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Valparaiso urges airport development zone

Updated: June 25, 2014 6:08AM



VALPARAISO — With a tax increment finance district around the Porter County Regional Airport a step away from approval by the county’s Board of Commissioners, the city of Valparaiso asked the county Friday to take a step back, put that plan on hold, and consider an airport development zone.

The area around the airport has “an incredible amount of untapped potential,” said Patrick Lyp, the city’s economic development director.

An airport development zone, done as a partnership with the city, county and perhaps the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority, could make for consistent zoning, because the area abuts the city limits, he said, adding if the city provides sewer and water services in the area, it would eventually be annexed into the city.

Creating an airport development zone would require legislative action downstate, but would provide a better opportunity for economic growth, Lyp said.

Though a decision on an airport development zone rests with the board of commissioners, members of the redevelopment commission balked at the apparent shift in plans.

“We reached out to the city and asked what their plans were even before we started the process,” said commission member and County Councilman Jim Polarek, R-4th, adding city officials said they had no plans to annex the area.

Commission member and County Councilman Jeremy Rivas, D-2nd, also questioned the move.

“I think there was a lot of work put into this. I’m a little puzzled why, when we’re one or two steps away, you’re doing this now,” he said.

East Porter schools Superintendent Rod Garden presented an email from Lyp to Ric Frataccia, president of the commission, and Board of Commissioners President John Evans, R-North, which states the TIF “will substantially limit the options of the (redevelopment commission) and most likely renders robust economic development unlikely, if not impossible.”

Gardin, who is not on the commission but has worked closely with its members for several months, also questioned Lyp’s challenge of the school corporation’s ability to consent to any changes in the terms of the TIF. In a TIF district, tax revenue from any new development goes back to the district for improvements.

Under those terms, 60 percent of the new tax revenue would go to the TIF district, while the rest would return to district’s taxing units, including the schools. Commission members also agreed to provide grants to the school corporation to make up for the rest of the lost tax revenue.

“We’ve always supported it as long is it doesn’t harm the taxing units, and not just the schools,” Gardin said. “Why now? Why are we talking about an airport development zone?”

The commission did what it was asked to do, Frataccia said, by first considering a TIF around Porter Regional Hospital in Liberty Township, and then refocusing its efforts around the airport, at the direction of the board of commissioners. It will be up to them to decide what’s best for the county, he added.

“If it can exist and it’s better than what we did, so be it,” he said.



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