Chesterton Tribune



Porter resident seeks answers oncommercial TIF district at beach

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Concerned Porter 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.

Chuck Williams, 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 authorization.

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.

Most recently, 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.

Klug’s concern 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 also.”

Commission 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.

Jeannine Virtue 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 attention to.

Tax increment 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 County.

The eastern 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.



Posted 7/3/2018




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