MICHIGAN CITY — More than 100 people showed up to Tuesday’s meeting of the Michigan City Common Council, many to voice their concerns about two items on the agenda and two others not on it.
Typically, City Council meetings don’t draw a quarter of that many attendees, but every seat in the Council Chambers at City Hall was filled, with additional citizens standing along the walls and in the vestibule just outside throughout the four-hour meeting.
More than a dozen people, many of them members of Organized and United Residents of Michigan City (OURMC), spoke out against the Michigan City Police Department’s request for license plate reader technology with facial recognition capabilities; and the council voted unanimously to remove that request from an ordinance and their agenda going forward.
Many of those same dissenters also voiced opposition to the civic plaza that has been proposed for downtown Michigan City.
The Michigan City Redevelopment Commission (RDC) was originally scheduled to go before the council Tuesday to request permission to secure $8.8 million in bonds to build a plaza at the intersection of Franklin and Seventh streets. But the request was pulled from the agenda at the request of Mayor Ron Meer.
Still, the public came to voice their opinions on whether they felt the city should take on the project, which would cost about $11 million over the course of 20 years.
“I know this plaza has been stalled ... to address concerns,” said resident David Metcalf. “... But I think its entire existence is a concern, and it should not exist.”
Several members of OURMC listed other ways they would prefer the city spend the money, from investing in public transportation and improving sidewalks, to providing affordable housing, free childcare and free youth programming.
None of the alternatives they suggested would be eligible to receive the TIF funds that would be used to build the plaza. However, they requested that the city abolish the TIF district and the RDC, and use the taxes generated in the city’s Uptown Arts District to benefit the city at large.
“I understand that the money you’re talking about for this plaza cannot be used for sidewalks in our neighborhood,” said Caitlin Ferrell of OURMC. “... But what I don’t understand is why this city has designated zones where tax money is being clustered, and it is being allocated by people who are not elected officials.”
Gentrification was of major concern to several attendees, who indicated they fear a plaza would raise property values, which would increase rents and displace residents.
But a few people attended the meeting to voice their support for the plaza project.
Bob Bailey, who served on the RDC in the 1970s, said Millennium Plaza in Chicago revitalized the surrounding area, and he believes Michigan City would benefit from similar effects.
Sharon Goodman said she hopes to see Michigan City build the plaza, because the one in La Porte has spurred development all around it.
“Gentrification is not a bad thing,” she said, as the crowd heckled and booed her loudly.
“This plaza is one of the best things that could ever happen in Michigan City,” said Joe Coar of Tonn & Blank Construction. “… If we turn this down, I think you can take development in Michigan City and push it to the side.”
Another issue not on the council agenda that was strongly protested Tuesday was the rezoning of a parcel of land on Fogarty Street from single-family residential to multi-family residential.
Eleanor Hartman of Canada Park Neighbors told the council that Ordinance 4509 – which was passed after just one council meeting instead of the typical three – should be considered invalid because the developers misrepresented where the property is located and failed to serve notice of their plans to surrounding residents.
“The reason why none of us in the neighborhood knew about it is because we never had the accurate information. That’s why we’re having to speak about it now,” Hartman said.
At least seven more Canada Park residents took the mic to request that the council reconsider its decision, citing reasons like congested roadways and overloaded stormwater sewer systems.
An agenda item that OURMC publicly supported was one that would establish a registry and mandatory inspections for Michigan City landlord. However, that piece of potential legislation was questioned by former councilman and current mayoral candidate Duane Parry.
“The party that’s going to be most negatively affected by enacting this ordinance will be the renters in Michigan City,” Parry said. “The extensive safety inspections by the city will force landlords to incur unplanned expenses, which will be inconvenient because they’ll have to be resolved quickly. But the renter will be the recipient of the final impact of the inspection when the rent goes up.”
The landlord registration program and rental safety inspection and verification program ordinance was tabled until the council’s Aug. 6 meeting. It will also be the topic of discussion at a meeting of the council’s Planning and Zoning Committee at 5 p.m. Wednesday, July 31, in the EOC Room at City Hall.