Chesterton Tribune



Citizens question new Porter EDC

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The Porter Economic Development Commission (EDC) held its first meeting last night.

This first meeting was an organizational meeting, as required by law. The three members elected Rob Pomeroy as president, Jim Burge as vice-president, and Elka Nelson as secretary. They then set their next meeting for Monday, April 13 at 6:30 p.m.

There was no business, so the Board called for public comment. Robert Setlik spoke up first. “I would like to question the legitimacy of this three-man board,” he said. “We were told to volunteer ourselves. Some of us went and signed up for this Commission and were ignored. We didn’t even get the courtesy of a response.”

Setlik and his wife Sandra were among a large group of residents who opposed the rezoning of the old Waterpark property at the northeast corner of U.S. 20 and Waverly Road where developer Weiss Entities has proposed building an apartment complex.

Citizens spent hours remonstrating against the proposal with varied complaints, one of which was that the Town Council wasn’t representing the will of the people when it became apparent the proposal was moving forward. The Town Council approved a planned unit development (PUD) for the site that rezoned it from B-3, general business, to R-4, multi-family residential, and granted Weiss three developmental standards variances in January.

Town Council president Greg Stinson announced after the approval that concerned citizens would have an opportunity to get involved with the new EDC. The Town subsequently received 10 applications for the three-member board, and Pomeroy, Nelson, and Burge were appointed.

When asked why he appointed a former Town Council member, Stinson told the Chesterton Tribune he wanted people with experience in municipal finance on the Board and thought it was best if the Board members were neutral about new developments in Town.

“What’s neutral about you people? You’re former town officials appointed by a Town Council president that was anything but neutral about those proceedings,” Setlik said.

Attorney Greg Sobkowski said the Town followed the law in appointing the board members. One member was appointed by Stinson, one was nominated and appointed by the Town Council as a whole, and the third appointed by the Porter County Council at the Town’s recommendation.

Burge and Nelson said they sent in letters after hearing about the opening. Pomeroy said he was approached by Town Council member Brian Finley about applying.

Pomeroy is a former Porter Town Council member who said he served alongside Nelson and gained experience working on the Town budget. He is also Clerk-treasurer Carol Pomeroy’s nephew.

Nelson has a background in real estate law and was formerly on the Town Council. She also said she’s unfamiliar with the developer and has no interest in the apartment project. “I applied because I thought I’d be a good watchdog for our community. I came into this pretty open-minded,” Nelson said. “I’m one of the least likely citizens to waste taxpayers’ money. I’m very conservative with that and like to see where it’s going.”

Burge said, as a former County Council member, he was on the committee entrusted with making recommendations on investing the proceeds from the sale of Porter Hospital. He has a background in business and is currently a vice-president of sales and marketing, a position where he said he’s established a pattern of fostering collaboration. Burge lost a bid for the fourth ward seat on the Town Council last year and is now on the Board of Zoning Appeals.

Setlik wasn’t satisfied. “I’m still concerned that you’re all part of a continued inbred group in Porter and that the rest of us are iced out,” he said.

Jennifer Klug asked what exactly the EDC does. Sobkowski said the EDC’s primary duties are promoting and reviewing economic development in Town. It recommends funding for development, such as bond issues, and it has a role in awarding tax abatements in the sense that it makes recommendations on whether or not to designate economic development areas.

Sandra Setlik asked if the EDC members have an interest in making sure development is environmentally responsible. Nelson said she thinks about the environment every day. “If I think anything is adverse, I will probably speak against that,” she said.

Burge likewise said he is concerned about the environment, as he learned how important it is to Porter residents while canvassing for his campaign last year. Burge said he also knows how important neighborhoods are and how “everyone loves their little corner of Porter.”

“At the same time,” Burge said, “we need to keep an open mind about ways we can bring in development that will help grow our tax base and create jobs.”

The three members agreed they aim to be a voice for Porter residents, not for themselves. “Whatever I can do to help the community, that’s why I’m here,” Pomeroy said.



Posted 3/10/2020




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