Chesterton Tribune

Consultant: Steel is the engine that runs Burns Harbor

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By PAULENE POPARAD

Zoning consultant Matt Reardon made a clear distinction  when it comes to diversifying Burns Harbor’s economic future.

“You have a giant economic engine that runs your community,” he told approximately 25 residents assembled at the Westport Community Club, referring to steelmaker ArcelorMittal.

“Yes, it’s hard to put all your eggs in one basket but you folks have a pretty nice basket.”

Asked town Clerk-treasurer Jane Jordan, “I thought we were told we needed to diversify our economy because if the mill goes under, we go with them?”

Reardon said the town can have it both ways: diversify with retail opportunities, now in short supply, and encourage compatible economic growth that directly ties to ArcelorMittal and other major industries in town like Praxair.

Rarely executed is the industrial-campus model, said Reardon, but it could work for Burns Harbor by soliciting the corporate offices of, or vendors and suppliers who provide goods and materials to, existing businesses already here.

Helping current businesses to expand also is a good strategy, he added

Reardon is with Short Elliott Hendrickson Inc., which is getting $100,000 in grant money to develop a new town comprehensive plan and zoning ordinance by June 30. Monday’s fourth input meeting with residents included several new faces and new issues discussed.

A chapter not usually in a comprehensive plan that will be included in Burns Harbor’s is one on ecomonic development, according to Reardon.

Other chapters will deal with existing conditions, land use, infrastructure, transportation, natural resources and implementation strategies.

SEH plans to do a town market study to assemble information such as vacant and occupied land, income levels, the broader population base, zoning, ease of access, utilities and traffic generation, all to be used for a prospectus to attract business.

The goal, continued Reardon, is that the town has its own local shovel-ready program with targeted land uses, sources of funding and incentives identified, and clear reasons why both highway commercial and neighborhood retail would benefit by locating in Burns Harbor.

Some wondered if talk of attracting business now in the current economic climate is wishful thinking. “There is still activity happening out there. Don’t be too discouraged,” said Heather Ennis, managing director of the Duneland Chamber of Commerce.

U.S. 20, considered Burns Harbor’s primary commercial corridor, is dotted with several occupied homes, noted Donna Meeks.

Project manager A.J. Monroe of SEH said the future land-use map and the actual zoning map can vary, depending on whether the community wants to be patient or aggressive when it comes to promoting change.

Reardon said the consultants believe in willing buyer/willing seller when it comes to economic development.

The Indiana Department of Transportation, not Burns Harbor, has jurisdiction over U.S. 20, said Monroe, but INDOT officials recently committed to being more responsive to the town’s wishes.

Under the regional Marquette Plan Phase 2 for Porter County, INDOT is encouraged to develop a transportation management plan for U.S. 20.

Gene Weibl said if Burns Harbor can get its U.S. 20 amenities and development in place and the highway’s speed limit lowered, semi-truck drivers might decide to use other roads instead. The big rigs repeatedly are cited as a problem in town.

Identified as another area needing special consideration for future land use is property north of U.S. 20 on the west side of North Babcock Road, now zoned residential but adjacent to the Interstate 94 interchange and in close proximity to a motel under construction in Porter. Also nearby is the town’s Lakeland Park.

At the suggestion of Ron Day, consultants agreed to find out more about the possibility that a fiberoptic line might be run along the Indiana Toll Road. Such lines are installed in some areas of Burns Harbor already but Monroe said if the state takes the lead, communities might be better able to take advantage of a public asset.

As residents continue to list Burns Harbor’s assets and constraints, Brad Enslen observed, “We’re called a harbor but we can’t get there.” Not having local public access to Lake Michigan is a drawback, he noted.

Jeff Freeze said an asset might be capitalizing on the possibility that Chicago is named to host the 2016 Olympic games. Monroe said business/tourism officials are considering contingencies already.

“Once that decision is made, folks in Lake and Porter counties will take a more aggressive approach on how to attract some of that potential,” said Monroe, adding that for the 1996 Atlanta Olympic games locals made money renting their homes to visitors.

Two more Burns Harbor community meetings are scheduled this month for Feb. 25 and Feb. 26, both at 6:30 p.m. at Westport. Residents also will be receiving an informational mailing regarding the planning project.

 

Posted 2/10/2009