The Chesterton Board of Zoning Appeals gave the green light Thursday for
Ralph Osborn to open Josh’s Place, a new teen center for youth ages 12-17.
Osborn said after Thursday’s special BZA meeting that he hopes to be open
for business July 17. He anticipates spending about $35,000 to renovate a
leased 6,000 square-foot building at 136 Grant St.
Vote was 4-0 with board member Sig Niepokoj absent. A condition imposed by
the BZA was that if Osborn sells the business, the new owner will have to
return to the BZA and seek the same approvals Osborn did.
He was granted a use variance to operate a teen center, which was not a
permitted use in the Business-2 zoning district even though arcade/billiards
A second variance to allow 41 parking spaces rather than the 83 town code
requires was approved based on the fact most of the teen center’s patrons
won’t be old enough to drive. Osborn is leasing both the 136 Grant St.
building and a parking lot immediately north of it.
Osborn has pledged to work with Chesterton police to devise a traffic plan
for teen pick-up by parents and legal drivers; typically about 225 teens
could be present for the regular activities and special events. Admission
would be by entrance fee or pre-paid membership.
Unlike April 22 when a public hearing on Osborn’s petition was opened and
several of the 18 people in the audience spoke in support, just two people
attended Thursday’s hearing continuation.
Rita Powell of Schererville was the only one to comment. She said her
children are grown but she wishes when in school they had a center like
Osborn’s, which teens need. “It keeps them busy. I think it’s great.”
Last month the BZA had asked Osborn to address concerns that arose regarding
his plans. As for noise, Osborn said he plans to soundproof windows on the
building’s side where a residence is located and additional soundproofing
would be added as needed.
He noted he will be able to regulate the volume of bands and DJs providing
entertainment at the teen center. Osborn’s attorney, Greg Babcock, said town
code also regulates and limits noise.
The BZA had inquired how Osborn would handle Chesterton’s curfew law, which
sets different times for different ages. He said by having the patrons wear
color-coded wristbands, those under age 15 subject to the earlier curfew are
Supervision of the teens also was addressed. Osborn said he was advised that
for every 30 students in Seventh to Twelfth Grade, one adult supervisor was
recommended. He’s also pledged to schedule more employees and hire
additional security when needed.
Osborn said he will make every effort to have the teen center be safe and he
won’t allow negative outside influences. “If I get a bad reputation in this
town my business will fail and I don’t want that.”
Added Babcock, “As a business venture in this small town, ruination of your
reputation and the business fails. (Osborn’s) driven as much as the town is
to have a successful venture.”
The teen center will offer snacks. Osborn said he will need to obtain a
limited food-service permit from the Porter County Health Department to sell
pre-packaged food items; for special events the caterer Osborn hires would
be required to have his/her own food permit.
During the April 22 public hearing a downtown business owner inquired about
the safety of teens walking or on bicycles crossing the railroad tracks to
get to Osborn’s business on their north side.
Thursday, Babcock presented a letter detailing statistical information from
the Chesterton Police Department regarding the Calumet Road and 4th Street
railroad crossings, but he noted the town’s youth already cross the tracks
on their way to George’s Gyros, The Port drive-in and Indian Boundary Road’s
“That activity has been occuring and will continue to occur even without the
teen center,” Babcock stated. “There’s risks regardless of the teen center.
It won’t go away.”
Addressing Osborn prior to the BZA vote, BZA president Kim Goldak told him,
“In my personal opinion, you’re stellar. You’re passionate. You’ve crossed
your T’s and dotted your I’s.” For that reason she recommended conditioning
the variances contingent on Osborne operating the business because another
person might not have his qualifications and dedication to the project.
Osborn said the fact the variances are non-transferable was acceptable
because it’s a protection for the town and the well-being of the kids, and
that’s what it’s all about.