NEW BUFFALO—The fate of Roger’s Wrecker Service and Automotive Repair at 742 S. Whittaker Street dominated the public comment part of the Monday, June 17, New Buffalo City Council meeting.
Long operated by Roger Lijewski near the city-township boundary, the business is confronting compliance issues with the city’s zoning ordinance — putting the viability of Roger’s Wrecker Service in question and piquing public interest on whether the city is treating the business fairly and above-board in terms of ordinance enforcement.
The issue sparked a showing of support at the June 17 meeting,where four residents spoke out about the overall respect that Lijewski, also a New Buffalo School Board member, has in the community in terms of his personal character, along with what they described as his honest, accommodating business services.
Resident Clay Howard, during the public comment portion of the meeting, said: “I’m sure everybody knows that Roger is one of the most involved people that I know of in New Buffalo … It’s been brought to my attention recently that he’s been pressured to move his business out of the city … I feel like Roger’s one of those kinds of people that should be given all the consideration that he can and some help, if anything, from the city and from the people that are here.”
Howard added: “We’ve got a street that should be vacated between the two properties that (Lijewski) owns and put back on the tax rolls so that it’s income to the city; instead, as I understand it, that has been denied to happen. We’ve had other properties in the city that have been vacated; I don’t see why this couldn’t go on. I see things from his parking lot where misuse of city streets goes on, but no action seems to be happening concerning those things … I don’t understand why this pressure is being brought on Roger. Is there someone that wants that piece of property?”
Resident Ron Watson added during public comment that before his next-door neighbor died last fall, Lijewski “would come down and work on her car, middle of the winter; he’d get it towed and have it back the same day. I checked the bills she would get; the bills were small — low.”
When Watson’s own truck blew an exhaust manifold, various area shops quoted him a $5,000 repair estimate. “Roger did it for me for $900,” Watson told the City Council.
“We do not want Roger to leave town … there’s so much disinformation out there,” Mayor Lou O’Donnell replied in brief remarks after the public comment period concluded.
And while O’Donnell noted that it’s not customary for him to immediately respond to public comments during regular council meetings, he said the city’s legal counsel has advised officials against divulging details of this matter at this time — although O’Donnell did say that the current zoning ordinance does not allow for a wrecker service in the city.
“I truly believe this will be resolved,” he said, without citing a time frame for when that might happen.
The other two who spoke out for Lijewski cited similar things.
One of them, Bill Conway, alluded to Lijewski allegedly being “bullied” and “pushed out” by the city and added that something akin to big-city politics, as he sees it, has no place in New Buffalo:
“We don’t want this to be Chicago; we want this to be New Buffalo, a friendly town that takes care of its people.”
Resident Debbie Schmidt during public comment period addressed another matter and announced she’s coordinating a free-lunch program this summer for all children ages 18 and under called “Bridge the Gap.”
“You may or may not know that 50 percent of the children in our New Buffalo schools are eligible for free and reduced lunch,” she told the council. “So now that school is over, many of these families had their food bills triple because their kids are home for three meals a day. Starting today we started serving free lunches; we’re serving at the children’s library, at the elementary school parking lot, at Oakview Estate Apartments parking lot, at Fifth-Third Bank parking lot and at Water’s Edge Church.”
There are signs posted around town and information is on Facebook, she added.