Proposed development concerning for neighbors

By ALLEN LAMAN
alaman@dcherald.com

JASPER — A potential Kerstiens Homes subdivision could bring 10 single-family homes and 32 condominiums to Jasper. But in recent months, those living near the roughly 13 acre site on Reyling Drive and 34th Street have voiced concerns regarding the project.

Attendees at Jasper Plan Commission meetings have expressed worries regarding the devaluing of property, the increasing of traffic and worsening of flooding issues around the site.

Todd Kerstiens of Kerstiens Homes and Designs said he has gone “over and above trying to please everyone,” adding that he knows the homes are needed in the city.

“Don’t get us wrong, we’re not against development,” said Bill Rubino, who lives on West 33rd Street. “It’s just that we think there needs to be some thought to the impact of the development.”

In March, Kerstiens received primary approval of the planned unit development — named Autumn Creek III — from the city’s plan commission. This month, the commission approved the primary platting of the site, but to begin work, Kerstiens will need a final approval of the PUD, and the company will ultimately require the approval of the Jasper Common Council.

“We’re trying to build affordable [homes], which Jasper needs affordable housing worse than any community in Southwestern Indiana,” Kerstiens said. “We’re trying to build affordable homes in this community.”

During a Thursday walk of the surrounding grounds, Rubino and his wife, Jan, pointed to a creek on their property and a nearby ditch as their primary concerns. During heavy rainfall, the waterways overflow, and the nearby sanitary sewer can become so full that a manhole connected to it shoots off the ground.

Years of erosion have significantly widened the ditch and creek. Jan estimated it has doubled or expanded threefold in size during the last two decades.

The Rubinos fear that tall trees on both sides of the creek may fall if more water is channeled in their direction, and that they could potentially cause property damage and possibly lead to personal injury.

“The ditch is getting wider, more roots are being exposed,” Bill said. “And the natural event is going to be that some of these trees — and some are a pretty good size — are going to fall down.”

In addition to the flooding, Jan also voiced worries about the tree buffer between their property and Autumn Creek III and the devaluing of the couple’s home.

Neighbor Phil Goss also raised issue with the possible shedding of water from back patios into the nearby creek and how close the homes could be constructed to nearby property lines.

In a letter to the commission, Goss wrote that the planned development is neither responsible nor sustainable for Jasper, adding that “developing Jasper with quadplex dwellings will degrade our city and the lifestyle of those who have made Jasper the city it is today.”

He pointed to the flooding that has already washed away his property and how he believes the new development would harm the character of the neighborhood.

In an interview later in the day, Kerstiens said he is working to alleviate the flooding. Through a collaboration with the city, water could be directed into an underground holding tank on the Autumn Creek III site and pushed out to the west.

“The city knows there’s been a water issue on 34th Street,” Kerstiens said. “It’s a large area that on hard-driving rains, they know the creeks cannot take it. So, we’re gonna take the water coming down from 34th Street.”

He said that throughout the past few months, his company has incurred thousands of dollars in extra engineering expenses to appease the surrounding neighbors. Among other changes to the plan, Kerstiens’ concessions have included modifying the total number of cluster homes, ditching a through-traffic route in favor of two cul de sacs, and dropping the houses from two stories to one. 

“This plan, we’ve tweaked it, and tweaked it and tweaked it,” Kerstiens said. “I’ve got a lot of engineering fees, a lot of time with myself and my designer tweaking this to appease the local residents.”

He stressed that the approximately $5 million development would not devalue the other homes in the area. The Autumn Creek III condominium homes would be marketed to younger couples, and Kerstiens estimated they would run in the $160,000 range. They would include three bedrooms and two bathrooms.

He said the project is needed.

“If there’s anyone that knows [that] in Jasper, it’s me,” he said. “We build the majority of the homes in Jasper and the county.”

He continued: “This is so needed in Jasper. The realtors are begging for this ... price range home. And I’m trying to give it. I’m trying to provide it.”




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