Chesterton Tribune



Flush with new money, Burns Harbor eyes consultants, unified US 20 plan

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The Burns Harbor Redevelopment Commission agreed Thursday to find a consultant to write a request for proposals to hire a second consultant to help implement the town’s comprehensive plan.

After the meeting RDC member Gene Weibl said a $10,000 study completed earlier this year by consultant Weaver Boos that proposed green-development options like a bike trail will serve as a tool to secure grants and won’t duplicate the new contract.

New citizen RDC member Cliff Fleming, a former Burns Harbor councilman, said reaching out to the private sector will lead the town to discover how it can be better for both the people who live there and those who want to.

As a developer himself, Fleming made a lengthy case from personal experience that professional consultants know the proper buzzwords, nomenclature and sequencing to get results.

RDC member Greg Miller said the commission can’t analyze the town’s assets and how to overcome its liabilities like a consultant can, but it can set a vision and goals where Burns Harbor wants to go and let professionals help the town get there.

The RDC’s concern can be economic development, redevelopment and quality of life that includes employment and amenities, he added.

Weibl said he sees consulting groups as “matchmakers” who put together the right properties with the right companies.

Fleming agreed saying, “I’d hate to work on one thing specific and one year later go ‘oops’.” He noted companies often bypass local government and work initially through the State of Indiana seeking certified shovel-ready sites.

Several times RDC members mentioned bringing a grocery store to Burns Harbor, but Miller said if a Walgreens is willing to come it could be a seed that facilitates development around it. Weibl said Burns Harbor long has had a desire for a real downtown.

RDC member Jeff Freeze said the town can’t lose sight of individual needs like a sidewalk along Haglund Road and the need to upgrade the town’s website, described as the face of the town that could be more functional for residents and prospective businesses.

It was noted that at some point the town may need to hire a grant consultant. Weibl said his current efforts are very time consuming, and he reminded that grants often have a local dollar match.

Where will growth come?

Miller said three corners at the Indiana 149/U.S. 20 intersection are ripe for redevelopment as well as the former Standard Plaza property east of there if its legal ownership can be sorted out.

Weibl said he’s met with a representative of the Indiana Department of Transportation who pledged cooperation on several town projects including hike/bike lanes along Indiana 149, crosswalks at the multi-lane intersection of U.S. 20 and Indiana 149, and regrading a ditch near Westport Road. According to Weibl, “I think we’ll get more cooperation (from INDOT) than we’ve ever had in the past.”

Weibl said the RDC can decide whether to involve the town’s Advisory Plan Commission in a U.S. 20 corridor plan that would require significant input from the City of Portage and the Town of Porter.

Typically such plans have unified requirements such as facade standards and signage.

Freeze said with the city’s U.S. 6 corridor development well on its way, Portage is turning its attention to redeveloping the U.S. 20 area and has been buying properties along it. He noted Porter also hopes to jump-start interest along U.S. 20 there.

Burns Harbor RDC member Brad Enslen said U.S. 20 is both an asset and a liability for his town. He suggested getting a complete inventory of the town’s development potential, which led to the lengthy discussion regarding consultants.

New money, new decisions

Freeze said the RDC can move in a different direction now that Burns Harbor’s sanitary sewers have been installed and its financing bonds paid off. Non-voting RDC member Ralph Ayres of the Duneland School Board asked what the RDC’s annual estimated distribution will be to spend.

Miller said the RDC has about $140,000 on hand and anticipates probably $300,000 to $400,000 in the spring tax draw and a second payout this winter. 2014 income has been appropriated if the decision comes to spend it.

At Ayres’s suggestion RDC attorney Chuck Parkinson will confirm what percentage of annual RDC income derived from TIF districts can be reserved for educational purposes or projects like Duneland Schools. Ayres said it will be a huge challenge for the Burns Harbor RDC to have spendable money again and to decide how to use it.

RDC members Miller, Weibl and Freeze also sit on the Town Council. Fleming and Enslen are new citizen RDC members. Miller was elected its president, Enslen vice-president and Freeze secretary.

It was agreed the next meeting will be May 12 at 7 p.m. at the town hall; at that meeting designating a regular meeting date will be discussed.



Posted 4/25/2014




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