Chesterton Tribune                                                                                   Adv.

BZA grants variance to Grant Street teen center

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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 uses were.

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 easily identified.

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 fast-food row.

“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.



Posted 5/7/2010




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