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Feature Stories for Thursday, May 10, 2001

The STAR is distributed every Thursday.  
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Salesian plans revealed

By Sean McNab
Star Staff Writer

CEDAR LAKE - More than a year after the auction of the old Salesian property on Cline Avenue, owner Damir Missbrenner has presented to the Plan Commission his plan to transform the old school into a retirement village.
     Originally auctioned for $340,000 on Jan. 14, 2000, to Sergio Urquiza, Missbrenner, who thought his high bid had been snubbed at the auction, recently purchased the property from Urquiza and is in the developmental stages of constructing the Golden Age Retirement Homes.
     "This 36 1/2 acre site will be a retirement home that will provide assisted living for its occupants," Missbrenner told the commission at its May 2 workshop. "These homes will be owned or leased exclusively by senior citizens ages 65 and up. The property will include detached single-family homes beginning in the far northwest corner of the property followed by townhomes that will be three to four units in occupancy."
     Presently Missbrenner does not own the entire Salesian property. The gymnasium was not included in the original auction.
     "We are presently looking for the owner of the gymnasium because we would like to include that in the overall construction of the homes," Missbrenner said. "We plan on tearing down every building on the property excluding the main brick building (adjacent to the parking lot entering the property)," said Missbrenner.
     The last attempt to redevelop the Salesian property was in the mid-1980s, when Chicago businesswoman Ona Pranckeviciute bought all 86 acres of land to create multi-phase senior citizens complex similar to Missbrenner's.
     But the Indiana Health Department denied the request, forcing Pranckeviciute to close on the investment.
     Missbrenner has experience constructing and owning retirement villages. His most recent acquisition was in Burr Ridge, Ill.
     "I am not just a builder of these homes like most other owners, I also maintain and operate them with my staff," he said. "When all of the construction is done I want to make sure that the premises are running correctly and up to standard."
     Members of the Plan Commission, concerned about getting the property back on tax roles, wondered whether Missbrenner's facility would be a tax-paying, for-profit business or not.
    "We are definitely a for-profit enterprise," stated Missbrenner, easing the minds of the board.
     Plans for the property include asphalt walking paths throughout the homes, all of which will be handicap accessible.
     With the entire facility marketed towards senior citizens, Plan Commission member Tim Kubiak wondered what would happen to a home if the owner died and left the property to a younger grandson or granddaughter.
     "We are going to make sure that prior to purchasing a home the buyer is informed that only residents 65 and older can purchase a retirement home," said Missbrenner.
     Missbrenner will be back before the Plan Commission at its June 6 workshop.


Council says no to wine bar

By Andrew Steele
Star Managing Editor

CROWN POINT - The City Council on Monday shot down John Desmaretz's plan to open a wine and cigar bar at 513 N. Main St.
     Desmaretz's plan to use 801 N. Main St. as a valet parking lot, and to limit entrance and exit at the 513 property to southbound traffic, was approved by the city's Board of Zoning Appeals, but four council members overturned that recommendation.
     Councilman James Wirtz, R-at large, said traffic on the part of Main Street where Desmaretz's "Naughty Grapes" would be located - just north of Goldsborough Street - was already too heavy.
     "You're at the narrowest part of Main Street," Wirtz said the Desmaretz. "I just think there's a real possibility you'll have traffic problems there."
     Councilman Paul Bremer, R-1st, said he was concerned mainly about the parking issue.
     People tend to park as close to their destination as possible, Bremer argued. In the case of Naughty Grapes, that would mean Levin Tire, Attorney John Sorbello's office, or Monitor Street, he said.
      On the traffic issue, Desmaretz said his main business hours would be after the peak traffic hours had passed.
      Also, the BZA requirement that vehicles only be allowed to enter Naughty Grapes from southbound Main Street, and only exit to southbound Main Street, would help keep traffic flowing, Desmaretz said.
     On parking, he said his valets would watch where customers are parking.
     "If someone parks in a location we know is not acceptable, they will not be served in our establishment," Desmaretz said.
     Councilman Robert Condron, R-4th, said those provisions would be unenforceable.
Two councilmen supported Desmaretz's request for an exemption from the city's on-site parking requirement.
     "Their parking problem is a management problem," Councilman Michael Conquest, R-at large, said. And "it sounds workable to me."
     Councilman Robert Corbin, R-5th, said he was prepared to give Desmaretz a chance and review the operation after one year, as the Board of Zoning Appeal's recommendation required.
     But Councilman Stephen Farley, R-2nd, agreed with Wirtz, Bremer, and Condron that granting an exception to city code was unwarranted.
     Desmaretz pleaded with the council, telling them "you don't know how much money I've invested in this building. If you want me to get down on my knees I'll do it."
      Farley suggested Desmaretz move his equipment to a new building, but Desmaretz said the equipment and antique furnishings would be too expensive to move.
     "You should've come to us (for approval) earlier," Farley responded.
     Desmaretz said he would have if he had known zoning codes were so strictly enforced.
     The council considered two other zoning matters Monday.
     In the first, it unanimously denied Dennis Hegyi's request to operate a machine shop business in his detached garage at 600 Merrillville Rd.
     By code, a home occupation permit may be granted for working in a property's main structure, but not an outbuilding like a garage.
      Finally, the council approved developer Tom Fleming's request for a special use variance to allow construction of 74 townhome units in the 11800 block of Broadway.
      The proposal will now return to the Plan Commission for approval.



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