Decades-long effort ends: LaPorte IN Herald-Argus, 1/4/07

City finally acquires through eminent domain land critical to development of NewPorte Landing

By Daniel Przybyla

The city of LaPorte has finally obtained nearly 30 acres of land critical to the development of NewPorte Landing.

On Wednesday, Mayor Leigh Morris called the city’s acquisition of the land through eminent domain “the single most important development” in the creation of NewPorte Landing because of its location in the center of the 150-acre redevelopment area north of downtown. It’s the largest piece of land within NewPorte Landing designated for retail development.

“This a very significant step toward the implementation of NewPorte Landing. It’s key to putting the overall retail development together,” he said.

It’s still unclear what retail stores might locate on the acreage that includes the 28-acre former Erincraft Manufacturing facility and the 1.4-acre former Allis-Chalmers powerhouse. Demolition ordered by the Verma family, former owner of both properties, continues on the Erincraft building, but has yet to begin on the powerhouse, where asbestos still has to be removed.

The city has received $400,000 in grant money for additional testing and cleanup of the properties. Additional cleanup, which could cost in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, would then begin in late spring and finish by fall.

Former LaPorte Circuit Judge Robert Gilmore gave the OK for the city of LaPorte to take ownership of the land in a court order issued Dec. 20. The court’s action marked the end of years of legal battles between the city and the Verma family.

“It’s been a major problem to deal with,” City Attorney Art Roule said.

Roule has been involved in the city’s efforts to acquire the powerhouse and Erincraft facility since the late 1990s, when he represented the city under the Carl Krentz administration. Although those efforts, as well as continuing efforts during the subsequent administration of Kathy Chroback, bore no fruit, Roule got his chance again to go after the land under Morris’ administration.

The Verma family has been consistently difficult to contact, both by the city and The LaPorte County Herald-Argus, because many of its members live in India.

Three court-appointed appraisals of the two properties challenged by the Verma family concluded that the land has no market value. But two city-appointed appraisals found the Erincraft property had an average market value of $75,000, and the powerhouse an average market value of $2,500.

How much the city will have to pay to acquire the land remains to be seen. A jury trial in LaPorte Circuit Court will decide that at some point.

In the meantime, Morris is gearing up for the buildings to come down and retail development to move forward.

“If we want residential development north of Truesdell Avenue, we don’t want them to be looking at (the remains of) Erincraft,” he said.

LaPorte IN Herald-Argus: http://heraldargus.com