Gateway Grove receives approval of ordinance for a residential PUD

Preliminary sketches of the homes that will be built on the old Gateway School site. (Photo provided)

Developers for Gateway Grove were able to take a big step forward Monday night with the Warsaw Common Council’s unanimous approval of a zoning ordinance authorizing a residential planned unit development (PUD) district.

Gateway Grove is a 64-lot residential development being planned by Groninger Group LLC on the 12.9 acres formerly known as Gateway Education Center and Madison Elementary School, 201 N. Union St., Warsaw. Demolition of the school, except for the gymnasium, began Jan. 4.

As part of the Council’s approval, they delegated secondary review of the PUD to the city’s Plan Commission.

The ordinance was the sole item on the Council’s agenda Monday, and Mayor Joe Thallemer began discussion of it by talking about how important a housing study completed in 2020 was. The study was commissioned by the Kosciusko County Community Foundation, the city and the county to look at market potential for workforce housing in city and county. It looked at what housing was needed and price ranges. Thallemer said the Groninger project could help fulfill that need. The city’s Plan Commission approved it at their January meeting.

City Planner Justin Taylor said the intent of creating a PUD is to offer more flexibility for developers. He said the petitioner wishes to have 64 lots, two for recreational use including a public park. The developer reserved a large green space to the west of the property. Taylor said a PUD at this location is consistent with the comprehensive plan. The city has not considered a PUD in 10 years.

Taylor told the Council they had three options: approve the ordinance in general terms and retain secondary review in detail to the Council; approve the ordinance in general terms and delegate secondary review in detail to the Plan Commission; or deny or table the request for further information.

Attorney Steve Snyder, on behalf of the petitioners, said a PUD is not much different than a plat for a subdivision other than it won’t meet the regular standards. The PUD provides for a unique design that meets a particular need. The need in this case is “workforce housing that the county is so short of at the moment,” he said.

Tim Saylor, with Innovative Communities that is responsible for the planning and conceptual design of Gateway Grove, reviewed the housing, public park, green space and gym for the Council. He said all the streets and alleys in the development have been designed to continue the existing character of the neighborhood.

Councilwoman Diane Quance, who sits on the Plan Commission, said the Commission had a public hearing on it and members of the public had questions about egress and ingress, and it was noted there will be several ways to get in and out of the community. There also were concerns about driveways and easements by the public, but Quance said those questions were answered.

Quance asked if the wetlands in the area would be protected. Cary Groninger, developer, said there were about 42 acres total, and the wetlands will be protected.

Quance said the Plan Commission would like the secondary review of the PUD because the Plan Commission reviews such details regularly.

City attorney Scott Reust agreed with Snyder that the best move would be for the Council to approve the ordinance subject to further review by the Plan Commission.

Councilman Jerry Frush said the plan is great, but heard that they were wanting to make Union Street a two-way street again, and he didn’t think that was a good idea. Thallemer said that would be something the Traffic Commission would have to look at. If they changed it, that would come before the Council.

Saylor said Union Street is scheduled to be on the Traffic Commission’s agenda Wednesday at 1 p.m. He said they’re only requesting the section of Union in front of Gateway Grove be changed to two-way, not all of Union Street. That eventually would be brought before the Council if the Traffic Commission makes a recommendation.

Council President Jack Wilhite said he and Councilwoman Cindy Dobbins are both on the Traffic Commission and will review all the data to “approach this in a safe manner.”

Dobbins asked Quance if she had a positive feeling from the community after the Plan Commission meeting. Quance said yes, and no one seemed to be against the development but just had questions.

Groninger said they put up flyers in the neighborhood early on to tell residents about the development, timeline and to provide their contact information. “We’re doing everything we can to engage the neighborhood,” he said, adding they’ve made a substantial investment and they want to be good neighbors and have a project to be proud of.

Councilman Mike Klondaris asked if the properties would be owned or rented. Groninger said the plan was for all the residences to be sold. “We’re not looking at this to be an apartment complex per se. We’re looking at this to be a community” where people want to live and raise their families, he said.

Klondaris asked if there will be a homeowners association. Groninger said a lot of things will be addressed by a homeowners association, and they will look “long and hard” at all of the things in the homeowners association rules. “We’re taking a long-range view on this,” he said, and it wouldn’t be a “one and done” for the Groninger family.

Klondaris asked who will be responsible for the park. Groninger said the common areas will be part of the homeowners association, but his hope is that the playground will be a public space to hopefully be taken in by the city’s parks department.

Finally, Klondaris asked if there will be on-street parking in the neighborhood. Groninger said yes, but each home will have two parking spots in their drives and two in their garages so he didn’t know if there would be a lot of need for on-street parking, except for maybe visitors.

Snyder said the council should think of the PUD as a zoning map amendment. Reust said the Plan Commission is uniquely qualified to deal with the minute details of the development and that he thinks it’s appropriate for the Plan Commission to deal with the details.

Wilhite made a motion to approve the PUD zoning ordinance and delegate secondary review to the Plan Commission. It was seconded by Frush and approved by the Council 6-0, with Councilman Jeff Grose absent.

After the vote, Thallemer said the project would be providing desireable housing in a new community in the city. He gave the team credit for coming up with a design that not only provides housing to meet the needs of the workforce, but also creates a new community on the west side of the city.

Taylor said it was really encouraging to see a project like this close to downtown. He looks forward to seeing the project come to fruition.

Groninger thanked the Council for their vote and support. “Know that this is something we’re working hard on,” he said, adding that they hope to break ground on some homes in May. “We’ve definitely got our work ahead of us. This has not been an easy process.” In the end, he said he knows it will be something everyone can be proud of and about 120 people will be close to downtown Warsaw. “These are the type of projects that will set us apart from neighboring communities and allow us to thrive not just survive,” he said.