VALPARAISO | The center of the debate over whether the rezoning for a luxury apartment complex and business park development should be approved is whether Valparaiso really needs either.
Todd Leeth, attorney for developer Don Weiss, said the code doesn't require Weiss to prove a need for the project on 118 acres on the north side of Evans Avenue east of Ind. 49. Leeth said Weiss wouldn't be risking the money to develop the site if he didn't believe in the need.
Lily Schaefer, lawyer for many of the approximately 150 residents who attended Monday's public hearing on the rezoning, disagreed. Schaefer saying the owner of a luxury condominium in downtown Valparaiso was unable to fill one building and continues to have vacancy problems now that it is apartments.
Weiss' project proposes a maximum of 408 apartments with rents starting at almost $1,000 a month and going up to about $1,600. It would be on 72 acres and include a clubhouse, trails and open space. The business park on the 46 acres at the north end would provide "shovel ready" sites for businesses interested in moving to the city.
Mayor Jon Costas tried to allay fears the apartments would lower the value of homes in Pine Creek Subdivision or the surrounding area saying that has not happened with other developments in the city. Plan Commission President Bruce Berner said the project "is not only consistent but, indeed, precisely what has for many years been expected" for that area.
Schaefer was the first of many people to speak in opposition to the project and said the opponents were not just NIMBYs — not in my back yard — protesters. She criticized the rush to get the rezoning approved from its introduction before the site review committee in early November to the public hearing and recommended approval by the plan commission in the last two weeks.
Weiss is seeking the quick approval before the deadline to close on the property Dec. 31. Schaefer said residents had only two days from last week's commission vote to study the amended proposal because of the holiday weekend. The plan originally called for 512 apartments.
"There is a disconnect between what the city has been saying and what you are now recommending," she said citing several statements made by officials and in the city's comprehensive plans about the need for more single family housing and entry level housing. Now city officials are saying the trend is toward the luxury apartments.
Weiss tried to assuage the residents.
"I'm betting my life on this and everything we've built up over 72 years. We wouldn't build it if it wasn't worthy of the community," Weiss said.
The rezoning will be up for final council approval Dec. 10.