have to result in a win/lose situation for local residents. You saw last November that many of your residents near this project objected strenuously to it. They did not buy their homes thinking that they’d have Wal-Mart as a night light. Send the developer back to the drawing board, and don’t make your own citizens victims of a large corporation’s over-saturation of the market area.”