ST. JOHN | There was a time, back in the days of the grassroots change agents of the Citizens Party, that Town Council meetings were pretty well attended.
These days, audience members at St. John Town Council meetings are almost nonexistent and, right or wrong, town leaders are taking it as a signal that residents are happy with the direction the town is going. The lack of attendance shows residents are pleased with the accomplishments of its administrators rather than any sort of apathy, officials say.
Council President Mike Forbes, R-at large, sees the calmer waters as a sign St. John is on the right track. He’s confident the town advanced on several fronts during 2013.
So, Big Mac lovers, get ready for a new McDonald’s restaurant at U.S. 41 and 97th Avenue. The McDonald’s will be built at the current location of Eenigenburg Quality Water, 9769 Wicker Ave., which is constructing a new building in town.
Selling St. John
St. John historically has been a bedroom community and has shunned big-box type businesses, although the town has firmly placed the welcome mat for commercial development.
“We are engaged in an aggressive marketing campaign,” Forbes said. “We sent out 500 brochures to get the process started and are starting to make contacts with prospective businesses.
"We’re targeting the U.S. 41 corridor and potentially U.S. 231. Our primary focus is restaurants and, secondarily, retail. We would like to find someone to occupy the (vacant) Kmart building.”
St. John may see ground broken for an assisted living center in 2014. The council rezoned land at U.S. 231 and Park Place to pave the way for such a development, which is currently in the engineering and design phase.
Forbes said a retail developer has an eye on land across from Lake Central High School on the east side of U.S. 41. The town is considering construction of a street at the stoplight at the school entrance. The road also would open up the area adjacent to DeYoung’s Furniture to new residential development.
For the record, St. John tallied 146 new single-family homes, 40 duplexes and 18 townhomes this year. No condos and only two commercial businesses were built. New construction topped $53 million, with the town collecting more than $1.3 million in related fees.
St. John has had its share of residential development over the past decade, and remains one of the fastest-growing communities in the state with a population of more than 15,000.
Balancing quality-of-life issues with demands of developers has often left the town struggling to keep up its infrastructure. To help offset the impact, the town last year raised the park impact fee ($80) developers must pay per housing unit. A new paved trail built around Prairie West Park is proving popular with residents.
Sidewalks and school safety
Forbes pointed to a new, 1,600-foot sidewalk near 85th Avenue and Bingo Lake Road, which he said was especially needed because of pedestrians going to and from the high school.
St. John accepted a grant to fund a high school police officer for the next three years. When the grant runs out, St. John, Schererville, Dyer and the school district will share equally in funding the officer.
The town granted employees 2 percent raises for 2014.
Residents should have noticed a zero-sum sanitation bill as a result of a renegotiated rate with Republic Sanitation. They can expect new garbage cans, too.
The town also realized savings of $550,000 by refinancing the construction bond for the Public Safety Building.
“I would like to see the town build a recreational center one day, but that’s years off until we recoup some of our bonding power,” Forbes said.