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STOCK_Gary City Hall

Gary City Hall

GARY — A local resident cautioned Gary council members to stop letting outsiders take advantage of the city’s lax laws to operate day care centers and other businesses out of houses, but not living in Gary.

“Mr. Chairman (Herbert Smith), I think you nailed it when you talk about a home being defined as it would be defined in the dictionary: where someone lives. And I’ve always felt that we missed the point when we’re just allowing businesses to be established in houses, and that’s very different from a home-based business,” resident Jim Nowacki told the City Planning Committee Tuesday night.

Nowacki’s comments came as committee members debated a separate, but related, policy floated by Smith and City Planning Director Sarah Kobetis.

The proposal would limit the number of home-based businesses to two per block in areas zoned residential in an effort to preserve the character of neighborhoods. A home-based business would be defined as having two or more clients daily at the home, according to City Attorney Rodney Pol.  

Nowacki said a limit on the number of day cares is fine, but the council is missing the point and would be better off defining home-based businesses so out-of-towners don’t set up businesses in homes but never live in the city.

Kobetis said City Hall, code enforcement and Gary’s building and zoning departments are increasingly fielding complaints from homeowners about traffic volume and limited parking due to the saturation of home-based businesses in particular blocks.

“We’re getting a lot of complaints from homeowners saying ‘I live in a residential neighborhood, not a business district,’” Kobetis said.

Smith echoed her concerns, saying the city has to get a tighter grip on approval of home-based businesses. He said there are four day cares on a single block on 21st Avenue, many of them displaying several feet tall flags — an eyesore in the residential community. 

“I hear complaints daily about there being too many day cares,” Smith said.  

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Brewer said limiting the number of home businesses on a single block is not the solution. Rather, the council should more thoroughly vet on a case-by-case basis, and code enforcement and other departments need to step up and respond to resident complaints. 

“We have a right to do something about it, and we haven’t,” Councilwoman Mary Brown said.  

“If it’s a problem, we need to change it,” Brewer said. “Code enforcement should be citing them.”

Council Attorney Rinzer Williams warned members this ordinance does nothing but limit council powers and discretion.

As the law is written now, he said the council has authority to say no to a third business on a block. Once this becomes law, if two home-based businesses are already on a block, it bars anyone else on that block from coming before the council with a proposal, he said.  

The ordinance sets “a scary precedent” and strips away a citizen’s recourse if he or she wants to challenge the planning director’s denial, he said.

First District Councilwoman Rebecca Wyatt supported the ordinance, saying it sends a message to the public that the city wants to preserve the character of residential neighborhoods.

“I see it as just the opposite. I see it as preserving the character of residential neighborhoods," Wyatt said. "And it alleviates the need for the council to hear from every single, little business that wants to open up. We have plenty of commercial land for businesses to operate."

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Northlake County Reporter

Lauren covers North Lake County government, breaking news, crime and environmental issues for The Times. She previously worked at The Herald-News in Joliet. She holds a master’s degree in Public Affairs Reporting.