Chesterton Tribune



Burns Harbor residents asked for input June 19 on Westport uses

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A joint meeting is scheduled June 19 for the Burns Harbor Town Council and Park Board to discuss taking ownership of the Westport Community Club property, and to hear public input on how its building and grounds should be used.

Chesterton Pop Warner football has expressed interest in a joint venture to use the site as a permanent home for the league under a lease arrangement, but a formal proposal wouldn’t be made until the town agrees to accept Westport.

Town attorney Bob Welsh was asked to prepare a draft transfer agreement between Westport and the town for review at the June 12 regular council meeting. A title search, estimated to cost $300, also will be done.

At Wednesday’s monthly meeting, council members weighed whether to take the property donation from the now-disbanded club and then worry about what to do with it, or to find out more about the financial impact on town finances first.

Both Mike Perrine and Jim McGee are council members as well as a community club officer and board of director, respectively. Neither member recused himself from the council discussion although McGee did last month.

A question previously hanging over the donation was whether Westport had outstanding property taxes due. Welsh said he met with Porter County assessor Jon Snyder who confirmed there are no liens on the property or taxes due/accruing for 2013 or 2014.

However, Welsh said he was advised that could change at the end of the year so Snyder recommended making a decision on the property sooner rather than later.

McGee also said a timely decision is needed. “(Westport) can’t afford to even pay the electric bill. We’re done.”

Perrine said in recent times private donations have kept the club afloat and those donations likely could continue for a short time while transfer details are worked out.

Westport, founded in 1959 as a hub of community activity before the town was incorporated, has offered to give its dated cement-block building, gravel parking lot and adjacent vacant land at the northeast corner of Indiana 149 and Haglund Road to the town to be used as park property for community use under control of the Park Board. All costs related to the transfer would be incurred by the town.

Council member Greg Miller said the donation could be a great boon to the town, but Burns Harbor also could run into tens of thousands of dollars to upgrade the building. The town should be sure it knows what it’s getting into, he added.

Later, speaking from the audience, former council member Bernie Poparad supported accepting the donation but suggested first having a building inspection and determining what it would cost to make it accessible to the handicapped.

A Pop Warner spokesman earlier indicated the league could use grants, donations and in-kind services to help upgrade Westport and add football facilities with adequate parking.

Perrine said the value of the acreage involved is worth a lot more than the building itself, and his fear is that someone else will buy Westport taking control away from the town. He noted the Burns Harbor comprehensive plan includes acquiring Westport, and the town’s capital projects list includes capital expenditures for its improvement.

Revisited briefly was how much say the Town Council would have over use and development of Westport if the town owns the property yet the Park Board administers it.

Welsh said the council can give guidance in various ways, makes appointments to the Park Board and controls its budget, but “You can’t just tell them what to do.”

Council member Gene Weibl said the only issue on the table now is whether to accept Westport. Uses there can be determined later.

Miller noted if Westport isn’t leased to Pop Warner, it would become park property and Burns Harbor probably has more park land per-capita than any other town in Porter County.

Council members emphasized they are not against Pop Warner’s involvement, only that it’s premature to consider it.



Posted 5/9/2013