September 12, 2010 12:00 am  •  By Chas Reilly

Design guidelines in the works for new residential developments in Merrillville could prohibit the use of a single design for all homes in a subdivision, Merrillville Plan Commission President Brian Dering said.

Town Councilman Lance Huish said the town has multiple neighborhoods where all of the homes bear the same look. He said mixing up the styles can improve the appearance of the community and increase property values.

“We’re not saying you have to put in a million-dollar home, but it has to look nice,” Huish said.

Similar standards also are used in other municipalities.

Last year, St. John adopted a new zoning ordinance that includes an anti-monotony clause preventing developers from putting identical homes side by side.

Crown Point doesn’t have such a ban in place, but the city has suggested that developers use multiple designs in neighborhoods, Crown Point City Councilwoman Carol Drasga said. She said many developers have been accommodating.

“It was just a matter of asking,” Drasga said.

Brad Ericks, president of the Building Industries Association of Northwest Indiana, said he understands why communities are driven toward implementing that standard. But he thinks it could be difficult to enforce an ordinance requiring all homes look different.

“Who would be the judge of what looks too much alike?” Ericks said.

Cliff Fleming thinks developers can build attractive communities even if the homes sport a similar style. Fleming developed The Village in Burns Harbor, which has won several awards for its urban design.

He also thinks it’s important for municipalities to establish some residential building standards.

In particular, municipalities should make sure quality materials are used, Fleming said. Better materials can improve the longevity of homes, which can help communities maintain a good appearance, he said.

Valparaiso Planning Director Craig Phillips said the city adopted a unified development ordinance last year that includes some restrictions on what materials can be used in multifamily developments.

He said the ordinance prohibits the use of vinyl siding on apartment complexes and requires the use of higher quality materials to improve aesthetics.