NEW BUFFALO — A parade of citizens spoke in support of Roger’s Wrecker Service during the public comment portion of the Nov. 18 New Buffalo CIty Council meeting.
Most speakers stressed the longtime local ties of the Lijewski family and the many ways Roger has supported the community.
A member of the family, Heather Lijewski Black, said Ed Lijewski (Roger’s father and her grandfather) came to New Buffalo in 1956 and accepted a teaching position at New Buffalo High School.
“Here we are more than half a century later defending his son,” she said, adding that Roger’s Wrecker Service has provided a year-round service for more than 30 years (nearly 20 at the current location), provides employment and had had a contract with the city for 17 years — “including this year.”
“We currently have four vacant restaurants in the city limits … We have an entire city block that remains vacant within our renovated downtown district … The City of New Buffalo with its dwindling amount of successful year-round businesses is in no position to run anyone out of town.”
She asked the City Council to seek a “fair and honest” resolution with Roger and Allison “that may be beneficial for all parties involved.”
“Work with this legacy family that’s supported the entire community without prejudice,” she said.
In a letter submitted to the media seeking comments of support at the Nov. 18 meeting, Roger’s Wrecker Service owners Roger and Allison Lijewski wrote “The City Council is taking us to court in June 2020 to try to force our wrecking service out of town, alleging that our family owned business is illegal.”
They also stated “The City does not want us using the former Old Wheel Inn property, which we own, or the unimproved Tulasz Street, adjacent to our property, for our wrecker service and auto repair business, not even for employee or customer parking.”
“Just know that you guys really have hit a hornet’s nest — you have opened Pandora’s Box sort of,” said Teresa Vinson during the public comment period. “This man was born and raised here and the family … had been nothing but helpful.”
Council members for the most part refrained from comment on Nov. 18, saying they couldn’t speak because the case is considered to be in litigation. Mayor Lou O’Donnell IV noted “We are moving into mediation to try and get this resolved.”
After one of the commenters alleged that City Manager David Richards had stated the city wanted Roger’s Wrecker Service to relocate, however, council member Mark Robertson said “Our city manager did not say that to Roger. I was in that meeting.”
Alyson Payne, who works at the Michigan Welcome Center near I-94 Exit 1, said Roger’s Wrecker Service consistently provides prompt service to visitors who have trouble with their vehicles.
“It’s really good to have someone close by to tow and sometime repair cars because when your car breaks down on vacation that’s not a good welcome to Michigan.”
John Humphrey called Roger’s Wrecker Service “a cornerstone business” in the community providing 20 years of service, and asked why an open meeting of the Zoning Board of Appeals couldn’t be held to work the issue out through a variance or recommend the Planning Commission re-zone the site as commercial. He noted that the current zoning, General Commercial District and Roger’s Wrecker Service has a special use permit for auto repair.
Vanessa Thun said Roger’s Wrecker Service is a “huge part of Harbor Country” and a “stable, great business.” Thun said she’s in favor of progress and growth, “but never, ever at the cost of someone special as Roger and his family.”
Blagica Botillero said it’s hard to get information from the city and wondered why Roger’s is being sued.
“What exactly happened and why can’t we as residents who are paying for this potential lawsuit understand what is going on?”
Vinson said she has watched the Lijewskis “pretty much suffer from the actions of this council” over the last 12 months “and I wonder if you guys really know how to make a good deal?”
She called the legal action “a waste of money for the taxpayer.”
Chuck Krametbauer said “the worst thing we can do is attack the business owners who really have pout their heart and soul in this town.”
Donna Messinger asked why the action regarding Roger’s Wrecker Service is happening now and wondered aloud if the DDA expanding its borders had anything to do with it.
Cheryl Kalinowski said she supports the Lijewski family and said she feels the council’s action is unfair.
“I can’t believe that it’s gone this far. It’s costing our tax dollars. I can’t imagine what it’s costing Roger and Allison out of their own pockets.”
In other Nov. 18 business, the City Council:
• Were told by New Buffalo Business Association President Katie Maroney that a series of holiday-themed “Whittaker Winter Wonderland” events will take place on Nov. 30 (which is Shop Small Saturday). She said Jackie Shen of Jackie’s Cafe is the lead sponsor and participating businesses also include Rosie’s Cafe, Elsie Earl Studio, Casey’s and Dooley’s. A tree-lighting ceremony at the Transient Marina featuring the New Buffalo Area Schools choir also is being planned (for more, see page D2).
• Approved a site plan for a parking lot at Converge Community Church.
• Was informed by Sunset Shores Association President Bob Watson that some of the recently paved roads in that area (Water Street and Shore Drive) are showing large cracks in the middle — due perhaps to either heavy trucks carrying materials for a shoreline revetment project or improperly done work. Officials aid the situation would be examined quickly.
• Agreed to “lease purchase” a Dodge Charger police vehicle to replace a 2014 Explorer damaged in a recent accident, with nearly half of the $25,894 cost covered by insurance money.