VALPARAISO | After another two hours of comments Monday from the public opposing the rezoning of 118 acres on Evans Avenue east of Ind. 49, the City Council voted 6-1 to approve the request.
About 15 people, most of them from the Pine Creek subdivision adjacent to the property being rezoned, spoke at the meeting.
Some of them provided statistics on how the proposed construction of 408 luxury apartments along with a business park did not fit with the area or the city. Others made impassioned pleas to preserve the single-family home nature of the area.
One resident also spoke up on behalf of the bat population he said lives in the trees on the property. Several brought up the fact the developer, Don Weiss, owner of the WiseWay food chain, had asked everyone at the last meeting to trust he will develop a project the city will be proud of and the next day announced he was selling his stores to Strack & Van Til.
Lily Schaefer, a lawyer representing many of the residents, criticized the apparent "rush to judgment." She cited the plan's introduction at a city Site Review Committee meeting in early November, the quick approval by the Plan Commission at a special meeting and the council's expected approval Monday.
"It's a poor process that leaves a bad taste," Schaefer said. "The city has thoughts of millions of dollars dancing in their heads. It's just instant gratification (rather than long-term planning)."
A tearful Pine Creek woman told the council, "No one's listening to us. My heart is broken. I feel you guys have already made up your minds. How can we teach our children they can make a difference if we come together. I want Valparaiso to grow, but the town is not urban."
The developer now will do the engineering needed to present a plan for the project to the Plan Commission to prepare for a planned unit development ordinance specifying where everything will be placed.
The PUD must go through the same four-meeting process as the rezoning for final approval. Councilman John Bowker asked for a fifth meeting.
Bowker said he agreed with the residents that it was difficult for them to know how to respond to the initial proposal. He asked, and Weiss agreed, to have a public session before the Plan Commission hearing on the PUD.
The only negative vote on the rezoning was from Councilman Joey Larr, who said it didn't fit with the guidelines of the city ordinance for rezoning and didn't fit with the neighborhood. He called the proposed extra meeting "nice," but said "it won't change a thing."