City annexes Fishtrap Lake property

Photo by Phil HerroldProperty along Fishtrap Lake was annexed at Thursday's La Porte City Council meeting. The property, along McClung Road, may be the site of luxury townhouses.

La PORTE — Fishtrap Lake may be the future site of luxury townhouses.

The La Porte City Council held a special meeting Thursday in response to an unexpected outcome that occurred during their previous meeting on Dec. 17.

During that meeting, the council intended to vote an an ordinance annexing property located in Center Township near Fishtrap Lake. The property is intended for luxury townhouses to be built along McClung Road by Legacy Hills Development, LLC.

The annexation did not occur during the last meeting due to doubts by the council as to how the waterfront of Fishtrap Lake would be protected under the ordinance.

Since the Legacy Hills representatives did not have a concrete plan in which they were willing to show the council before the vote, there was apprehension to annex the property for fear the buildings may built too close together, blocking out the view of the lake.

Councilman Tim Stabosz likened this to structures on Pine Lake Avenue in La Porte that block the view of the lake in some areas.

After voting for an amendment to the ordinance providing waterfront protection to Fishtrap Lake at the Dec. 17 meeting of the City Council, Legacy Hills Development, LLC withdrew their petition.

Bill Nelson, the attorney representing Legacy Hills Development, LLC, came before the council to give an explanation of where they stood.

“The reason we withdrew the petition at the last meeting on Dec. 17 was for this — despite having been engaged in this annexation process for more than three months leading up to last Monday’s meeting. My client was faced with what felt like an 11th hour ambush which added restrictions never previously discussed," Nelson said. "That change to the proposed ordinance presented the possibility that my client would suffer an undetermined loss of value to the subject property.”

The council called Thursday's meeting because some members were still interested in annexing the property into the city and partnering with Legacy Hills.

"Despite the events that occurred here on Dec. 17, my client remains interested in furthering this project as a potential partner with the city of La Porte," Nelson said. "Accordingly, at this time, on behalf of my client, Legacy Hills Development, LLC, I respectfully withdraw the prior withdrawal of this petition for annexation and rezoning for further consideration [by] this council.”

Stabosz said he had concerns with the legality of the proposed withdrawal.

“To withdraw a withdrawal seems out of order to me," Stabosz said. "I mean, this matter has been dispensed with, and there needs to be a re-introduction of an ordinance and a re-pursuit. I move we adjourn this meeting. This matter is dispensed with and over. They withdrew their petition. This is over!”

Stabosz’s remarks were met with applause by the unusually packed City Hall crowd.

Councilwoman Laura Cutler explained her opposing position to the council.

“I’m feeling as though we were making an adjustment to an ordinance that wasn’t legal, because they were still county," Cutler said. "They were not annexed in and we were trying to hold them accountable for a city rule or ordinance, and they are still county. Until we adopt an annexation, we can’t even consider holding them to any city rules.”

Cutler went on to say, “I also feel really strongly, upon more investigation, that with this development [being established] as county or city, they are going to have a choice between sewer or septic and I believe that city sewer next to the lake is far safer in preserving the habitat on the lake than septic, and that could be a big turning point, too.”

Several La Porte County residents complained of their homes in or near the city not being hooked up to the city sewer earlier due to city guidelines or perceived complacency earlier in the meeting, during public comment.

The council then made a motion to withdraw the amendment providing waterfront protection to Fishtrap Lake imposed on the annex that passed 4-2 at the Dec. 17 City Council meeting. This opened up discussion among the council.

Stabosz reacted in particular outrage at the prospect of the amendment being stripped from the ordinance.

“I’ve had city officials telling me, behind the scenes essentially, let’s let this one go through and we’ll put it in for the next one. Like, I’m supposed to respect that? [Can I] respect myself in the morning as a councilman after that?” Stabosz asked.  “I’ve heard people say, 'We’re far enough along in the process, you have to approve this.' Essentially the notion is that we’re far enough along that it would be unfair to the developer. Well, guess what! The city council has power, and the power comes from the people. We are the City Council. Can we not stop this?” 

Councilman Miles Fettinger turned his attention to Stabosz.

“You are the one harboring all this fear," Fettinger said. "You are the one, generating all of this fear. You are jumping ahead to giant condos being built around a lake, when we’re just talking about annexing one little piece of property. This is literally just to say, 'this is now within the city limits.' Are you powerless to apply design standards, by ordinance, in January?”

“We don’t know the answer because the city code is unclear,” replied Stabosz.

After voting to terminate discussion, the council called for a vote on the ordinance annexing to and bringing within the city limits of La Porte property located in Center Township (Legacy Hills Development, LLC), which passed 4-1.

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