Chesterton Tribune


Chesterton Park Department blasted for sale of lot in Dunewood Estates subdivision

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A Dunewood Estates subdivision resident unhappy about the Park Department’s pending sale of a lot to a couple who want to build on it used words like “extortion” and “theft,” “shady” and “illegal,” when he appeared before the Park Board at its meeting Tuesday night.

Park Board members, for their part, robustly expressed their displeasure with Rick Foor’s choice of language and said that the decision to sell the lot—Lot 5, at 1192 Woodland Drive—was made in good faith, as a way to raise funds for a sidewalk along 1100N, west of 11th Street.

Meanwhile, the buyer of the lot, Adam Rick, while expressing his sympathy for his new neighbors and his understanding of their complaints, said that there was nothing at all underhanded about the deal.

The meeting concluded inconclusively, with Foor indicating his intention to contact the Indiana Attorney General, on the one hand, and to seek an injunction against the sale, on the other.

Virtually the whole of the nearly hour-long meeting was spent on the issue.

The background: formerly all developers of subdivisions in the Town of Chesterton were required under Town Code either to make a cash donation to the Park Department or else to donate a piece of land, with the idea that it would be developed into a community park for the subdivision. Lot 5 in Dunewood Estates was the one chosen by the developer to deed to the Park Department.

As Park Board Member Vincent Emanuele said on Monday, though, no park was ever built on Lot 5, largely because 12-foot utility easements for the Wolverine Pipeline made the installation of playground equipment at least impractical and possibly impossible.

When Rick and his wife approached the Park Board to inquire about buying it, the Park Board accordingly opted to sell it and put the proceeds toward the construction of a sidewalk along 1100N, Emanuele said.

Town Attorney Chuck Lukmann previously told the Chesterton Tribune that state law governing the sale of municipal property was followed, including the obtaining of two appraisals, using the average of the appraisals—$25,000—as the selling price, and holding a public hearing on the sale. The Town Council held that public hearing on Oct. 8, after the issue was originally brought before it on Sept. 24.

On Monday, Foor presented the Park Board with a petition signed by Dunewood Estates resident and making a number of allegations:

•Current residents paid $33,000 to $37,000 for their lots in 1995, meaning that the $25,000 selling price for Lot 5 “would undercut the values of our properties by $20,000 to $30,000.”

•By requiring the developer to donate a piece of land—“or they won’t get a permit to develop and then the town sells that land themselves for a profit”—the town is engaging in “extortion.”

•By selling Lot 5—which Foor said he and his neighbors effectively paid for themselves, given the fact that the developer recouped the cost of that donation by increasing the price of their lot—the town is engaged in “theft or stealing.” Or as the petition puts it, “There are only 13 residents in our subdivision and the Park Department made no attempt to ask the residents for permission to take our park.”

•“We should not have to pay to hire an attorney to stop the Park Department from engaging in extortion and theft,” the petition states. “They should refrain from such activities on their own.”

•The petition concludes: “We don’t want to lose the hours of enjoyment watching forest animals like deer and birds frolicking at the edge of the woods and open space.”

In speaking before the Park Board, Foor had a few other points to make. For one thing, he said, the Town of Chesterton never notified the Dunewood Estates residents that the lot was up for sale. “Rather than contact the 13 residents that such a sale would affect, the town puts an article in the newspaper because it is ‘all that is required by state law,’ according to the Town Attorney.”

When Park Board Member Roy Flaherty noted that the Chesterton Tribune covered the sale in numerous stories, Foor replied, “I don’t care. We don’t read the newspaper.”

Foor also questioned the way in which Adam Rick and his wife made their choice of the lot. He “drives into our neighborhood looking for land to build a house on,” Foor said. “He sees two huge open lots and doesn’t contact the owners and sees one smaller lot and checks on it and finds out it is owned by the Park Department so he contacts the Park Department and asks if he can buy it. Who would do that—unless someone within the town government told him to?”

As it happens, Adam Rick at Tuesday’s meeting said point blank that no one in town told him to approach the Park Board. “There was no conspiracy. We never meet anyone on the Town Council before going to that meeting,” on Oct. 8. “I can understand your frustration,” Rick added. “And if I were in your shoes I’d feel about the same way.”

Foor made one specific claim which is not at all accurate, namely, that when Dunewood Estates resident Arlene Fekete spoke at the Oct. 8 public meeting “she was told by you that she didn’t have a say so she sat down.”

No member of the Town Council told Fekete that she had no say. In fact, Fekete made her opinion plainly known and objected to the sale on the grounds that it was her understanding that—if not actually developed as a community park—Lot 5 nevertheless “was going to be left as green space.”

As the Chesterton Tribune reported at the time, Park Superintendent Bruce Mathias said in response that Lot 5 “doesn’t simply belong to your subdivision” and in any case “the Park Department determined not to put money into it with Dogwood Park just down the street.”

Park Board Responds

Flaherty wasted no time in responding to Foor. The sale, he said, “was 100 percent transparent. It was covered in the Chesterton Tribune. I really, really resent this ‘conspiracy’ that you’ve cooked up. You’re calling me an extortionist. You’re calling me a thief. I really resent that.”

“I don’t care,” Flaherty also said. “They can fire me from this board tomorrow. I don’t care. It’s wrong to come in here and pass on these accusations.”

Emanuele said much the same thing. “We could never do anything with the park equipment (on Lot 5) because of the easements needed for the pipeline. For you to make these kind of accusations is crazy.”

The whole idea, Emanuele added, “was to get funds for a sidewalk to Dogwood Park. It was just brought up at a Town Council meeting how dangerous it is for kids to access the High School and Dogwood.”

Associate Town Attorney Julie Paulson did note that “no representation was made to the buyer that it was a buildable lot. Quite frankly, we don’t know if it’s a buildable lot.”

And if it’s not buildable, Paulson said, Adam Rick will not get a building permit.

Paulson also confirmed that all requirements for the sale of municipal property under Indiana Code were met, including the securing of two appraisals and notice of a public hearing on the matter 10 days prior to that hearing. “That’s state law,” she said. “That’s nothing the town controls. If you’re upset, you need to take it up with your legislator.”

When Foor asked, then, whether the Park Board would rescind its decision to sell Lot 5, Emanuele said that it would not. “The town is currently under contract to sell this property. That’s as far as we know.”

So I should file an injunction, Foor asked Paulson.

“I can’t give you legal advice,” Paulson replied.

“In addition to filing a complaint with the Indiana State Attorney’s Office requesting a formal investigation of the town’s practices, we will be forced to get an attorney to file an injunction to stop the Park Department from selling our park and will of course have the Park Department pay for our legal fees,” Foor said.


Posted 12/5/2012