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Portage west side residents question changes coming to their neighborhood

Central Avenue residents attended a recent Portage Redevelopment Commission public hearing on the expansion of a tax increment financing district to include their homes and learn about upcoming projects on the city's west side which might affect them.

PORTAGE — Residents living along Central Avenue on the city's west side aren't sold on a roundabout in their neighborhood.

They definitely don't want multifamily housing or anything that might increase truck traffic.

What they do want, nearly a dozen residents told members of the city's Redevelopment Commission recently during a public hearing on the expansion of the city's tax increment financing district, is improved drainage, connection to the rest of the city and improved communications.

The RDC approved the expansion of the Southport Economic Development Area, which includes a stretch of western Central Avenue, including the former Garyton School, and Industrial Avenue, a short street off of Ind. 149 on the city's east side and home to several industrial-type businesses.

Colin Highlands, development advisor, told residents by expanding the TIF district, the city will be able to access a pot of funding not now available to complete needed infrastructure improvements such as widening Central Avenue to modern standards, adding curbs and gutters, lighting and a trail to connect the city's west side to the east side.

The total investment is estimated at $9.3 million and will be completed over several years.

Highlands said it will also include the demolition of Garyton School, which will be given to the city by the Portage Township Schools by year's end. 

"We want to come in, clear the property, create a vision and partner with someone to carry out that vision," Mayor James Snyder told residents.

"It would be good for a park or anything but multifamily housing," said Central Avenue resident Doug Pennington, adding he hopes the project will improve drainage in the neighborhood.

Highlands said the Garyton area will likely be redeveloped into "good quality starter homes" or a park.

A roundabout is likely to be constructed at the intersection of Central Avenue and Willowdale Road, which, Snyder told residents, is safer and in line with current standards.

Snyder said the move is part of a bigger plan to reconstruct Central Avenue from Willowcreek Road to County Line Road. It will be done in several phases, with the first phase, from Willowcreek Road to Poplar Street, happening next summer.

Snyder said the goal is not to remove the character of the roadway as it is now, keeping as many trees as possible, maintaining the curves and preserving Central Avenue as a two-lane roadway.

Highlands said as the project progresses, the city will need to secure some rights of way and some properties. Those are unknown as of now, but residents will be contacted.

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Porter County Reporter

Joyce has been a reporter for nearly 40 years, including 23 years with The Times. She's a native of Merrillville, but has lived in Portage for 39 years. She covers municipal and school government in Porter County.