Merrillville seeks to reclaim land included by accident at tax sale
BY KAREN CAFFARINI Post-Tribune correspondent October 10, 2013 4:18PM
Updated: November 14, 2013 6:26AM
MERRILLVILLE — The Town Council has instructed its attorney to begin condemnation proceedings to reacquire a 28-acre parcel in The Preserve subdivision that was dedicated to the town and is intended to be used for open space and drainage.
The parcel was acquired in 2010 by Xavier Research Institute LTD, of Chicago, in a Lake County Treasurer’s tax sale for $250.
Town Attorney John Bushemi said the man behind Xavier, Antonio X. Alvarez, has been verbally attempting to develop it since and telling neighbors who’ve erected swing sets, sheds and other items on a portion of that property that those items must be removed.
The straw that broke the camel’s back, leading the town to pursue condemnation, said Councilman Shawn Pettit, D-6th, was when Alvarez took one couple to Lake Superior Court for trespassing and won a $10,000 judgment from Judge Julie Cantrell.
“I don’t know how that happened,” said Pettit, who lives in The Preserve, off Mississippi Street, just south of Westfield Southlake Mall.
“I’m not messing around with this guy anymore.”
Bushemi said Alvarez hasn’t filed any formal building requests with the town since zoning director Dorinda Gregor has told him repeatedly the lot can’t be built on.
The town has been trying to reacquire the land, which was inadvertently included in the tax sale, offering Alvarez’s company $1,000 to purchase it in July. Bushemi said he has yet to receive a response to the offer.
Alvarez said he’s paid more than $1,000 in taxes alone on the property, which he said was assessed at $65,000.
He said he hasn’t harassed anyone. He said some of the owners of neighboring properties have encroached on what is now his land, building sheds, play sets and gardens.
“I sent all 33 homeowners a letter requesting those who put up items on the property to remove them for insurance purposes. I could be liable if something happened there,” Alvarez said.
He said he sent three letters in all. He also asked people to stop mowing the grass and to stop removing stakes put up to survey the property.
Alvarez said the homeowners against whom he obtained the $10,000 judgment installed a fence that encroached on his property by 30 feet.
Taking them to court “is not what I wanted to do. It’s what I had to do,” he said.
Alvarez said he hasn’t filed formal paperwork with the town because he still doesn’t know what he wants to do with the property. He said he first must determine the property lines.
He hasn’t ruled out developing the land, but said someone might want to put a soccer field there.
Alvarez said he purchased three properties in all at tax sale, including the former Sawyer College building at 6040 Hohman Ave. in Hammond, which he renovated. He operates an online auction out of part of the building, rents out office space and plans to turn the second floor into a massage spa.
Bushemi said condemning Alvarez’s Merrillville property is necessary — and it’s permitted when properties are needed for public use.
“This property benefits every resident of that subdivision,” Bushemi said.
Bushemi said he doesn’t think Alvarez has been vicious or retaliatory.
“His purpose is to make money. He wants every dollar he can get,” Bushemi said. “But the town will get that land back. It will just take a few months.”
He said before condemnation proceedings can begin the property needs to be appraised to determine its fair market value.