Chesterton Tribune



Burns Harbor opens talks with Pop Warner over Westport building and field use

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The Burns Harbor Town Council plowed much the same ground it has at past meetings when it comes to what should be done with the former Westport Community Club, but progress was made Wednesday on one front.

At councilman Greg Miller's suggestion the council voted 4-1 authorizing member Gene Weibl to negotiate with Chesterton Pop Warner football over tentative terms for the league's use of the Westport building and grounds.

Councilman Jeff Freeze said two council members should be represented and voted no. After the meeting he said he would have served with Weibl. Councilman Mike Perrine offered to serve prior to the vote, but Miller said Perrine's been closely involved with Westport.

Resident Gayle Van Loon asked if a citizen should be represented on the negotiating team. She was told the draft lease agreement would be only a starting point subject to revision and public comment.

An anonymous person sent postcards to town residents urging attendance at last night's meeting to discuss Westport, but associate town attorney Chuck Parkinson said any final decisions would be premature. Title work for Westport was received but hasn't been reviewed; even though a deed was signed it wasn't recorded and no closing has taken place.

No money will change hands when the town takes possession of the 4.7 acres at the northeast corner of Haglund Road and Indiana 49 from Westport, which disbanded after decades when it financially couldn't support itself and donated the property to the town for community use.

Twenty persons attended the meeting with more than 10 offering comments ranging from Rick Hummel's concerns over traffic from Pop Warner activities, Crystal Westphal noting the lack of sidewalks in the area, and Chuck Tuter's opposition to losing control of what was intended as park property for the town's use.

Hummel asked who would absorb the cost to upgrade Westport. Perrine said that's yet to be determined.

Pop Warner officials have attended several council meetings and last month made a formal presentation. Yesterday they were back again, assuring residents rumors of wanting a 20-year lease are just that. Perrine said the term of the lease doesn't matter because the council wouldn't agree to something that didn't give the town the ability to break the lease.

Pop Warner reps also said if they were to pay Westport's utilities, the league would require access to the community building but that wouldn't preclude other town activities there.

Resident Ron Day said it's reasonable to let Pop Warner store equipment in the building; the league's Tom Troy said the long-term goal is for Pop Warner to build its own pole barn at Westport in addition to a football field.

Loreen Eichenberger said Pop Warner has a goal of raising $70,000 but needs assurances its Westport investment won't be taken away. Todd Eichenberger said Pop Warner's been patiently waiting. "There's a lot of feelings with this community building. I get that. We're not trying to take that away from you (but) the town is changing." He urged finding common ground.

A grandmother told the council said she has four grandsons in Pop Warner and it's a great program.

Leann Perrine, a current town Park Board member and former Westport board member, said she has mixed emotions about the situation. She noted how the town is growing and park space is limited, making expanding park activities into the Westport building attractive.

Perrine drew applause when, motioning toward the audience, she said, "The point to be made here, we've been elected or appointed to represent these people."

Park Board president Marcus Rogala asked why its members have been invited to council meetings the last three months because the Park Board role in Westport's future is unclear. McGee said he wanted its members kept updated, and Mike Perrine said the Park Board will be directly involved later.

In a related matter, the council named Andrew Bozak, 30, to the Park Board completing the unexpired term of Clark Hamilton, who resigned due to employment conflicts. Bozak, a Republican, will serve through 2014.


Posted 7/11/2013