For those of you who care about protection of our lakes, as a La Porte City Councilman, I wanted to draw your attention to a special City Council meeting to be held Thursday, Dec. 27, at 4 p.m. at City Hall.
At that meeting, the City Council, in what I believe to be a misguided effort to bring new upscale residential investment "at all costs," is at risk of abandoning long-established principles of Waterfront View Protection in our city, in order to provide the developer of a proposed townhouse project along Fishtrap Lake with special treatment that is unwarranted, unjustified, and will set a terrible precedent that puts all of our lakes in danger. Specifically, the developer, Legacy Hills Development, LLC, has asked the city to annex roughly 525 feet of lake frontage on Fishtrap Lake, so that it can cram as many units as possible onto the land parcel (maximizing its profit), regardless of the effect on the quality of life in our community.
What is particularly galling about this situation is that the architect for the proposed project is the same one that brought us the infamous "Outlook Cove" structure on Pine Lake Avenue, a structure that did unspeakable damage to the unique character of La Porte by placing a cold, brutal and over-scaled monstrosity, with barely visible windows, looming over Pine Lake Avenue, and permanently blocking the view of Pine Lake at La Porte's very front door. We must not allow this to happen again.
It is ironic that the City Council, a decade or so ago, passed a law creating Waterfront View Protection for Pine, Stone, Lower, Hennessy, Clear, Crane and Walker Lakes, directly in response to the negative effect of Outlook Cove (and an adjoining development) on the city's image. And yet, here we are, 10 years later, with the same developer, seeking to exploit a loophole in our zoning ordinance, that not only provides for no design oversight for townhouses, but a city administration that inexplicably failed to insist on Fish Trap Lake having the same Waterfront View Protection that La Porte's seven other major lakes have. Now, it is up to the City Council to use its power to take a stand, on behalf of the people.
I want to make it clear, La Porte desperately needs, and I fully welcome, upscale residential development. And it doesn't have to be of a style that I personally like either. But when, at the last City Council meeting, the developer of the proposed project plays coy, and refuses to answer even general questions about the nature of the project, trust is shattered. Then, when the developer walks out of the Council meeting, after the Council, in a 4-2 vote, amended the annexation ordinance to mandate Waterfront Protection to the project, naturally, one has to wonder exactly what provisions of waterfront protection the developer objects to. Perhaps public attendance at the special City Council meeting will help extract the sought after information.
So, what is going to happen at the special Council Meeting on Dec. 27 at 4 p.m.? What saddens me about this situation is that some of my colleagues on the council seem prepared to say "never mind," and reverse their vote, in order to free the developer from the Waterfront View Protection requirement. This, in my view, completely sacrifices the public interest, and would set a dangerous precedent that it is open season on La Porte's lakes. Wasn't this issue was resolved 10 years ago?
I am a very open-minded person, and pride myself in free inquiry, reasonableness, and careful analysis. But when a developer treats the council as a nuisance to be ignored, sidestepped and dismissed, that raises my hackles. My message to all lakefront developers in La Porte is simple: Be a part of the lake you are building on. Integrate your development with the lake. Don't exploit the lake, and have the back-side of your building "thumb its nose" at the populace of La Porte. That is wrong, and that costs us all in the long run. Work with us. And we will work with you. It's called win-win.
Timothy Stabosz is a La Porte City Councilman At-Large.