YEAR IN REVIEW - LAKE COUNTY COMMUNITIES

2012-12-30T00:00:00Z 2013-12-20T17:09:07Z YEAR IN REVIEW - LAKE COUNTY COMMUNITIESTimes Staff nwitimes.com
December 30, 2012 12:00 am  • 

CEDAR LAKE | The tussle over the future of the town’s Park Board continued in 2012, with two judges ruling on the matter.

Board members Gina Alessia, Candi Reiling and Andrew Balkema had been removed by the Town Council last year. The board was ultimately dissolved by the council and oversight of the Parks Department and park properties were transferred to the Council.

In May of this year, a judge's order reinstated Alessia, Reiling and Balkema with back pay  and returned all park properties to the board. The town appealed the decision, and in July, filed a motion to stay, asking that all Park Board business be halted until the situation is resolved.

A senior Superior Court judge agreed, ruling the board may meet to discuss the litigation and business related to it, but may not discuss town business or take any actions. The town’s appeal of Schneider’s decision is now continuing its way through the courts.

The police chief and the chairman of its police commission resigned this year. Chief Randall Majersky, who had served in that position for roughly a year, resigned in October, as did Police Commission Chair Greg Rambo. Town Council president Randy Niemeyer said Majersky was not meeting goals set by the department. Majersky remains a Cedar Lake police officer; the top job is being currently handled by Jerry Smith, who is serving as interim chief.

The new Strack & Van Til has its formal ground-breaking in July. To be located on the site of the Wilco County Market in Lincoln Plaza, 133rd Avenue and Parrish, the store will be 50,000 square feet and contain a Centier bank branch. It is expected to open in the spring of 2013.

CROWN POINT | Patrons streamed into the new Crown Point Community Library on opening day Oct. 22.

The $12 million, 46,750-square-foot building in the 100 block of North Main Street, signaled the start of a new chapter for the library. The building replaced a smaller library at 214 S. Court St., which closed Sept. 29 after 40 years. 

Officials in June adopted a city ordinance regulating rental housing for the first time in the city's history. It requires every apartment in every rental-unit building to be registered with the city and sets a registration fee of $50 per building and an additional $20 per rental unit. The new rules go into effect Tuesday.

Culverts over Smith Ditch in Stillwater subdivision were replaced to cap years of legal issues stemming from when the subdivision was built in the late 1990s.

Three softball fields and other improvements were installed at the Crown Point sports complex as part of a $3.5 million second phase of work at the complex, 1300 E. North St. The improvements are part of a long-range plan to transform the site into a multi-sport complex potentially unrivaled in the state, according to city officials.

Crown Point officials lauded the summer completion of the $2.1 million reconstruction of West Street.

DYER | The year brought several administrative changes this year.

David Hein, who has been serving as interim police chief, was named chief this past summer. Rick Eberly, who previously served in an interim role, was named Town Administrator.

Earlier in the year, Dyer joined other local communities in giving retired police officers a boost in pay.

Dog lovers who support a special place in town for their canine friends formed a committee to help make it a reality in 2012.

The Dyer Dog Park Committee has been raising money to open a future dog park on the Central Park property along Calumet Avenue this year.

The town also began a process that that may one day give Dyer a bike trail.

Norfolk Southern has formally moved to abandon its rail line in Dyer, and the town has petitioned to rail bank the line, a procedure which sets aside abandoned rail line right-of-way for future use.

EAST CHICAGO | Administrators are continuing to pursue lower spending levels and public-private partnerships to keep the city operational.

The budget for 2013 -- at $25.8 million -- stands at the city's lowest ever, down $4.8 million from this year's low, and only $3 million in gaming money pledged to balance any shortfall, down from a peak of $13 million in 2010.

In August, an agreement with a private developer was reached to rebuild the Cline Avenue bridge -- closed since 2009 for safety reasons -- as a toll road.

Florida-based Cline Avenue Bridge LLC offered the city an investment of between $150 and $250 million to rebuild 1.25 miles of the former state highway over the Indiana Harbor Ship Canal between Riley Road and Indiana Harbor Drive.

Developers proposed giving the city 10 cents from each toll collected, and in return asked for 10 years of tax abatement on the new private property and 25 years of financial leverage through creation of a so-called economic revitalization area and related tax increment financing district.

Demolition of the former structure is officially completed, with the new bridge scheduled to be finished by the end of 2014.

Mayor Anthony Copeland dissolved that city's $1 million emergency medical transportation division in May, signing a five-year contract with private firm Prompt Ambulance Services of Highland.

The city made state history in November, electing a nine-member school board to replace the five-member board previously appointed by the mayor.

Dredging of the Indiana Harbor and Ship Canal, considered the most polluted waterway in the Great Lakes, began in October after delays of nearly 30 years.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to remove some 4.6 million cubic yards of sediment from the harbor and canal, and permanently store the material in a 186-acre confined disposal facility built on Indianapolis Boulevard at Riley Road.

A year after the the city's new $30 million waterworks opened -- but failed to produce -- the promised quantities of fresh water, the city is vowing to get the facility working by summer.

GRIFFITH | The end of the year saw a shakeup in the police department, when Police Chief Ron Kottka and his second-in-command, Mike Gulley, were demoted by the Town Council.

Kotta was replaced, on an interim basis, by Cpl. Matthew Moore as the department searches for a new chief. The council said it wanted the department to go in a new direction.

Violence within The Mansards apartment complex was another hot issue and Moore plans additional patrols there. The complex is also expected to be an area of focus for the task force.

The town again was frustrated in its ongoing attempt to leave Calumet Township. Critical language was removed from one state bill and another died for lack of a third reading.

Griffith also saw the rise of a new public library when ground was broken at 45th and Colfax avenues.

The 15,000 square foot complex will replace the old 8,811 square foot old library.

Longtime Fire Chief George Thiel retired after 60 years and was replaced by another longtime firefighter, Roy Schoon.

HAMMOND | Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. began the year announcing the city had shelved plans to privatize its water company. He said focus would turn to contracting Hammond's water services out to Illinois communities, where the city has several customers.

Two long-term water contracts with Illinois communities came up for renewal this year, and the city successfully negotiated a new contract with Calumet City, but talks ground to a halt with Chicago Heights, whose 30-year water contract with Hammond expired in November. Over the proposed rate increase, Chicago Heights sued Hammond in federal court and filed a similar complaint with the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission.

Hammond City Councilman Al Salinas, D-2nd, was indicted in federal court in October and pleaded not guilty to charges of bribery and four counts of willful failure to file tax returns from 2006 to 2009.

The now-former head pastor of First Baptist Church of Hammond, Jack Schaap, pleaded guilty in September to a federal charge of having a sexual relationship with an underage parish girl. Schaap, who was fired from the Hammond church in July, admitted to having three sexual encounters with the girl beginning when she was 16. In October, the church announced it was letting go of a quarter of its staff.

At the upcoming Indiana General Assembly, McDermott intends to ask legislators to consolidate the Hammond Public Library with the Lake County system.

Hammond concentrated on improving its downtown to entice development, completing a $2.1 million beautification project featuring a new 130-space parking lot and upgrades to sections of Hohman Avenue and Russell Street this summer. 

HIGHLAND – From a new community center to new business, 2012 was a good year in Highland.

Over the past few years, the old Lincoln Community Center has almost been completely replaced by a two-phase reconstruction project.

The modern facility features a fitness center, field house, banquet hall and dance room, along with meeting rooms, classrooms, offices and a day care center.

The town also took ownership of the historic Town Theatre in a county tax sale. Town officials want to see the building renovated and remain a theater in the future.

New businesses are also coming to town as the Town Council recently approved a tax abatement for a new Culver's restaurant at the southwest corner of Ridge Road and Cline Avenue.

Also getting tax abatements were Volkswagen of Highland, moving in at 9545 Indianapolis Blvd., and Strack & Van Til for moving its corporate headquarters to 2244 45th St.

Highland Police Chief Peter Hojnicki helped create a crime task force between Highland, Munster and Griffith to focus on problem areas in all three towns. He did so by obtaining a $35,000 federal grant and offering to share it with the other departments.

HOBART | Incidents of violence in U.S. 30 retail corridor were top stories in Hobart this year.

Three men were in police custody and later charged following a home invasion, crash and shooting on Aug. 8 that started in Porter County and ended at the U.S. 30 retail area in Hobart.

The three men confessed to breaking into a Porter County woman's home, robbing her at gunpoint and beating her, police said.

Three of the suspects were apprehended by police. A fourth suspect, 24-year-old Patrick Duffy, of Crown Point, died of a self-inflicted gunshot, Grissom said.

A dispute over a basketball game played into a fight and shooting incident Nov. 10 at Westfield Southlake mall.

The mall on U.S. 30 east of Mississippi Street, was evacuated about 6:30 p.m. after a shot was fired in one of the mall's open areas when two groups of youths got into a fight.

Off-duty Hobart police officers working mall security apprehended three teens, who were later charged through Lake County Juvenile Court, Evans said.

LAKE STATION | Issues with water took center stage in Lake Station in 2012.

Dozens of residents in early February packed the City Council meeting to learn more about a proposed 35 percent increase in their water rate.

Although the majority of residents voiced opposition to such a large increase given the economy, a few said they'd be willing to pay more if the result meant better quality water.

Lake Station officials also award $7.7 million contract for first phase of water improvement project. The first phase will include new water supply wells, new groundwater treatment plant and water main improvements.

Lake Station earned a NIPSCO award for its green efforts at its new municipal complex.

Lake Station officials abandoned plans to abolish City Court by Jan. 1, 2014. That decision was applauded by the majority of a standing-room-only crowd that came to City Hall to support City Judge Chris Anderson.

LOWELL | This south Lake County community began shaking off its mantle as a bedroom community in 2012 and revived annexation efforts to promote a broader tax base.

Concurrently, town leaders began enhancing infrastructure for a more attractive welcome mat to draw commercial and light industrial development.

The Tri-Creek School Board, with new Superintendent Debra Howe at the helm, launched an ambitious technology plan in May that, by year's end, had converted the way education was delivered to students.

New annexation efforts were spurred in August when Ashland Products announced it would close its doors. This followed the previous year's loss of Rieter Automotive.

The Town Council in August annexed seven parcels at Holtz Road on the east end and off Morse Street near the town's north central boundary. By October, the council had expanded its annexation plans to include not only 80 acres extending southward from West Commercial and Austin avenues' southeast corner, but also westward from the southwest corner to include a Waste Management construction and demolition landfill.

That area benefited in 2012 from a state project that paved Ind. through Lowell and included new curbing and sidewalks in some areas. The town has plans to continue the improvements with its own curb and sidewalk project.

To accommodate desired growth, the town undertook a $6.1 million sewer improvement/expansion project that added 3600 new connections to its capacity.

NEW CHICAGO | New Chicago officials in February named Tim Lucas, 32, of Portage, the new police chief. He signed a one-year contract Feb. 8 at a salary of $32,600.

New Chicago officials in mid-September eliminated its 911 dispatch becoming the first community to consolidate with Lake County.

MERRILLVILLE | The town hired its first full-time firefighters in October.

The Merrillville Fire Department consisted entirely of volunteers before the 12 full-time staffers were hired.

Merrillville continues to use volunteers to back up the full-time crew.

The first quarter of the year took a violent turn when 48-year-old Judi Simpson-Beaver was killed during a robbery at the Lucky Mart Foods, 5695 Cleveland St.

In June, a Merrillville teenager was sentenced to 30 years in prison in the July 2011 slaying of 80-year-old Anna Shultz, a Gary High School teacher. Royal Marshall, 18, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter.

Severe weather displaced several Merrillville residents in early July when a brief but strong storm stripped part of the roof away from the Hickory Ridge Lake Apartments complex, 1718 W. 55th Ave.

Portions of the roof landed on vehicles parked near the building, but there were no injuries.

MUNSTER | The town continued its economic development boom during 2012, adding retail, medical, business and manufacturing space.

Munster Shops by Bruce Boyer of Boyer Properties Inc. of Highland has transformed the long-vacant former Carpetland site and been a catalyst for change along Calumet Avenue, says Tom DeGiulio, Munster Town Manager.

Phase II is now occupied, providing the finishing touches to that portion of east Calumet Avenue.

At Mitch Simborg’s 72-acre Lake Business Center, Arland Energy Systems of Evanston, Ill. will build three manufacturing facilities including Indiana Solar One, a facility that will produce solar panels with American-made components.

The Centennial Park landfill methane gas-to energy facility is now producing electricity which the town is selling to NIPSCO.

Community Park will have two new ball fields next summer during Phase II construction.

Thanks to donations from community organizations, businesses, scout troops, school children and individuals, the Munster Police Department introduced the first K-9 unit in its 57-year history.

NEW CHICAGO | New Chicago officials in February named Tim Lucas, 32, of Portage, the new police chief. He signed a one-year contract Feb. 8 at a salary of $32,600.

New Chicago officials in mid-September eliminated its 911 dispatch becoming the first community to consolidate with Lake County. 

SCHERERVILLE | The Town Council authorized a financing agreement in September with developer Bruce Boyer, of Boyer Properties, for the proposed Shops on Main development.

The agreement uses tax increment financing districts to assist with financing. The town will issue $19 million in debt, which will be paid off by the tax revenue generated by the Shops on Main project.

The development would bring high-end shopping and restaurants to 34.5 acres of property near the southeast corner of U.S. 41 and Main Street.

An initial concept for Shops on Main received town approval several years ago, but those approvals expired because the project stalled. Shops on Main businesses haven't been revealed yet.

In August, town officials broke ground for a new community center in Scherwood Park.

Construction of the 12,000-square-foot building could be finished in the spring.

Schererville also can expand its parks programming with the new center.

Republican Hal Slager defeated Democrat Thomas O'Donnell in November to win the Indiana House District 15 race.

Slager vacated his 2nd Ward Schererville Town Council seat to represent the district. He served on the council for 10 years. Kevin Connelly was elected to fulfill the remainder of Slager's council term, which has two years remaining.

A 24-year-old woman, Jacqueline Gardner, was killed in May after three men apparently waited to her to return to her apartment in the 8000 block of Alpine Lane.

Investigators determined Gardner's tip money, which she received before she returned home from work, was missing.

In August, town officials broke ground for a new community center in Scherwood Park.

Construction of the 12,000-square-foot building could be finished in the spring.

ST. JOHN | The town celebrated its 175th year anniversary and saw construction begin on a renovated Lake Central High School during 2012.

A celebratory mood filled the former track and field area behind Lake Central High School in early August as more than 100 people gathered in sunshine and temperatures in the low 90s for the new high school groundbreaking.

Lake Central’s construction costs are part of the $160 million referendum approved by Tri-Town voters in November 2011.

WHITING | The city's importance in local history was showcased this year through its choice as 2012 home of an annual statewide architecture forum.

Every year, the Department of Natural Resources Division of Public Places and Archeology partners with the nonprofit Indiana Landmarks and the Indiana University Department of History for the preservation conferences.

Centered on the 1923 Standard Oil Co.-built Community Center, kept in the National Register of Historic Buildings through the efforts of Mayor Joe Stahura, the conference brought scholars and architects to the city, in which gasoline was first profitably made, and the modern formulation for asphalt derived.

Now owned by BP North America, the 122-year-old refinery which composes the bulk of the city is in the midst of a $3.8 billion expansion to better manufacture gasoline and jet fuel from Canadian crude oil, bringing as many as 9,000 contractors to the site as adjunct to the refinery;'s 1,900 regular employees.

Nearly a dozen new restaurants have opened along 119th Street to feed the new arrivals, and space is currently at a premium, with new medical and law offices adding to a mix that includes retail choices, art galleries, a movie house showing first-run films, a European delicatessen and eight restaurants -- with three more scheduled to open early next year.

The newly built Oil City Stadium at the eastern end of 199th Street got some extra attention this spring when the Northwest Indiana Oilmen Baseball Club, one of eight teams in the Midwest Collegiate League, began its 46-game season with a home opener at Standard Diamonds Park.

The new baseball field on 119th Street opened in 2011 and also serves as home for the Whiting High School Oilers and the Calumet College of St. Joseph Crimson Wave teams.

Infrastructure for a $43 million upgrade at Lakefront Park was completed last with financial assistance from the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority.

The renovation plan includes a two-tiered boardwalk along the shore, a boat harbor, concert venue, and connections to hiking and biking trails between downtown Chicago and much of the Calumet Region.

WINFIELD | The new Town Council and other officials spent 2012 tackling a series of infrastructure problems that had gone unaddressed in much of the town’s 20-year history.

Sanitary sewer facilities, lift stations and unfinished roadways in some subdivisions created challenges that council members, board members, town staff and contracted town engineers will continue to work on during 2013.

Flooding and backup of raw sewage into homes are among the concerns.

Two of those problematic facilities are the sanitary sewer system and sewage lift station serving the subdivisions of Deer Creek Estates and Wyndance.

Negotiations began in April and were finalized in late December to take title to these sewer facilities. The town will now take possession and make repairs.

Bankruptcies of subdivision developers and builders also led to issues of unfinished infrastructure.

In November, Winfield Clerk-Treasurer Rick Anderson called performance bonds for DoubleTree Lakes Estates West phases seven and eight. The investors who bought the subdivision from its original developer declared bankruptcy.

The performance bond funds will be used by the town to finish the infrastructure and streets in that portion of the subdivision.

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