The developer who
proposed building an apartment complex at the site of the old Splash Down
Dunes waterpark on the northeast corner of Waverly Road and U.S. 20 will not
be eligible for tax abatements from the Town of Porter, per a ruling by the
Porter Economic Development Commission (EDC).
The EDC voted 2-1
at its meeting Tuesday to decline forming an Economic Development Target
Area (EDTA) at the waterpark site, which would have opened up opportunities
for developer Weiss Entities to seek tax abatements and other economic
incentives from the Town.
Weiss Entities, the
same developer who built Lakes of Valparaiso, had proposed building six
buildings with amenities such as a clubhouse, dog run, swimming pool, and
covered parking on the 18-acre site. Weiss had also agreed to mitigate
longstanding stormwater issues and make sewer improvements in the area. The
current owner of the waterpark property is White Stallion LLC, the former
owner and operator of Splash Down Dunes.
The Town Council
approved a rezoning of the site from B-3, general business, to R-4,
multi-family residential/PUD in January following several public meetings
where tempers ran high when dozens of members of the public turned out to
oppose the plan.
members Elka Nelson and Jim Burge said the waterpark property is “shovel
ready” for business development since it’s been cleaned up, and they aren’t
convinced it meets the criteria to be declared an EDTA. Town Attorney Greg
Sobkowski said Indiana Code dictates that an area can be declared an EDTA if
it is considered blighted and if normal development at the property has
become undesirable or impossible due to several factors, such as cessation
of growth, lack of development, deterioration or obsolescence, or
Nelson and Burge
agreed they aren’t against the development, but they think it isn’t
appropriate to rule the waterpark an EDTA based on the criteria in Indiana
Code. The waterpark property is a prime location, they said, and they added
that they’ve been presented no evidence that it’s undesirable for other
said the site no longer looks blighted to her as it used to, and it now just
looks like a mowed, vacant lot. “To say that this is blighted, that this is
the only possible use, I don’t have information before me that supports
that,” she said.
“I don’t think the
property as it sits today is blighted. And I don’t think anyone in good
conscience can, based on the information we’ve been provided today, find
that the area is prime at this point to be classified as undesirable or
impossible for normal development,” Nelson continued.
Burge also said
Indiana Code suggests part of EDC’s role is to consider if declaring an EDTA
will create jobs or business opportunity, and a residential development
wouldn’t. The proposed apartment complex was slated to create six local jobs
with a combined value of $300,000, according to Weiss Attorney Richard
“In looking at
that, the spirit of that law and the actual wording deals with creating
jobs,” Burge said. “Since the purpose of creating this target area is for
granting tax abatements, it needs to be offset with something the community
Burge also said the
unknown economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on municipal budgets, on
top of existing issues in Porter, makes him hesitant to declare an EDTA for
a development that won’t create jobs. “We already have things that haven’t
been funded properly, like sidewalks that go to nowhere and streets that
flood. It’s not like we have a whole bunch of money sitting around.”
Porter Director of
Development Michael Barry responded that the waterpark site was only cleaned
up in anticipation of sale. “If they (Weiss) weren’t here, it would be
blighted like it was before,” he said.
Barry said Weiss
had also agreed to complete a $2 million sewer extension project on Waverly
that would have brought service to available properties north of U.S. 20
where development has stalled due to limited sewer capacity. “That’s a
benefit to the Town,” Barry said. “We can’t fix that sewer. We don’t have
Anderson noted that
Worthington Steel is Porter’s largest taxpayer, with an assessed value (AV)
of $8 million compared to the estimated $26 million investment in the
proposed apartments. “You’re talking about a project that over time is going
to help fund all these things you talk about for the Town,” he said.
President of Weiss
Entities Don Weiss said, having grown up in the area, he’s witnessed
stagnant growth on the stretch of U.S. 20 through Porter, nicknamed
‘Industrial highway’, with a reputation for abandoned industry and truck
stops. “It is blighted,” he said. He also said that population growth from
the apartment complex will help sustain and attract business.
however, that he’s prolonged the sale of the property to iron out details
with the town and is “out of time” to get the ball rolling. According to
Weiss, the Lakes of Valparaiso was made possible by generous Tax Increment
Financing (TIF) support from the City of Valparaiso, and the proposed
waterpark project cannot move forward without tax abatement. “Without this
support, it’s not going to happen,” Weiss said. “If I don’t do it, nobody’s
going to do it, and it’s just a shame.”
and Burge voted against forming an EDTA. EDC member Rob Pomeroy dissented.
Weiss and Anderson declined to comment on next steps for the project.
Pomeroy declined to comment on his no vote.
The Town Council at
a later meeting Tuesday passed a resolution to designate the waterpark site
as an Economic Revitalization Area, a move which Barry said could make the
property more attractive to other developers, though Weiss cannot benefit
from it. Included in the Town Council’s Economic Revitalization Area is the
site of a planned training and maintenance facility for St. Cloud
Minn.-based Anderson Trucking. If Anderson hasn’t started construction yet,
they may be eligible for an abatement, Barry said.