The Burns Harbor Board of Zoning Appeals voted 3-2 Tuesday approving a
towing service and impound storage yard in the new downtown zoning district.
Approval was granted for Dan Tratar and Charles Haskell as A-1 Towing, LLC
operating out of A-1 Complete Auto Care at 347 W. Melton Rd. (U.S. 20).
Tom Marconi, Gordon McCormack and Amy Zehner voted for the use variance; Jim
Meeks and Terry Swanson voted no.
No one spoke in favor of the variance at Tuesday’s public hearing and six
persons remonstrated against it, according to BZA secretary Toni Biancardi.
The town used $100,000 in grant money earlier this year to draft a new
comprehensive plan and zoning ordinance. The latter permits neither vehicle
repair nor towing in the downtown district, however, A-1 Complete Auto is
the site of the former Dean’s automotive which sold and repaired vehicles
there for decades.
With adoption of the comprehensive plan/zoning ordinance in June, A-1
Complete Auto became a legal but non-conforming use and BZA permission is
required to add the towing service.
Tratar said he needs to keep his tow trucks on-site in Burns Harbor to bring
disabled vehicles to his shop and store them until they can be repaired or
removed, which is cheaper and more efficient than keeping the tow trucks
elsewhere in rented space.
Biancardi said the remonstrators told the BZA that a towing/impound yard
does not conform to the comprehensive plan, and residents who live in the
adjacent The Village in Burns Harbor subdivision said towing is noisy and
unattractive. An auto-repair business was operating at 347 W. Melton Rd.
when The Village was built.
Tratar said he wants to put up a fence in the future when financially able,
said Biancardi, and he indicated he has cleaned up the property
substantially since he purchased it, the latter a point Zehner also noted.
Zehner said Tratar owned the property prior to the new comprehensive plan
going into effect, that towing is the way disabled vehicles get to and from
an auto shop so other tow trucks would be coming in, and that the town needs
all the businesses it can get.
She also said auto repair/service is consistent with the needs of a downtown
district where small businesses are encouraged, and such use has been
operated at Tratar’s current location for 25 years.
As described in the Burns Harbor zoning ordinance, the general character of
the downtown district, which is designated along portions of U.S. 20 west of
Indiana 149, is that it be a mix of commercial, mixed-use and multi-family
residential buildings with a high degree of pedestrian amenities that allow
community members to meet their daily and weekly needs on foot, bicycle and
“Part of being a BZA member is considering what’s best for the town. We take
into consideration a lot of different factors. The zoning ordinance and
comprehensive plan are very important because they show where the town wants
to go; for us (as BZA members), we’ll look at what’s good for the town now,”
She also added that the zoning ordinance and comprehensive plan are very new
and not perfect to begin with, as evidenced by the Advisory Plan Commission
asking the Town Council to amend sections of the ordinance. Nevertheless,
said Zehner, the BZA is implementing it to the best of members’ ability.
Tratar’s application for use variance said he wants to tow small to
medium-duty vehicles to and from his repair shop.
Zehner said no conditions, like the maximum number of tow trucks or number
and size of vehicles allowed in the impound lot, were placed on the BZA
approval other than that it is limited to the current property owners.
In order to approve the use variance, among the findings the BZA had to make
was that the need for it arose from some condition peculiar to the property
involved, that the approval does not interfere substantially with the
comprehensive plan, and that the use and value of the area adjacent to the
subject property will not be affected in a substantially adverse manner.