GARY — A key City Council vote encourages redevelopment of the area around the Miller train station and the Indiana Dunes Lakefront, while officials hope a long-standing eyesore near Interstate 65 will soon be addressed.

The City Council approved the Gary East Lakefront District Plan on Wednesday by an 8-0 vote, with Councilman Herb Smith, D-at large, absent. The plan, according to city officials, is designed to promote more development in the area, including portions of the Miller, Glen Ryan and Aetna neighborhoods. 

Joe Van Dyk, the city's planning and redevelopment director, said he believes this first comprehensive overhaul of zoning ordinances in decades will make it less cumbersome for those seeking to open businesses in Gary.

The plan creates a variety of zoning districts in the area, including a transit-oriented development train station zone, a light industrial district along part of Melton Road, and a neighborhood commercial district. Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said the plan is the culmination of about three years' work, which included holding various meetings and incorporating pieces of other plans.

Van Dyk, who addressed various aspects of the plan at a Planning Committee meeting last week, said officials also hope to take lessons they learned in the process in replicating plans for other areas of the city like University Park and Emerson.

Van Dyk indicated that new businesses opening in the neighborhood commercial district along Aetna and Lake streets and Miller Avenue won't have to go to the council in the future as often as in the past.

The new plan really opens up Miller Avenue for commercial development, he said, and is flexible enough so that some residential developments could be located there, too.

"When our zoning code was originally written in 1964 it was really restrictive," he said.

He cited a couple of examples, such as the 18th Street Brewery.

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The 18th Street brewery, noted Van Dyk, had to obtain a special-use permit because of where they are on Miller Avenue. He said if they had been on the other side of the street, they wouldn't have had to appear before different government agencies, including the council, before opening. The new plan for the district, he said, eliminates the need for businesses having to take these steps as long as they meet specifications for such buildings that have been put in the plan.

There are some businesses, like day care centers and car lots, that still would go before the council, he said. But in many cases, as long as the businesses meet rules already enumerated in the city's code, there will be no additional approvals. Freeman-Wilson stressed that developments in the transit-oriented development zones still will go through an approval process that includes the council. 

Regarding the Miller train station, Van Dyk said officials are looking at it as a location that will have additional amenities beyond buying tickets and waiting for the train. He said the city wants it to be the area's marquee spot where people could get coffee in the morning and milk to take home at night.

A little farther out from the train station, the plan envisions mixed-use development, perhaps with residential above commercial buildings. 

One of the impediments to development, according to the plan, is blight and disinvestment along U.S. 20 (East Dunes Highway). One concrete reminder of such disinvestment soon may be addressed, according to city officials.

Van Dyk said the owner of the former Holiday Inn site has talked to city officials about doing something with the now vacant property. The majority of the former motel has been demolished. Remnants of the building now stand near Interstate 65, surrounded by a chain link fence.

Requests for comment from the owner of the site went unanswered.

One reason the East Lake Front Area Tax Increment Financing District was created last year, he said, was to help address the area's blight issues.

According to Van Dyk, next steps include working with the Indiana Department of Transportation on the U.S. 12/20 realignment, working with the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District and the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority on South Shore improvements, "and continued outreach to the community as we work with developers to establish new businesses in the district and make continued infrastructure investments."

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Ed has been with The Times since January 2014. He previously covered government affairs for Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers in Florida. Prior to Scripps, he was with the Chicago Regional Bureau of Copley News Service.