The graveled area,
like the park itself, is located on Furness Road.
Of the types of
ordinances voted on by the Porter County Board of Commissioners, the least
contentious usually are the ones to establish funds to hold grant monies.
But Tuesday was a
rare instance when the board split 2-1 on an ordinance to establish a fund
for the County Parks Department to deposit $58,125 in matching grants from
an Indiana Lake Michigan Coastal Grant and the Department of Natural
Resources’ Bicentennial Nature Trust.
The grant funds the
purchase of 15 additional acres for Brincka-Cross Gardens to the west.
Negotiations began when the parcel became available a little over a year
Voting no was
County Commissioner Jim Biggs, R-North, who spoke against acquiring
additional park land that he says would go unused while the County is stuck
with the cost to maintain it.
“I don’t see a lot
of opportunity for us having the internal resources to develop it,” Biggs
said. “I am very concerned about pursuing federal grant money for the
purpose of ‘because we can’ and in this case 15 acres to do what?”
Superintendent Walter Lenckos said the intention is to use the land mainly
for passive uses, preserving woodlands and wetlands there. The parcel
includes a small graveled area used by the previous property owner off
Furness Rd. that can be used as a parking area.
“We can have a real
parking lot, which we’ve never really had,” Lenckos said.
Lenckos said that
the acquisition fits within the Northwest Indiana Regional Plan Commission’s
2040 plan to acquire land around the National Lakeshore and Indiana Dunes
State Park as well as the Porter County Parks Department’s master plan to
acquire wetlands and woodlands.
The grant money
would essentially allow the state to have a conservation easement that would
restrict use of the property, Lenckos said.
The DNR will allow
the parking lot because that would increase access for the public, he said.
understands Biggs’ concerns, Lenckos added that his department is one of the
lowest funded per capita in Indiana and that he and the park board would
“relish” having more funding.
Biggs said he
believes the parks department is “fairly” funded compared to the other
departments in Porter County Government. He said he understands the effort
of purchasing the property for environmental benefits but questions whether
it’s something the County must keep paying for.
“I get it. My
concern is adding this to the inventory of acreage. We have to insure it and
we have to maintain it,” Biggs said. He also gave Brookdale Park in Liberty
Twp. as an example of park land that has been sitting for years undeveloped.
Lenckos later told
the Chesterton Tribune that the Parks Department has not increased
its maintenance budget and he is not aware of any added cost for liability
due to acquired land.
During the public
hearing for the ordinance, Porter County Tourism Board President Mitch
Peters agreed on the need for a parking lot.
“Parking is a huge
issue up there. I understand the concern about acquiring additional property
but we do need parking at that facility, and it is utilized. It’s a nice
facility in the county. It’s on the north side. I know we are working on
Center Twp. and the south but we do need something up there as well so I
would certainly welcome the ordinance,” Peters said.
In comments from
the other Commissioners, Commissioner Laura Shurr Blaney, D-South, said she
too understands Biggs’ concerns but feels that Brincka-Cross Gardens Park is
well-used already and the acquisition is part of the original plan. She said
she also likes having more parking.
Blaney asked if
there are any park properties with land that the County could “get rid of.”
Park Board attorney David Hollenbeck said that property in the park system
that is not developed is used for open space for the purpose of enhancing
the quality of life for residents.
President Jeff Good, R-Center, did not comment on the Brincka-Cross property
but said that as the County Parks master plan update moves forward it should
take into account the recent discussions between the Center Twp. Advisory
Board and the City of Valparaiso about creating a new joint park district.
Lenckos said there
will be a master plan update discussion at Thursday’s County Park Board
On the vote for the
ordinance, Blaney and Good voted in favor on a first reading with Biggs
Second reading will
be held at the Commissioners’ next meeting on Feb. 21.