HAMMOND | A business in downtown Hammond fears it will be forced to close as a result of a Hammond City Council vote on a parking lot ordinance.

The ordinance restricts parking in any municipally owned parking lots from midnight to 5 a.m. Violators will be towed at city expense.

The ordinance, sponsored by Councilwoman Janet Venecz, D-at large, could mean the end of business for AquaVor Nightclub, in the 5200 of Hohman Avenue. An attorney for AquaVor said the club would not have opened if city staff hadn't given permission for the business to use a nearby city parking lot.

The club, which has been closed since no-parking signs were posted earlier this summer, had operated from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. Friday and Saturday.

Representatives of AquaVor believe they are being singled out by Venecz.

Venecz said the ordinance is not about AquaVor.

"There is loitering, there is littering, there is damage to some of our ballparks. This is a quality-of-life issue for our residents. Plain and simple," Venecz said. "This ordinance is directed to the residents of the city as a whole.

The council voted 8-1 to approve the ordinance.

Councilman Anthony Higgs, D-3rd, who voted against it, said he believes illegal activities on city lots should be dealt with but that the ordinance should be fine-tuned for businesses such as AquaVor.

“I don’t want to see a business gone from Hammond,” he said.

Venecz attended a recent liquor renewal license hearing for AquaVor, where she learned about instances requiring police presence at the club.

The Rev. Santiago Gamez, who lives near the club, attended the meeting and said AquaVor “is a nuisance” and that its patrons fight, are loud and urinate in homeowners’ yards.

“It seems like a lot of fingers are pointing toward us,” said Enrique Balerini, an AquaVor manager.

“I’ve never had any neighbors come in to complain or reach out to any of our staff members. If so, you can assure that I would address the situation.”

Following the vote, council members Robert Markovich, D-at large, and Homero “Chico” Hinojosa, D-6th, expressed concern about a potential lawsuit by AquaVor if the club originally was allowed to use the city lot for its patrons. The club spent about $2 million to open.

Markovich, Hinojosa and Higgs wanted to table the ordinance for further discussion, but they were overruled 6-3.

“I hate to be passing some kind of ordinance where we’re going to get sued and we’re going to lose,” Markovich said. “This ought to be tabled.”

AquaVor attorney Carla Pyle said the business will investigate the possibility of a lawsuit.

The ordinance originally intended for there to be no parking in city lots from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m., with signs downtown already posting those hours, but Venecz amended it to midnight after hearing concerns from other local business owners.

AquaVor has been closed since the signs were posted earlier this summer. Balerini said about 30 AquaVor employees are now out of work.

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Metro Editor