MICHIGAN CITY — Washington Park will remain closed through Aug. 13, after the Michigan City Common Council voted unanimously on Thursday to extend the mayor’s executive order, which otherwise would have expired at midnight on Friday.
Mayor Duane Parry issued the order on July 23, ordering that no vehicular or pedestrian traffic would be allowed inside Washington park, including at the beach, North Pointe Pavilion, Michigan City Senior Center, Washington Park Zoo, Fedder’s Alley or any other parking lot or grassy area inside the park.
It was Parry’s response to recent spikes in COVID-19 diagnoses at the local and regional levels.
“I’m halfheartedly going to support this,” said Councilman Paul Przybylinski. “… I think if we’re going to close the beaches that we should close all of them, for everybody.”
He was referring to the fact that Stops 2-13 at Sheridan Beach remain open to the public, as they are not mentioned in the executive order.
But Council President Sean Fitzpatrick said it was not within the council’s authority to amend an order issued by the mayor, that it could only be accepted or rejected as it’s written.
“What I wanted the very first time around was to have [Stops] 2-13 closed,” Councilman Bryant Dabney said. “But it was voted down, so this is why we have what we have now.”
Fitzpatrick said the council could have amended its resolution on whether to approve or reject an extension of the mayor’s executive order, but that no council member had submitted any written amendments to the clerk between Tuesday’s workshop and Thursday’s special meeting.
“I don’t know how anything can happen if we can’t come to a consensus as to what happens,” he said. “We’re more concerned with the particulars of how it gets executed and who’s going to pay for it or where is the manpower coming from. That’s not our job; that’s the administration’s job. Ours is to set the policy, and the executive has to work the details out.”
Przybylinski read from a letter he said a local resident submitted to him: “Please come together as the representatives of the city to work together to make us look our very best and to do what is the best for every resident of this city.”
Councilman Michael Mack acknowledged the seeming unfairness of allowing segments of the population to access Lake Michigan and not others, via the marina and Sheridan Beach.
“It would be nice if we were able to allow our residents, or at least the sticker-holders, to be able to enjoy ... what two pieces populations are going to continue to enjoy,” he said. “That’s the lens that I look at it through; that our inability to handle this situation totally, from the marina to Stop 2 and farther, is what’s creating this disparity of lake usage.”
Councilman Don Przybylinski said he walked down to Stop 7 and drove through Beachwalk in order to see what’s going on down there for himself.
While doing so, he counted approximately 190 out-of-state license plates.
Using the rule of assuming 3.5 passengers per vehicle as relayed by Parks Department Superintendent Ed Shinn during Tuesday’s workshop, it means as many as 700 or more non-residents are using the beach in addition to locals, Don Przybylinski said.
Mack said that because other municipalities between Michigan City and Chicago have closed their beaches, it’s natural that those people would come here for lake access.
“I respect all of these visitors coming to Michigan City,” Mack said. “I think we should be able to capture more of that income, entrepreneurially. I really don’t want to make this an us-against-them deal. We’ve just got to get ready – Parks Department and a lot of other areas of the city – to address this new dynamic that’s not going away.”
Paul Przybylinski said he wants to see the council come up with an ordinance in which specific pandemic-related rules for use and attendance at Washington Park and Sheridan Beach are outlined, as well as fines determined for those who violate the ordinance.
“I don’t know why we’re not getting tough about it because it’s not going to go away,” he said.
One such ordinance was supposed to have been read on second reading Thursday, but Paul Przbybylinski, its author, asked that it be tabled for three council meetings to allow for amendments to be made.
The council voted unanimously to table it and make adjustments before the ordinance returns to the agenda in September.