Two public meetings held recently to get residents’ ideas and concerns for a new comprehensive plan for the unincorporated areas of Lake County drew a total of about 70 people and widely varying suggestions that reflected the differing needs of the two areas where the meetings were held.
At the first meeting, almost 50 people from south county met at Lowell Middle School where most of the concern was over maintaining the agricultural land uses and open spaces and controlling growth. At the second meeting, 20 people from unincorporated Calumet Township gathered at Calumet New Tech High School in Gary to speak out for more city services.
“I know the issues here are different than other parts of the county’s unincorporated areas,” Taghi Arshami, principal of the Arsh Group Inc., the Merrillville-based consultant helping the county develop the plan, told residents at the Calumet Township session. “You are in a unique position here — not agricultural. You’re urban.”
Residents were broken into groups to provide comments on the eight main elements of the plan: community character, land use, transportation, economic development, parks and open space, housing, community facilities and infrastructure, and special districts.
The Lowell participants want the plan to recognize the importance of farming while improving infrastructure, including an overall drainage plan for the area. They want development concentrated in the urbanized areas that already have the infrastructure to support it, and, instead of building on greenfield sites, think unused city properties should be redeveloped.
Rural areas want to maintain rustic character
As for economic development, the county should target industry and commercial development that would serve the residents of the area. The residents want the existing parks maintained and promoted and new ones developed, and they believe the county needs to add more trails for non-motorized uses, including horse trails.
While there didn’t seem to be much support for bus or rail service to the south county area, residents said the roads need to be improved, a truck route provided to reduce wear on existing roads, and another interchange is needed on Interstate 65 between Crown Point and Lowell.
“People living in south county don’t want people from the suburbs and cities to come down here and impose their values on us," resident Katharine Hadow said. "There was not enough time to touch on everything tonight. These are big, important topics.”
“This was a good start for a long journey,” Anna Marie Gianni, of Center Township, said. “I hope attendance goes up (at future meetings), and people in the unincorporated areas express their concerns.”
Her mother Vicky Gianni, said, “Planning is hard, and these open sessions are good. Each person has different issues, and they get to discuss them.”
Lowell Councilman Chris Salatas wanted to make sure there was an understanding of what needs to be addressed in south county.
“There are a lot of farmers here, and farms will be a big concern. The biggest issue is urban sprawl and not having the infrastructure already in place to support it when we annex," he said. "We are working with the county to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
Added Tri-Creek schools Superintendent Debra Howe, “All of this has an impact on us and the school district. When we can have a voice in the comprehensive plan, that’s good. We would rather be a part of the process than have people making decisions we don’t agree with. We appreciate that they came out and asked our residents.”
Everyone wants better infrastructure
Of the eight key elements in the plan, Calumet Township residents said community facilities and infrastructure are of vital importance, including sewers, water, sidewalks and roads.
“Ridge Road needs special attention,” Arshami said.
Tanya Tribble, Precinct 6 committeewoman for Calumet Township, said infrastructure issues topped many residents’ list of concerns.
“A lot of our people are concerned about snow plowing, mowing, burnt buildings,” Tribble said.
“We need a lot of road repairs. Side streets are especially bad. We have drainage issues, although (County Surveyor) Bill Emerson is helping with that. We would like to have streetlights. Homeowners have to pay for streetlights if we want them.”
Other concerns include the lack of a sewer system and wells providing water for about half the population rather than city water, Tribble said, adding that the unincorporated status of the township feeds into these problems.
“It seems like we have to fight for everything. We don’t have a town hall,” Tribble said. “We need township services put back into this area. Now we have to go to downtown Gary or Crown Point.”
Glenn Johnson, the Precinct 10 committeeman and school board member, said he would like to see more businesses come to the area to boost tax revenue.
“Our schools also need it (more funding),” Johnson said. “With us being unincorporated, we are forgotten.”
Lake County 2nd District Commissioner Jerry Tippy, R-Schererville, told residents the community workshop and survey “is not a to-do list. It’s more of a land use plan over the next 20 years.”
“We want to do it with the help of the residents and tailor our ordinances to meet your needs,” Emerson said.