AP NEWS

BZA upholds ‘Red Tag’ on building project

March 21, 2019

La PORTE — A group of concerned citizens erupted into applause Tuesday night after the La Porte County Board of Zoning Appeals upheld the county’s “Red Tag” stop-work order for a controversial work site some suspect is home to an illegal sand mining operation.

Following a lengthy presentation of evidence by the building commissioner and site owner during its meeting at the county complex, the BZA voted unanimously to uphold the work stoppage at the property, located at CR-400W, just north of CR-400N/Schultz Road in Center Township.

Representatives with D&M Excavating Inc., the Michigan City firm that owns the site, appeared before the board Tuesday night to appeal the “Red Tag” order, which the La Porte County Board of Commissioners authorized Building Commissioner Annemarie Polan to issue on Feb. 6.

The BZA’s decision is the latest chapter in a controversy that has surrounded the construction project since the county awarded D&M Excavating and one of the company’s officials, Ryan Miller, a permit to build a home and 4-acre pond on the property, which is zoned residential, in July 2015.

A group of residents — whose members say the company has used the permit to run a commercial sand mining operation in a residential area, citing a $1.6 million contract D&M was awarded to provide sand to the NewPorte Landing project just days after La Porte County authorized the pond construction — have fiercely opposed the project over the past four years.

Although the plan commission had originally intended for the permit to expire in the summer of 2016, the board later gave Miller an additional year to finish the pond.

Polan, who was represented by La Porte County Attorney Shaw Friedman during Tuesday’s hearing, gave the BZA a copy of an email she sent Miller in December 2018, in which she asked for an update on the pond project after neighbors complained to her office about traffic driving in and out of the site, despite the fact the permit had expired in July 2017.

Miller’s attorney, Andrew Voeltz, wrote in response that, among other tasks, a 20-by-80 foot area on the southeast corner of the pond basin would not retain water and would need to be relined with clay.

Nowhere in his response did Voeltz indicate the pond was finished, Polan said.

In her December email, Polan also asked Miller about the status of the “dream home” he told the plan commission he would build on the property, as her office had not received any blueprints for the house. Voeltz responded that his client did not wish to respond to her inquiry.

“I was wanting answers, and I wasn’t getting any,” Polan said.

When asked by Voeltz, who represented Miller at the hearing, Polan indicated that a pond permit is not required for crews to be able to move dirt or knock down trees on the property.

During his testimony, Miller — the president of D&M — said that a 3.27-acre pond basin had been completed on the site in July 2017 and that he considers everything above the pond’s waterline to be his property. He is concerned that the county considers the entirety of the 47.5-acre property to be covered under the pond permit, he said.

Miller was also troubled by Polan’s question about the progress of the house he intends to build on the site, he said.

“It’s troubling that the government feels they can tell me when I need to build a house,” Miller said.

While he has not submitted any paperwork with the county for the house, Miller has paid for a soil boring test on the property in preparation for a septic permit, he said.

Among those who celebrated the BZA’s decision Tuesday night was Pat Meaney, who thanked the board members following the vote. Meaney, whose Schultz Road home is only around 700 feet away from the work site, has been disturbed by things such as the noise from trucks backing up or the smell of diesel fumes coming from the property for years, he said.

“A pond is a pond,” he said in response to Miller’s argument that a basin should be considered a completed pond. “It holds water.”

Miller’s attorney could not be reached for comment as of press time.