As trees are cut, WL takes heat for Lindberg Road project
Plus, Inari plans $19M expansion, 140 more jobs. And Purdue Northwest faculty overwhelmingly give vote of no confidence to chancellor who offer Asian-sounding gibberish during commencement
Thanks to Food Finders Food Bank for sponsoring today’s edition. For more about Food Finders and how you can help its mission to feed neighbors in and around Greater Lafayette, check the links above.
TREES CUT DOWN, WEST LAFAYETTE TAKES HEAT FOR LINDBERG ROAD PROJECT
Trees started coming down Tuesday along a stretch of Lindberg Road, exposing some raw nerves between some property owners and the city as West Lafayette does final prep work for a road widening project in 2023.
Just how raw?
When Ed Knoth, a homeowner on Lindberg Road, came to confront the West Lafayette Redevelopment Commission about the situation, he brought $500 in cash, just in case.
“Bail money,” Knoth said after the Wednesday morning meeting.
“I didn’t know what I was going to do,” Knoth said, “so I came prepared.”
The money stayed in Knoth’s pocket, as he found a sympathetic voice on the redevelopment commission in Patrick Hagmaier, who called out what he called a communication gap between city offices and Lindberg Road residents between Northwestern Avenue and Salisbury Street.
Hagmaier said he understood that not everyone was going to like every road improvement the city did – including one that was going to eat into right-of-way that residents had cared for and landscaped for decades.
But he asked why the city would start cutting trees and shrubs on Tuesday before giving residents a last chance for a conversation at the meeting Wednesday.
“It makes it look like the city was going to do what it wanted to do all along,” Hagmaier said after the meeting. “It’s a matter of trust. It looks like we doubled down on bad communication.”
Larry Oates, Redevelopment Commission president, piled on. He said the work done so far locked the city into a project that on Wednesday came in with two bids between $38,000 and $87,000 over the $3.2 million set aside for the project. Those bids are expected to be reviewed before the commission’s January meeting.
Ben Anderson, the city’s public works director, said the work initially was supposed to start in October, clearing trees to give Duke room and time to relocate utility poles before road work is scheduled to start in May. That schedule had been delayed in the fall, after the city marked trees for removal and residents spilled into a West Lafayette City Council meeting to protest plans they thought had been set aside several years ago.
West Lafayette started designing an overhaul for the three-block stretch of Lindberg Road in 2014, with hopes of construction in 2018. The 2018 date was scuttled due to a lack of funding. During a neighborhood meeting in October 2022, after stakes went into yards to mark the city’s right-of-way, residents told city officials they’d figured their concerns about losing chunks of their yards and old trees got through to city officials when nothing came of the project four years ago.
Anderson said the section was overdue for renovation and close to failing. He said the project will include two travel lanes, plus a parking lane. It will add a five-foot sidewalk on one side of the road and a 10-foot asphalt trail, connecting to the city’s trail system along Salisbury Street and Northwestern Avenue, on the other. The trail and sidewalk will be separated from the road by five-foot green space. The city also will make storm drainage improvements during the project.
In total, the project would take 56 feet of the city’s 70-foot right-of-way. The road is 40 feet wide now.
On Wednesday, Anderson said he’d worked with Duke Energy to minimize tree removal. He said that since October, the city had been able to save a couple of trees. But more than a dozen would need to come down. Anderson said he’d gone door to door to talk with property owners who would lose trees.
Knoth said Wednesday that had given some neighbors a heads up. The rest were in the dark when they saw tree crews, wondering what was coming for their yards. He said his yard – one that he and Kristin Matz, his wife, had landscaped well enough to earn a Go Greener Award from the city in 2018 – would be 800 square feet smaller, with a project coming in 17 feet from the current sidewalk.
“There was no communication then,” Knoth said. “There’s no communication now.”
Mary Jo Bartolacci, a Lindberg Road resident, was watching crews Tuesday. She’d been worried about the fate of a red maple in her front yard. According current plans, it appeared to be safe. But she said it was ironic for a project to target trees in a city that had earned so many Tree City USA designations.
“If the city had undertaken this project the right way, consultation with residents along the roadway would have been the first step,” Bartolacci said. “All relevant city governance committees and boards would have been made aware of the plan at the outset as well. And it’s easy to imagine that, had that been done, a thoughtful and beautifully designed reconstruction of Lindberg Road could have been the result, with mature trees and lovingly placed plantings woven in.”
Anderson said he understood the frustrations, both from residents and from the redevelopment commission.
“Could we have done better? Yes, I’m not running away from that,” Anderson said. “But this is a project that still needs to get done. I understand we can always do better.”
INARI AGRICULTURE LOOKS TO PUT $19M INTO WL SITE, ADDING GREENHOUSE, 140 JOBS
Inari Agriculture Inc., which established a location in the Purdue Research Park in 2016, intends to put $19 million into facilities and more than double employment at the West Lafayette site in 2023, according to plans presented Wednesday to the West Lafayette Redevelopment Commission.
The agricultural technology company plans to add 140 positions in the next four years at an average of $90,000 salaries, and build additional greenhouse facilities on Win Hentschel Boulevard. Inari has 129 employees in West Lafayette now.
The redevelopment commission on Wednesday gave its recommendation for a pair of five-year tax abatements on real property and personal property connected to construction of a 41-square-foot greenhouse tied to its seed development operations. Inari’s request will go to the West Lafayette City Council for votes in 2023.
The tax abatements would be worth more than $1.4 million in tax breaks for the company, according to city figures.
PURDUE NORTHWEST FACULTY GIVES OVERWHELMING VOTE OF NO CONFIDENCE FOR CHANCELLOR
Purdue Northwest faculty members overwhelmingly gave Chancellor Thomas Keon a vote of no confidence, renewing calls for him to resign, according to results released Wednesday by the campus’ faculty senate.
Of the tenured and tenure-track faculty and clinical faculty surveyed, 87% gave Keon a vote of no confidence, Thomas Roach, Purdue Northwest Senate faculty chair, said in a letter Wednesday. Roach said the survey included a 65% response rate among the 238 faculty members on the campus.
The vote comes after Keon offered lines of Asian gibberish as a joke during a Purdue Northwest commencement ceremony Dec. 10. Since then, calls for Keon to step aside or for Purdue’s trustees to fire the chancellor of the regional campus have grown.
“As a university we need to focus on teaching and research,” Roach wrote in an email that delivered the survey results to Keon late Wednesday morning.
“The support you are receiving from an out-of-touch and elitist board of trustees is meaningless,” Roach wrote to Keon. “How can you lead us through another semester without the support of faculty and with petitions coming in from around the world condemning your actions? Please put an end to this today by announcing your resignation.”
Roach’s memo to faculty included more than a page of write-in comments with faculty votes. Here’s a sample:
As of Wednesday evening, nothing had publicly changed with Keon’s position. And it wasn’t immediately clear whether Keon had responded to the faculty’s vote of no confidence.
Late last week, Keon issued an apology, saying his actions were “offensive and insensitive.” Keon said he’d made a mistake but “did not intend to be hurtful and my comments do not reflect my personal or our institutional values.”
Purdue reported last week that the university’s trustees, which oversee administration at regional campuses as well as the main campus in West Lafayette, had accepted Keon’s apology. A university spokesman was asked Wednesday about what, if any, action has been or will be taken, aside from accepting the chancellor’s apology last week.
“As you said, the board has accepted his apology,” Tim Doty, a Purdue spokesman said. “As the university and its leaders have stated many times over, Boilermakers hold themselves to a high standard that begins with civility and respect for all. We will continue to uphold those values and expect members of our community to do so as well.”
During the graduation ceremony Dec. 10, a local sport radio personality, delivering a keynote address, mentioned that he used a fake language to help calm children in his family. He used it during the ceremony after hearing a fussing child in the audience. Keon came to the microphone and spouted what he called “sort of my Asian version” of the speaker’s tactic. Clips of his performance spread quickly. Here’s a clip, queued up.
Dave Nalbone, a psychology professor and vice chair of the Purdue Northwest Faculty Senate, said he wasn’t sure why Purdue President Mitch Daniels “refuses to take the obvious next step” and fire Keon if the chancellor won’t resign.
“(Keon) does not have the confidence of the faculty, and has done damage to our – and larger Purdue's – reputation that will take years – or decades – to undo,” Nalbone said. “Certainly, Daniels' inaction does not comport with the ‘bold leadership’ he often claims for himself.”
AND FINALLY … ANOTHER LOCAL HOLIDAY PERFORMANCE: ATLYS
Atlys, a string quartet featuring Lafayette native and violinist Jinty McTavish, performed this interpretation of Vince Guaraldi and Lee Mendelson’s “Christmas Time is Here” in 2020. Atlys – McTavish and Sabrina Tabby on violin, Rita Andrade on viola and cellist Genevieve Tabby – will be in Lafayette April 12-13, 2023, as part of a Purdue Convocations outreach artist-in-residence. For details on the pop-up concerts and performances throughout Greater Lafayette those two days, here’s a link. For now, enjoy their take on a favorite from “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”
Thanks to the Food Finders Food Bank for its support of this edition of the Based in Lafayette reporting project. For more about how you can help Food Finders, check here.
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