The Duneland unit of the Porter County Boys & Girls Club won unanimous
permission Thursday to relocate to larger quarters where a multi-purpose
room, full basketball court, large outdoor activity space and other upgrades
will be available.
The new site is the former Lighthouse Christian Center at 521 W. County Road
1100N. The move required a use variance from the Chesterton Board of Zoning
At least nine persons spoke in support of the variance, several of them
affiliated with the club or having children in or previously involved with
the program. One letter in favor also was received. Many of the night’s
large town hall crowd were there for the petition.
The seven-year-old club has been housed in the Chesterton Methodist Church
activity center at 135 W. Lincoln Ave. The BZA accepted the B&G Club’s offer
to dedicate additional easement along its north property line for future
construction of a town sidewalk as part of the Westchester-Liberty trail
Although during the school year 95 percent of children are bused to the club
from nearby schools, some do walk. BZA member Thomas Browne expressed
concerns last month and Thursday over children crossing at or near the busy
1100N and South Fifth Street intersection.
“It’s about safety, and I think we can do better,” said Browne, who
emphasized his support for the club.
Attorney Greg Babcock for the petitioner gave the intersection’s accident
history showing the last crash there was 21 months ago; overgrown brush at
the southeast corner has been completely cleared, and the B & G Club would
have access off both 1100N and Fifth Street, he said.
Browne expressed disappointment traffic counts and other information he
requested in October wasn’t provided. Town engineer Mark O’Dell said signage
and reflective paint could be used to upgrade the crosswalk if the Street
Department budget allows.
Speakers during public comment agreed with county B&G Club president Ryan
Smiley that the non-profit group changes lives.
Brian Busch said his son is able to express himself and socialize in a
controlled environment, opportunities that are “a total asset to the
community” for all youth. Katie Hamilton said the new site will enable more
physical activity to promote healthy lifestyles.
Beth Adkins and Kathy Cochran supported the many positive experiences the
club offers children to grow and develop. Cochran owns the vacant parcel at
the northeast corner of the intersection and said relocation of the B&G Club
will boost its property value.
Duneland unit club director Joe Juarez said attendance has exploded over the
past year with 140-145 youth from typically Grades K-6 attending during the
school year and far fewer over vacations. Extended daycare also is offered
but requires in-person drop-off and pick-up.
Juarez explained the club stresses usefulness, service, citizenship,
character, sense of belonging and acceptance, and with tutoring and
mentoring some students have shown dramatic academic improvement. “We’ve
done what I say is amazing things, and to think we can expand is an amazing
Brenda Aden said her property is near the 7 acres currently zoned
Residential-2 and while she supports the club’s use in principle, she hopes
the vacant portion isn’t subdivided in the future for other uses. She also
asked about club security.
Babcock said any subdivision would have to be approved by the town with
neighbors notified prior to a decision, and the facility has an alarm system
and security cameras.
BZA member Jim Kowalski said the B&G Club is a fantastic organization, and
he believes their move would be the best use of the former church property.
Member Sig Niepokoj said children ride bikes and walk to Pop Warner
football, youth baseball and other activities in town so the B&G Club
shouldn’t be held to a higher standard.