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Weiss Entities not eligible for Porter tax abatement on waterpark property

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By LILY REX

The developer who proposed building an apartment complex at the site of the old Splash Down Dunes waterpark on the northeast corner of Waverly Road and U.S. 20 will not be eligible for tax abatements from the Town of Porter, per a ruling by the Porter Economic Development Commission (EDC).

The EDC voted 2-1 at its meeting Tuesday to decline forming an Economic Development Target Area (EDTA) at the waterpark site, which would have opened up opportunities for developer Weiss Entities to seek tax abatements and other economic incentives from the Town.

Weiss Entities, the same developer who built Lakes of Valparaiso, had proposed building six buildings with amenities such as a clubhouse, dog run, swimming pool, and covered parking on the 18-acre site. Weiss had also agreed to mitigate longstanding stormwater issues and make sewer improvements in the area. The current owner of the waterpark property is White Stallion LLC, the former owner and operator of Splash Down Dunes.

The Town Council approved a rezoning of the site from B-3, general business, to R-4, multi-family residential/PUD in January following several public meetings where tempers ran high when dozens of members of the public turned out to oppose the plan.

Tuesday, EDC members Elka Nelson and Jim Burge said the waterpark property is “shovel ready” for business development since it’s been cleaned up, and they aren’t convinced it meets the criteria to be declared an EDTA. Town Attorney Greg Sobkowski said Indiana Code dictates that an area can be declared an EDTA if it is considered blighted and if normal development at the property has become undesirable or impossible due to several factors, such as cessation of growth, lack of development, deterioration or obsolescence, or sub-standard buildings.

Nelson and Burge agreed they aren’t against the development, but they think it isn’t appropriate to rule the waterpark an EDTA based on the criteria in Indiana Code. The waterpark property is a prime location, they said, and they added that they’ve been presented no evidence that it’s undesirable for other development.

Nelson especially said the site no longer looks blighted to her as it used to, and it now just looks like a mowed, vacant lot. “To say that this is blighted, that this is the only possible use, I don’t have information before me that supports that,” she said.

“I don’t think the property as it sits today is blighted. And I don’t think anyone in good conscience can, based on the information we’ve been provided today, find that the area is prime at this point to be classified as undesirable or impossible for normal development,” Nelson continued.

Burge also said Indiana Code suggests part of EDC’s role is to consider if declaring an EDTA will create jobs or business opportunity, and a residential development wouldn’t. The proposed apartment complex was slated to create six local jobs with a combined value of $300,000, according to Weiss Attorney Richard Anderson.

“In looking at that, the spirit of that law and the actual wording deals with creating jobs,” Burge said. “Since the purpose of creating this target area is for granting tax abatements, it needs to be offset with something the community gains.”

Burge also said the unknown economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on municipal budgets, on top of existing issues in Porter, makes him hesitant to declare an EDTA for a development that won’t create jobs. “We already have things that haven’t been funded properly, like sidewalks that go to nowhere and streets that flood. It’s not like we have a whole bunch of money sitting around.”

Porter Director of Development Michael Barry responded that the waterpark site was only cleaned up in anticipation of sale. “If they (Weiss) weren’t here, it would be blighted like it was before,” he said.

Barry said Weiss had also agreed to complete a $2 million sewer extension project on Waverly that would have brought service to available properties north of U.S. 20 where development has stalled due to limited sewer capacity. “That’s a benefit to the Town,” Barry said. “We can’t fix that sewer. We don’t have the money.”

Anderson noted that Worthington Steel is Porter’s largest taxpayer, with an assessed value (AV) of $8 million compared to the estimated $26 million investment in the proposed apartments. “You’re talking about a project that over time is going to help fund all these things you talk about for the Town,” he said.

President of Weiss Entities Don Weiss said, having grown up in the area, he’s witnessed stagnant growth on the stretch of U.S. 20 through Porter, nicknamed ‘Industrial highway’, with a reputation for abandoned industry and truck stops. “It is blighted,” he said. He also said that population growth from the apartment complex will help sustain and attract business.

Weiss said, however, that he’s prolonged the sale of the property to iron out details with the town and is “out of time” to get the ball rolling. According to Weiss, the Lakes of Valparaiso was made possible by generous Tax Increment Financing (TIF) support from the City of Valparaiso, and the proposed waterpark project cannot move forward without tax abatement. “Without this support, it’s not going to happen,” Weiss said. “If I don’t do it, nobody’s going to do it, and it’s just a shame.”

Ultimately, Nelson and Burge voted against forming an EDTA. EDC member Rob Pomeroy dissented. Weiss and Anderson declined to comment on next steps for the project. Pomeroy declined to comment on his no vote.

The Town Council at a later meeting Tuesday passed a resolution to designate the waterpark site as an Economic Revitalization Area, a move which Barry said could make the property more attractive to other developers, though Weiss cannot benefit from it. Included in the Town Council’s Economic Revitalization Area is the site of a planned training and maintenance facility for St. Cloud Minn.-based Anderson Trucking. If Anderson hasn’t started construction yet, they may be eligible for an abatement, Barry said.

Apply now for Porter TIF board

There is a citizen opening on the Porter Redevelopment Commission. Porter residents interested in serving should submit a letter of interest to Clerk-treasurer Carol Pomeroy either at the Town Hall, 303 Franklin Street, or by email at cpomeroy@townofporter.com by June 19.

The opening is a presidential appointment, and the appointment is slated to be made at the Town Council’s June 23 meeting.

The Redevelopment Commission, also sometimes called a TIF board, manages Tax Increment Financing (TIF) funds and the declaration of TIF areas and can grant economic incentives such as tax abatements to promote development in Town.

 

Posted 6/10/2020

 

 
 
 
 

 

 

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