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Merrillville council questioned over use of eminent domain to clean up auto repair property

Northwest Indiana Photos website

The town of Merrillville has acquired the Moe Auto Repair property on Broadway.

Town council member Jeff Minchuk says it's been an eyesore for years and drew a number of complaints. "There's always junk cars there," Minchuk told the rest of the council last week. "They were building up, they were building up. We tried several sit-down meetings. We tried to execute several different actions to try to control it, and we could not."

Minchuk said the town's only immediate plan is to let the park department temporarily store its equipment there over the winter. But there could be bigger plans in the future, since the town already owns the neighboring land.

"As soon as we acquired the property, we went ahead and changed the locks," Minchuk explained. "We went on over there and took a look at the building, kind of did a quick clean over there, made sure all the vehicles were off the property, everything was off the property."

But Bryon Mesarch, one of two candidates challenging incumbent Democrat Shawn Pettit for the Ward 7 council seat, criticized the acquisition. "The use of eminent domain to take someone's property for no apparent reason other than to provide a garage for the parks department is anti-American in every way, shape and form," Mesarch told council members. "I don't even understand why. Why would we do that?"

Mesarch continued to voice his opposition to the use of eminent domain, but then criticized Pettit for not taking action to clean up four other properties in the area.

Pettit stressed that the town paid fair market value for the property. "That money was paid to the property owner to the tune of almost $475,000 out of the Broadway TIF to clean up that property because that property owner was irresponsible and sloppy," Pettit said.