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Comprehensive Planning

September 12th, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

In a previous post To Grandma’s House We Go I tried to show in a simple real life example the importance of community focused planning, and how incompatible the present land use patterns in East Chicago are for the activities of children. I also did a post on Portages catalytic project – a subarea plan of the Marquette Plan. In this post I tried to show how Portage benefits from implementing their catalytic project, with a strategy very similar to East Chicago – little exposure to the lake but utilizing their riverfront to realize greater opportunities. With the Comprehensive Plan, East Chicago threw away the Marquette Plan’s catalytic project.

There is no greater canvas than what is writ on the land. There is no better way to understand who we are than how we allocate resources and provide for ourselves – that is what comprehensive planning is about.

<Background>
In 2006, as president of Redevelopment, I was asked to participate in the Mayor’s weekly economic development meetings. This was something I had been requesting. These meetings included representatives from the major industries in the City, including BP, ArcelorMittal, Kemira, NIPSCO (Northern Indiana Public Service Company, electric utility),  and the Northwest Indiana Forum (a regional economic development corp), and a few department heads. I was tapped to work on a sub committee to inventory and characterize underutilized parcels and prepare market them. The committee was headed up by Eric Pritcher (a NIPSCO representative), and included John Artist (E.C. Director of Redevelopment), Jimmy Ventura (E.C. Director of Economic Development), Kay Nelson (Environmental Director at the Forum), and Diane Thalmann (Director of Economic Development NIPSCO). When I walked into my first meeting Kay Nelson was going through the inventory of properties and discussing land use. I asked one question “who is determining land use?” Kay responded “they were.” I then asked if this ought to go through a comprehensive planning process.

Well I continued to advocate for a comprehensive plan, suggesting that the kinds of initiatives the city had planned would require the authority of a comprehensive plan. The city tried it their way until they realized they were required to bring their plans to the residents.

Eventually the Mayor appointed me to chair a staring committee to conduct a comprehensive plan for the city. In this role I managed a process of consensus building in defining goals and objectives, determine how to finance the process, authoring an RFQ (request for qualifications) for a planning entity, manage the interview process, and final selection. However, once the actual planning process began I was relieved of my duties and the City engaged the planners (in this case the Lakota group) themselves, and I became just another homeowner with a private interest in the community.
</Background>

The following are the comments I submitted in response to the city’s proposed concepts. I’ve included three maps of existing land use, proposed land use, and my comments on land use adjacent to our waterways. I could have submitted many more comments, but I felt it most important to focus on a Catalytic framework for the community. In essence – a first order of business for properties that are held in common – our waterfronts.

East Chicago 2007 Comprehensive Plan

My Comments

Comments to Proposed Scenarios:

My comments focus on the beneficial potential of our waterway and Lakefront to meet the demographic and economic needs of the coming generations. I strongly believe that development must occur in an environmentally responsible and sustainable manner. This does not discount industry. It is a part of our foreseeable future, but after 30 years of an industrial depression industry cannot be our ONLY future. Re-industrialization alone, will continue our present state of depression. We must provide the quality of life our educated children demand when they choose a community to live and raise their children.

1) Lakefront Development: I support plans that would reposition these lands as public lands with public access, not private condos and a yacht club.

2) Trail System: Create a trail system throughout our waterways, connecting our neighborhoods from the south to the north and to the Lakefront. This is an opportunity to use a natural trail system to bridge gaps with in the community and re-connect our isolated neighborhoods. Unfortunately, each concept presented proposes to add additional industrial uses between the community and natural areas, continuing to repeat bad practices of cutting neighborhoods off from each other and community focused assets – nature.

3) Mittal Property: This is possibly the most significant piece of property in East Chicago. How we determine its future use will determine the possibilities for the next generations to come. This land is presently a decommissioned Mittal property that is adjacent to future consolidated plans of the plant. It has water access on the canal and is adjacent to the core of North Harbor. This property is also in walking distance to the Lakefront.

Besides Concept C of the “Dickey Road Industrial Area” there is no other community focus redevelopment of these industrial lands that can serve as a buffer between such absolutely incompatible uses (Heavy Industry / Residential). This is one reuse scenario vs. two reindustrialization scenarios. Concept C will need to be flexible if it is to be seriously considered, and I believe strongly that this concept ought to serve as the foundation for land reuse discussions and not an outlier in those discussions. If this recreation scenario is not acceptable then we ought to consider other less intense uses, such as passive green space. We can also consider a land trusts. Openlands has a very good relationship with Mittal and would be interested in aiding these discussions.

4) Mittal’s Electric Furnace: I suspect Mittal has requested that we leave this parcel out of any discussions. I understand Mittal has been planning to decommission its present use in the near future. However, it will be important to any future discussions on this side of the canal

5) Turning Basin: It is important not to accept a short-sided plan that only re-industrializes the underutilized land. This parcel is well positioned to serve as a waterway focus development that is more compatible with nearby neighborhoods and perhaps serve as an access point for the community. It could easily serve as an anchor and catalytic project for future development along the waterways. I can imagine a dry dock area. I have talked to the land owner and he is open to the idea.

6) Property along North sea-wall of the Indiana Harbor Shipping Canal: This is a great opportunity to assemble these near-shore properties for natural areas and trails. Industry can continue to operate as they have. U.S. Gypsum has already developed plans, in partnership with Daniel Goldfarb of the Wildlife Habitat Council, to do natural plantings and trails. Daniel has also worked with Conoco Phillips and Citgo to develop similar plans on their properties in East Chicago.

7) CDF: We need to work quickly with the U.S.A.C.E. to develop greenery along the southern and eastern edges of the property. The south because it is across the canal from proposed recreation, and the east because it sits at a major gateway to the city.

8) Natural Area: This is a natural wetland that has never been developed. While there are no remaining natural assets with public access within the city, Industrializing this land today does not make any sense. There is an opportunity to open this land to a trail system and extend the green space north to Columbus drive.

9) Area bordered by the Canal to its east, Railroad avenue to the west, Columbus Drive to the North, and the CSX Line to the south: Plans are underway to clean the southern branch of the Grand Calumet River. This opens opportunities to create community focus development along its banks and extend the neighborhood to the east side of Railroad avenue. There is enough acreage for about 400 homes and green space. This kind of development would justify cost associated with preparing these lands for new uses. I suggest developing a program to relocate businesses to the planned industrial park north of the canal.

10) TOD: This is a great opportunity to leverage a strategy for the airport for the benefit of East Chicago. By extending the South Shore to the Airport down the CSX line, just north of Chicago Avenue, the airport gets much needed access to the Chicago business travel market, and East Chicago gets a TOD opportunity near its downtown (Indianapolis and Chicago ave). The CSX traffic could be rerouted south to the 9th expansion bridge. This would bolster East Chicago’s retail district and link our municipal functions more directly with the Chicago market. It would also give the housing starts identified in #9 a strong reason for attracting young professionals and create a walkable community once again around our downtown district.

11) Green Space along southern Fork in the Canal: 90% of the proposed green space in this Plan is DNR property along the Grand Calumet River. Each Alternate Scenario in this Comprehensive Plan proposes to re-industrialize the land between our neighborhoods and these natural areas. These once again repeat bad past practice by cutting off neighborhoods from each and community focused assets. If anything we ought to use natural areas to buffer neighborhoods for industry. Not the inverse which is what is proposed. To be consistent with the DNR natural areas I suggest creating a strategy to extend these areas to our neighborhoods starting with this parcel.

12) Industrial Property along Cline: This property is within a half mile of the East Calumet neighborhood. It is inappropriate for heavy industrial use. Let’s again stop repeating past mistakes. I suggest light industrial uses servicing the airport. We also need to provide significant buffers between the neighborhood and its industrial neighbors.

13) Alternate Flight Pattern from the Gary Airport: I have a petition with more than 200 signatures asking for the flight pattern to be diverted away from Guadeloupe Circle, Prairie Park and Washington Park neighborhoods. These neighborhoods represent the only sustaining middle class neighborhoods in East Chicago. These neighborhoods include two elementary schools, a middle school and a hospital. The noise pollution in these neighborhoods due to the present flight pattern consistently rises above 90 decibels. Absolutely unacceptable.

14) Brownfield Strategy: Lastly this plan lacks any brownfield redevelopment framework necessary to diversify landuses and our local economy. With 40% of our industrial land out of productive use East Chicago is in serious need of a brownfield redevelopment framework. Without it East Chicago can not avail themselves of Federal Brownfield redevelopment funds to inventory, characterize, remediate these properties so as to put them into new uses. All of which the USEPA has already promised to fund for this City. To neglect it is criminal.

General Thoughts

Existing Conditions:

1) ~80% of E.C. is zoned Heavy Industry, with about 40% of our industrial lands are out-of-use. With advances in technology and the U.S. economy shifting to a service oriented economy, we have endured 30 years of a industrial depression. Re-industrialization is what E.C. has always done. Today, East Chicago is no longer the center for Jobs it ones was. In fact, the city is now the largest single employer of East Chicagoans, employing 1,300 people (these are considered service jobs). This does not including School City, the Library and the other taxing districts. The Comprehensive Plan does nothing to reposition the use of these most impaired lands to meet the needs of a contemporary American community / economy.

2) Incompatible uses: During the settlement of East Chicago, housing and industry went hand in hand. It was during this era that Sunnyside, Washington Park and Marktown were developed. Each was developed with generous natural buffers between them and industry. A 100 years of industrialization has brought continued encroachment of industry on these neighborhoods, cutting them off from there surroundings, and essentially creating the condition for blight. This has resulted in homeowners losing the wealth creation potential necessary for a sustainable community and supporting retail businesses in the downtown district. Today this is unacceptable and this plan does nothing to mitigate against these impacts, but does quite the contrary and creates the conditions for more stress on homeowners. Our community is a pattern of heavy industry adjacent to neighborhoods (such as North Harbor and Mittal, East Calumet and Citgo). In some cases industry surrounds the neighborhood (such as Marktown, and New Addition). The Comprehensive Plan does nothing to reconnect isolated neighborhoods, buffer them better from industry, or reclaim any of the abandoned industrial properties as a community focused asset.

3) Question: How many communities in America have Oil Refineries (the size of BP – the Largest inland refinery) and Steel Mills (Mittal)? And how many of them are in small densely populated urban communities? I will go out on a limb to suggest that there are none besides East Chicago. Lake County ranks as the seventh most toxic county in the nation (out of 3140 counties), with 50.3 million pounds of chemicals released in 2005 (based on TRI data), or 20 percent of the state’s total output. These discharges are attributed to three industries located in or around East Chicago (BP, Mittal, and U.S. Steel). For the sake of the residents don’t you think there is too much industry, and pollution concentrated in such a small area? This plan ought to propose a strategy to address the negative impact industry has on the Quality of life of the residents and establish a compatible land use strategy so that both Industry and resident’s can prosper?

With out improving the Quality of Life, East Chicago will not attract young professionals to live here, not even our children, who have gone off to receive an education. The Marquette Plan addressed these issues by repositioning the region economically and environmentally and focusing on our strongest asset – our lake and waterways (the place where our older industries occupied).

Comprehensive Plan Concepts vs. The Marquette Plan

In light of the fact that the land use scenarios proposed by the Comprehensive Plan are in direct opposition to the Marquette Plan, I believe it is important to draw out the comparisons.

The Comprehensive Plan focuses exclusively on a single dimension of the Marquette Plan, the reaffirmation of its lost industrial base. Hence, the RE-INDUSTRIALIZATION OF EAST CHICAGO. There is little attempt in the Comprehensive Plan to diversify land use, clean-up our most contaminated properties, and improve the quality of life for residents. There is no formal Brownfield framework for addressing these issues. How can East Chicago reposition our economy to meet the needs of a contemporary American community if we do not address the impairments at the base of our economy?

a. The Marquette Plan focused on our most environmentally impaired and out-of-use lands along the canal and where the market has not been able to function.

b. The Marquette Plan repositions the land adjacent to North Harbor towards community focus development. Besides Concept C of the “Dickey Road Industrial Area” there is no community focus redevelopment on these adjacent lands in the Comprehensive Plan. This is one reuse scenario vs. two reindustrialization scenarios. Concept C will need to be flexible if it is to be seriously considered, and I believe strongly that this concept ought to serve as a beginning for land reuse discussions and not an outlier in those discussions.

c. The Marquette Plan takes in to account that heavy industry is consolidating and encourages it to move up the peninsula and north of the canal away from neighborhoods. This again is contrary to the Comprehensive Plan, which has no apparent concern for these incompatible adjacent uses.

d. The Marquette Plan creates buffers between heavy industry and our neighborhoods in North Harbor, Marktown and New Addition. This begins to address the depressed housing market and blight we see in these neighborhoods by pulling industry away from where people live. A major characteristic of the Comprehensive Plan is the lack of buffering between such incompatible uses (Heavy Industry and Residential).

e. The Marquette Plan proposes to pull down Cline Avenue and reroute traffic along the rail line and directly into the steel plant, giving the community access to these newly available lands along the canal. The Comprehensive Plan maintains Cline avenue as a formidable barrier to community focus development.

f. The Marquette Plan adds much needed public access and green space to East Chicago along our waterways and Lake. The Comprehensive Plan pretends to add public access and green spaces. It proposes private development in all scenarios on our lakefront (Condos and a Yacht club). Re-industrialization is also a commitment to private development along our waterways. The green space along the Grand Calumet River is in fact in DNR control and for the protection of these lands. The Comprehensive Plan proposes to sever access between our neighborhoods and these much needed natural areas with industry.

g. The Marquette Plan creates an opportunity for a trail system throughout our waterways, connecting our neighborhoods from the south to the north and to the Lakefront. The Comprehensive Plan add no additional trails to the DNR plans and does not leverage the open area along the canal, but again proposes to re-industrialize these lands.

NOTE: Within the next 10 years an environmental cleanup of the Grand Calumet River will be complete, opening adjacent lands to new use. To place industry back on these lands make as much sense as allowing U.S. Steel to pollute into the Grand Calumet River after a $20 million clean up job.

East Chicago's Marquette Plan

East Chicago’s replacement of the Marquette plan focuses on private condo development on the lake front and pushes community open space to the other side of Cline Avenue (a state highway). To do this they have propose to move the water filtration facility to make room for the private development. To implement this plan they have seeked and received RDA funds, and stimulus funds. What could have been an increase in public access amenities has turned into a private affair for the Mayor’s funders, <RED FLAG>yacht club included</RED FLAG>. It must be noted that east Chicago has 7.3 miles of lakefront exposure and only 100 yards of public access. This proposal does not increase public access. Thusly it ought not to qualify for public dollars.

In absent of a solid well thought out proposal for redevelopment along our waterways and Lakefront I propose that the Comprehensive Plan adopt the Marquette Plan as its waterway and Lakefront component.

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