Rumors stall resolution over long-standing dispute between automotive business and city of Valparaiso – Chicago Tribune

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Rumors stall resolution over long-standing dispute between automotive business and city of Valparaiso – Chicago Tribune

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Alex Morgavan has heard rumors that a prominent real estate developer with political ties to the city of Valparaiso is interested in purchasing his family’s business property on the east side of Lincolnway to create parking for a pending business proposal.

“When the city wants something, they’re willing to do anything to get it,” Morgavan said.

Patrick Lyp, the city’s attorney, has heard social media rumblings about this lingering rumor. He categorically denies there is any truth to it.

“I can share unequivocally that the city has no interest in either site. If you are told otherwise, it would be news to me,” Lyp said.

The dispute between the city and the Morgavan family continues as a lawsuit looms over their case, which I first wrote about July 5. In short, the Morgavan family claims they are being unfairly targeted by the city. And city officials claim Morgavan’s primary business, Valparaiso Transmission, is intentionally noncompliant to city codes and ordinances pertaining to maintenance and appearance.

The Morgavan family claims they are being unfairly targeted by the city. And city officials claim Morgavan’s primary business, Valparaiso Transmission, is intentionally noncompliant to city codes and ordinances pertaining to maintenance and appearance. (Jerry Davich)

The Morgavan family claims they are being unfairly targeted by the city. And city officials claim Morgavan’s primary business, Valparaiso Transmission, is intentionally noncompliant to city codes and ordinances pertaining to maintenance and appearance. (Jerry Davich) (Jerry Davich / Post-Tribune)

An attempt at third-party mediation didn’t rectify the issue, so the city filed a lawsuit in October against the family’s businesses with fines now up to more than $65,000. Lyp said under Indiana law the city could fine the family’s business up to $2,500 a day.

“If they choose the maximum fine, it could end up being more than $1.5 million,” Alex Morgavan told me Friday after a meeting with the family’s attorney.

“I have a lot to lose,” said John Morgavan, Alex’s father, who opened the automotive business in 1987. “I now feel like a target for the city.”

Lyp disagrees, telling me the city has no issue with automotive mechanic businesses in Valparaiso unless one doubles as a “quasi-junkyard” with multiple violations of the city’s zoning code and property maintenance code. He’s referencing an adjacent property east of Valparaiso Transmission, a former McDonald’s, which housed a spillover of disabled or abandoned vehicles.

Last month, the Morgavans paved both properties and removed dozens of vehicles to do so. The site looks noticeably better to passing motorists and pedestrians, but code violations remain, the city says.

Last month, the Morgavans paved both properties and removed dozens of vehicles to do so. The site looks noticeably better to passing motorists and pedestrians, but code violations remain, the city says. (Jerry Davich)

Last month, the Morgavans paved both properties and removed dozens of vehicles to do so. The site looks noticeably better to passing motorists and pedestrians, but code violations remain, the city says. (Jerry Davich) (Jerry Davich / Post-Tribune)

“We provided a specific list to them back in early March. They know exactly what needs to be done,” Lyp told me Friday. “There have been multiple deadlines missed and promises not kept. In this case, the city has been incredibly reasonable. Unfortunately, it’s easy to blame the city, and this narrative resonates with some.”

Yes, this narrative has helped to nurture rumors the city insists are simply not true. One of those rumors is that city wants to purchase both parcels of property at that site, 1607 Lincolnway, just north of Valparaiso University. If I find credible information about this gossip I will investigate it for a future column.

Lyp told another city attorney, Alfredo Estrada, to convey to the family’s attorney that if finances were the reason for noncompliance, the city may be willing to acquire the former McDonald’s parcel.

“There were some conversations between the lawyers to the point where we were asked that if the city acquired the property, would we agree not to sell it to Firestone Tire (a neighboring business),” Lyp said. “The issue never went beyond passing conversations until our attorney shared that he was being told that the Morgavans now believed that the city’s real motivation was to acquire their property.”

In a subsequent meeting with the lawyers and the Morgavans, Lyp said he explicitly told them, twice, that the city has no interest in buying the former McDonald’s parcel, and the suggestion was only made as a possible solution to the code violations.

“Our only interest is seeing the property maintenance code violations addressed,” Lyp said. “My guess is that flaming the ‘city wants to force a sale’ narrative makes them more sympathetic.”

“There have been multiple deadlines missed and promises not kept,

“There have been multiple deadlines missed and promises not kept,” city attorney Patrick Lyp said. “In this case, the city has been incredibly reasonable.” (Jerry Davich) (Jerry Davich / Post-Tribune)

John Morgavan says his family isn’t looking for sympathy but for fairness, and more time to complete the required upgrades. His son, Alex, disputes that the city has offered his family financial aid from a facade improvement grant program, which helps businesses offset costs for exterior renovations.

“Why would anyone in their right mind turn down grant money?” Alex Morgavan asked.

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Lyp said the city has encouraged the Morgavans to file for a facade improvement grant many times through the years. The family’s reluctance to do it only furthers their intent on trying to make the city look bad through a false narrative, he said.

“When (Alex) says the city has not offered a grant, he’s correct. That is because he has never filed an application,” Lyp said. “To file an application, he would need to have a plan. A condition of any city grant is that the property is in full compliance with all city codes, something that has been a problem with Valpo Transmission.”

Other automotive businesses in the city, including Firestone Auto Care and Sandburg Automotive, have received facade improvement grants in the past. The application process can be done online.

“If his lawyer consents, I would personally sit down with Alex and help him through the process,” Lyp said.

Is such mutual collaboration possible with this long-standing dispute? Can a resolution be found? I’m hearing rumors that it could happen. Let’s hope this one turns out to be true.

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