BY LAURI HARVEY, Times of Northwest Indiana
PORTAGE | The Portage/Ogden Dunes South Shore stop at Hillcrest Road and U.S. 12 is just a platform with a parking lot right now.
To the north is the tiny lakeshore town of Ogden Dunes. To the south lies the far north end of Portage, which remains undeveloped. But not for long.
Like many cities and towns with South Shore stops and Toll Road exits, Portage and Ogden Dunes are increasingly becoming bedroom communities, with residents spending most of their day working in Chicago.
Now, town planners are hoping to capitalize on that.
"This is truly an opportunity for a transit-oriented development based around the train station that can differentiate the area from any other location in Northwest Indiana," Portage Director of Community Development and Planning A.J. Monroe said.
"We are very used to getting in a car, driving from our home to a train station and parking the car to hop on the train and go to work in Chicago. This is an opportunity to change that mind-set."
The upscale Marina Shores residential development is planned to the southeast of the South Shore stop, and a development geared to businesses serving commuters is proposed nearby, to the southwest.
The 22.5-acre transit-oriented development site represents the last piece of the Portage Northside Master Plan, which includes the AmeriPlex development and planned Bass Pro Shop at Interstate 94 and Ind. 249. The area would include a medium-density residential development with apartments, condominiums and townhouses just to the south on 74 acres.
Part of the transit-oriented development would include a business element with stores and amenities to serve commuters.
Monroe envisions a restaurant, print shop, convenience store, coffee shop "and maybe back-office space for an executive who doesn't need to be in Chicago every day," he said.
A pedestrian crosswalk over U.S. 12 also is part of the vision, as well as a push to make the South Shore stop a full-service station.
Cities and towns hoping to get South Shore lines through their communities also are planning to cash in on the commuter lifestyle.
In Cedar Lake just last week, a representative of Hawk Development Corp. approached the Plan Commission with plans to develop a transit-oriented development near a proposed South Shore stop there.
Hobart City Planner Sergio Mendoza said he, too, is interested in looking into zoning options for a transportation-oriented development for his city, anticipating the possibility of a South Shore station being built there. Mendoza said such a plan is about more than just businesses focused on commuters.
"The (transit-oriented development) also allows for higher-density residential, with apartments and condos above businesses, and it is pedestrian-friendly so people can walk to wherever they need to go," Mendoza said.
"We have our eyes on a site, but we have to make sure our vision for the area meshes with that of the adjoining properties."
Monroe said Ogden Dunes was invited to participate in the discussions for his city's transit-oriented development. Part of the property south of U.S. 12 to Stage Coach Road lies within Ogden Dunes.
"We're trying to make it clear we don't want to take anything away from them while at the same time providing a great opportunity," Monroe said.
"Many of the people in Ogden Dunes came from areas with these types of developments, and they understand them."
Ogden Dunes Town Council President Judith Root Stiles said she welcomes the opportunity to be at the table for planning purposes.
"Portage is now asking us to sit at the table, which hasn't always happened in the past," Stiles said. "We're just like them. We're a multiracial town with mixed income."