Meijer withdraws plans for 109th Avenue store after hundreds of residents object

CROWN POINT — Meijer has withdrawn plans to build a store at the intersection of 109th Avenue and Iowa Street after vocal opposition from residents.

Meijer Stores Limited Partnership submitted a petition to the Crown Point Board of Zoning Appeals for a special-use variance to construct a commercial retail building and a fuel center on the former Mowry Fruit Farm property. The Michigan-based retailer would have needed the variance because the 25-acre site is zoned R-1 residential. According to city code, structures built in residential areas cannot exceed 65,000 square feet; the proposed grocery store would have been 159,935 square feet. Meijer also needed a special-use variance to construct a gas station.

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Over 80 residents crowded into the Crown Point City Council Chambers during the Monday night Board of Zoning Appeals meeting. Over the past week, the city received over 400 written concerns, phone calls and in-person complaints about the project, BZA Chairman Nick Nochevich said. According to Planning and Zoning Administrator Josh Watson, residents were concerned about increased traffic, safety, noise pollution and having a fuel center located near homes that still use septic systems.

The city received over 400 complaints after Meijer submitted a petition to the Crown Point BZA for a special use permit to construct a grocery store and fuel center at 109th Avenue and Iowa Street. Surrounding residents had concerns about traffic, safety, environmental impacts and how the store would change the area’s overall character. Meijer ultimately withdrew the petition.

Molly DeVore, The Times

The former Mowry property was annexed into Crown Point at the start of 2021, and by ordinance came into the city zoned R-1, the most restrictive zoning classification. If the special use permit had ultimately been granted, Watson said the developers would have had to go before the Crown Point Plan Commission to apply for a rezone, changing the land from R-1 to a B-2, business classification. The Crown Point City Council would also have had to approve the project’s final site plan.

The Mowry property is surrounded by the Niles Creek, Miller Farm and Heather Ridge subdivisions.





Over 80 residents attended the Monday night BZA meeting.

Molly DeVore, The Times

“If this project is allowed, what will come next?” Niles Creek resident Andrew Kmiec wrote in a prepared statement. “This project can significantly change the character of this area.”

All five members of the Crown Point BZA also shared concerns about the project.

BZA member Richard Sauerman said the proposed store would make more sense in an area that is already zoned for businesses.





Brian Smallwood of Woolpert Civil Engineering, left, and Chris Jones of Meijer, right, presented plans for the store, Monday night.

Molly DeVore, The Times

“We’re thrilled that Meijer is thinking about coming to Crown Point,” Sauerman said. “(But) the city has a comprehensive plan… and this would be a major departure from that.”

Crown Point’s comprehensive plan shows the Mowry farm area being used for single-family residential use. BZA Vice-Chairman Jeremy Taylor said the intent of the comprehensive plan was to keep commercial development further west.

Chris Jones, senior real estate manager for Meijer, said the company “really likes the growth” that’s occurring around Crown Point. Meijer currently has 40 stores in Indiana including ones in Merrillville, Highland and Valparaiso.

While the company looked at multiple locations in Crown Point, Jones said the Mowry property was Meijer’s “favorite” because of the lack of services currently available in the area.

The store would have been a $20 million investment and would have created about 300 jobs. Site plans showed a drive-thru pharmacy, an online customer pickup area, a garden center and about 500 parking spaces. Portions of the property would have remained vacant for future development. Brian Smallwood, of Woolpert, Inc., a civil engineering company hired by Meijer, said restaurants and other retailers could have been added to the property later on.





The proposed Meijer store’s drafted site plan.

Provided

Woolpert worked with the Indiana Department of Transportation and the city to conduct a traffic study at the site. Smallwood said the study showed traffic levels would remain “acceptable” and that the store would largely be “capturing traffic that’s already on the roadway.”

BZA member John Marshall said the traffic along 109th Avenue is already bad.

“I just don’t see how this store is going to help that situation,” Marshall said.

Shortly after the public comment period began, Jones asked the BZA if Meijer’s petition could be withdrawn.

“Just from the sentiment of the board and the citizens that have turned out, it is apparent to us that this petition is going absolutely nowhere,” Jones said.

The BZA unanimously voted to accept the withdrawal, a decision that was met with cheers from the crowd. After the vote, Niles Creek resident Angela Lukacsek said “we won!”

“We are not opposed to Meijer,” Nochevich said. “We’re opposed to where.”

Ryan Fleming, of Fleming Realty currently owns the former Mowry property. In March of 2021, Fleming, representing CP Prairie, LLC presented to the Plan Commission a project called The Orchard, a 53-unit residential subdivision located on the land.





Residents spilled out into the hallways of the Crown Point City Hall.

Molly DeVore, The Times

The Orchard project was ultimately approved by the Plan Commission. The BZA also approved a variance for it, allowing the subdivision to have only one entrance, even though Crown Point’s subdivision control ordinance requires subdivisions with more than 40 lots to have two entrances.

According to minutes from a March 14, 2022 Plan Commission meeting, The Orchard plan was expanded to 75 lots and two entrances. During the March 14, 2022 meeting, primary subdivision plat approval for The Orchard was deferred because the project’s drainage plan had not been fully approved.

Jones told Meijer will consider other locations within Crown Point.

“We clearly don’t want to go somewhere the public is opposed to,” Jones said.

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