GARY – When LaTasha Hall is lying in bed, she can hear every time one of the many trucks traveling down Fifth Avenue pauses or downshifts.
Hall lives in the Brunswick neighborhood of Gary, just two blocks from the abandoned building that once housed Edison High School. Before Edison closed, Hall was a student there. Now his alma mater is set to become the flatbed division of a trucking company.
“We don’t need a trucking facility in the neighborhood. … I don’t understand why they would want to put it up between houses,” Hall said. “Gary has so many industrialized areas. I’m not against trucking companies coming into the area, just put them where it’s already industrial.
In 2020, the City of Gary purchased six schools from the Gary Community School Corp. for $1, including Edison; Ivanhoe Elementary School and undeveloped property next to Ivanhoe; Aetna Elementary School; Brunswick Elementary School; Nobel Elementary School; and Wirt-Emerson. In September 2021, the Gary Redevelopment Commission accepted purchase contracts from Djuric Trucking Inc., for Edison, located at 5400 West Fifth Avenue, and Ivanhoe, located at 5700 West 15th Avenue.
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The total purchase price for the two schools was $1 million. Djuric now has an option on properties. Schools are to be rezoned from residential R2 to Planned Unit Development (PUD). If the rezoning is not approved by the Gary Common Council, the agreement will be terminated, explained Gary, executive director of redevelopment, AJ Bytnar.
The Planning Commission is holding a public hearing for the rezoning on February 17 at 3 p.m.
Djuric, a Hammond-based trucking company, has been based at its current location, 4717 Sheffield Avenue, for 31 years. The company is looking to move to Steel City because its location is usurped for the South Shore Line’s West Lake Corridor project.
Bytnar said the company “has exhausted every nook and cranny” of northwest Indiana in search of a new location. Djuric ultimately settled on Ivanhoé and Edison because the schools met their space needs and were close to local highways.
Hall would like Djuric to “rethink” his location. She said Edison was “right in the middle” of her neighborhood, adding that she had already seen many accidents on busy Fifth Avenue. Kimmie Gordon of Gary Advocates for Responsible Development, or GARD, also wants to see Djuric move to a more industrial area in Gary.
Ivanhoe’s location would be down the street from West Side Leadership Academy High School. Gordon is concerned that the trucking facility will impact the health and safety of students and neighbors.
“It’s like a slap in the face for the locals living there,” Gordon said. “I understand that we need to tackle the scourge and put these properties back on the tax rolls, but if we continue to just bring in the industry, we will end up being the diesel capital of the world.”
Djuric’s current location is next to a residential area in Hammond, Bytnar said, adding that the site will be designed “in such a way that this use does not negatively impact adjacent properties”. Djuric will have to meet noise, light, architectural and emission standards, Bytnar said.
According to earlier reports from The Times, Djuric Trucking Vice President Stevan Djuric said all of the company’s trucks are clean-idle certified and are 2016 or newer. Trucks do not transport hazardous materials, do not drive on side streets and do not idle for more than 10 minutes.
Both Gordon and Hall would like to see schools turned into housing, but Bytnar said the demand just isn’t there.
“Without additional jobs, investment and quality of life measures, residential is simply not viable right now,” Bytnar said. “We want to see businesses that want to be in Gary, aren’t looking for a ton of incentives, and want to have their roots in the community.
Bytnar said Djuric could “stabilize” the surrounding neighborhood, create jobs, increase traffic to local businesses, attract residents and create an additional tax base. Djuric’s move to Gary could also attract other businesses to the area, Bytnar said.
While Hall supports job growth in Gary, she said development should not come at the expense of quality of life.
“I don’t understand why they want to come to a residential area,” Hall said. “We already have the steelworks – we grew up breathing air from the steelworks and we have enough pollution.”
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