GARY — Plans to locate a trucking company at two vacant Gary schools have been derailed after more than 90 people logged on to Zoom for a Planning Commission public hearing on Thursday to voice overwhelming opposition to the project. .
Acclaimed journalist and former WBBM news anchor, Felicia Middlebrooks (Hill) answered the call to speak on behalf of her mother. Middlebrooks’ family has lived near Ivanhoe Elementary for nearly 60 years. She said the proposed Djuric Trucking headquarters for the old school would “wipe out” the neighborhood.
“We’ve seen senseless disruption here and across the country targeting stable African-American communities, it’s indicative of environmental racism,” Middlebrooks said, adding that if Djuric doesn’t find a new location “this whole saga will translate by a nightmare in this community.”
Djuric, a Hammond-based trucking company, was looking to move to Gary because its current location is usurped for the South Shore Line’s West Lake Corridor project.
People also read…
In 2020, the City of Gary purchased six schools from the Gary Community School Corp. for $1. In September 2021, the Gary Redevelopment Commission accepted purchase contracts from Djuric Trucking Inc., for Edison, located at 5400 West Fifth Ave., and Ivanhoe, located at 5700 West 15th Ave.
The total purchase price for the two schools was $1 million. Djuric now has an option on the properties, but the schools had yet to be rezoned from residential R2 to Planned Unit Development (PUD). If the rezoning is not approved, the agreement will be terminated, explained Gary, executive director of redevelopment, AJ Bytnar.
Djuric planned to turn Ivanhoe into its headquarters, making an initial investment of $6.5 million and turning Edison into its flatbed division, making an initial investment of $3.5 million.
During a Thursday Plan Commission public hearing for the proposed rezoning, more than 20 Gary residents spoke out against the project.
After nearly two hours of public comment, Mayor Jerome Prince said, “I have heard loud and clear the concerns of residents and at this particular time…we will definitely be calling for this to be removed.”
The Planning Commission then tabled the two rezonings with two separate votes, both 5-1 with three abstentions.
Residents shared a wide range of concerns, including the environmental impact of truck emissions; Edison’s proximity to the West Side Leadership Academy; increased traffic; noise pollution; and the impact on property values.
At the start of the public hearing, Prince said the two schools had been vacant and destroyed for years, adding that the Djuric facilities would “beautify” the area and bring jobs and taxes to Gary. Dwight Gardner, chairman of the Gary Park board, said home values around Ivanhoe were the highest they’ve ever been, adding Djuric’s move would likely have a negative impact.
“This is an already stable and vibrant residential neighborhood that we have too little of in this community,” said Howard Hendricks, who lives just a 10-minute walk from Ivanhoe. “Gary has a number of vacant properties that are already zoned commercial…if you have to, please do it somewhere else.”
According to the Municipal Code of Gary, when applying for rezoning, certified letters must be sent to all property owners within 400 feet of the project. Many residents at the public hearing were upset that they did not receive a letter. Middlebrooks and her mother even made copies of the letter they received and surveyed the neighborhood to raise awareness.
Nina Burton, who has two children attending the West Side, learned about the public hearing through a Facebook post shared by Kimmie Gordon of GARD (Gary Advocates for Responsible Development). She said West Side parents, staff and students should have been contacted.
Not everyone who spoke opposed the project. Michele Blackmon lives across the street from Edison and said she saw the vacant school being used as a “garbage dump” for years. She said she supported Djuric’s plans because she would prefer the school to be “used for something positive”.
Bytnar said Djuric’s location in Hammond is also close to a residential area. Corrina Davis, who lives just behind Ivanhoe, said she actually moved from Hammond to Gary in part because of all the trucking in Hammond. Many residents said the current trucking along 15th Avenue near Ivanhoe and along Fifth Avenue near Edison has already created poor traffic and damaged surrounding roads.
“I reject the Djuric plan, even though I am a truck driver and own a trucking company,” said Antonio Davis, a truck driver of 22 years. “As a truck driver I know, drivers make mistakes, they destroy stuff, it’s just the nature of the job.”
In a statement released after the public hearing, Prince said the city would continue to work with Djuric to find a location “more suited to their needs.”
“We salute the economic development of this city. We want the Djuric trucking companies of the world to invest here,” Prince said. “Our first priority, however, is our people. The people have spoken and we have listened.”
Because the rezones have been filed, Burton said residents of Gary will now have to “wait and see what the actual plan is.”
“I’m proud of us for really taking a stand. Regardless of what other people think of our city, this is our city,” Burton said. “I hope they really heard what the residents said as a whole; it’s not that we don’t want economic development, we just want a plan where things are properly zoned and things are properly placed.
PHOTOS: Terry Cummings speaks at Bailly STEM in Gary