resident Jennifer Klug presented a letter to the Porter Redevelopment
Commission at its meeting last week as it voted on--ultimately passing-- a
resolution designating the Wabash TIF Economic Development Area.
Klug read aloud her
letter, which asserted connections between the formation of the Wabash TIF
district, the properties within it, a member of the Commission, and
Valparaiso businessman Chuck Williams.
Klug began her
letter by noting that she is concerned Commission member Jeannine Virtue is
married to Scott Virtue, an architect who has worked with Chuck Williams via
Pavilion Partners LLC.
businessman and Treasurer of the Indiana Republican party, is the managing
partner of Pavilion Partners LLC, a company that was tasked with renovating
the 90-year old pavilion at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and
building a banquet center next to it in a partnership with the Indiana
Department of Natural Resources (DNR) until the project was delayed
following accusations by Dunes Action, a local grassroots environmental
organization, that some of the work on the Pavilion was done without proper
In May, Porter
County Prosecutor Brian Gensel appointed a special prosecutor to investigate
the claims by Dunes Action, citing the potential appearance of impropriety
due to his “personal and professional relationship” with Williams.
information has surfaced revealing that Williams had a hand in securing a
lease extension for the space occupied by the Prosecutor’s child support
office at a meeting of the Porter County Board of Commissioners in January
2014 where the lease was not on the agenda and one Commissioner was absent.
The lease appears to have been secured at a rate well above market value,
was signed without the review of a fair market rent analysis, and the
property owner benefits from a tax exemption that Williams secured in 2009.
According to the
Indiana Secretary of State’s database, Williams was the registered business
agent for Courtney Morgan LLC, the company that acquired the property in
2004 and owned the child support office space at 15 N. Franklin Street in
downtown Valparaiso at the time the lease was extended. Shortly after the
extension was finalized, Williams sold the property to a company called 15
Franklin LLC. The registered business agent for both 15 Franklin LLC and
Pavilion Partners LLC is William Ferngren.
stems also from Williams’ apparent interest in the old Johnson Inn, which is
the only commercial property within the newly formed TIF district in Porter
Beach, according to a zoning map of Porter. As previously reported in the
Chesterton Tribune, Porter County Assessor Jon Snyder said Williams
sought a property tax assessment appeal for five parcels on the former
Johnson Inn property, owned by Carl Dahlin Jr. or Johnson Inn Inc. in August
2015. Williams delivered the request for an appeal in a handwritten note on
the last day to file an appeal. On January 7, 2016, the Assessor’s office
issued Dahlin a notice of defect citing the lack of a physical address for
the property, mailing address for the property, telephone number, and name
and signature of the person filing the appeal. Per Indiana Code, appeals
must be filed by the taxpayer or his or her authorized representative, such
as an attorney, certified public accountant, or someone with power of
attorney for the taxpayer. Dahlin, or his representative, had until February
8, 2016 to file corrections to the appeal. The notice of defect lists
William Ferngren as Dahlin’s authorized representative.
Klug ended her
letter, “I’m going to be paying close attention to this project. I think
other people in our community should be paying close attention to this
President Elka Nelson responded to Klug’s letter by saying that she has
personal knowledge that Scott Virtue does not stand to benefit from any
development on properties in the TIF, but that Jeannine Virtue was willing
to abstain from voting on the resolution, nonetheless. “I do want to state
that I personally don’t think Jeannine is disqualified from having a say in
this matter,” Nelson added.
reiterated that her husband is not involved in any work having to do with
Porter Beach, and that she’d sooner resign from the Commission than risk the
appearance of wrongdoing if he ever was. She also said his involvement with
Pavilion Partners was minor. She later did abstain from the vote.
Klug repeated that
she still thinks this project is something the people of Porter should pay
financing, or TIF, is a levy on real property in an established district
that yields an annual flow of cash the Town can use for public works in that
district at its discretion. Revenue from TIF is the difference between
property taxes collected based on the assessed value of property in the
district from a given base year and the total amount of property taxes
collected from the district in the current year. TIF revenue is not required
to be shared with other entities like public libraries, schools, or the
boundary of the TIF district the Commission voted to form last week is
Waverly Road. From the corner of Duneland Drive and Wabash Avenue, there is
a southern boundary extending east to Waverly. Beginning at the corner of
Wabash and Duneland Drive is a western boundary for the district. After half
a block, the district’s boundaries turn to extend further west, encompassing
the arm of State Street connected to Johnson Beach Road. The area is a total
of 19.89 acres and includes National Lakeshore property--a move Porter
Building Commissioner Michael Barry said is a preemptive strike in case a
developer is interested in partnering with the DNR and/or National Lakeshore
to extend development onto that land.