Chesterton Tribune



Boys and Girls Club wins BZA approval to move to 1100N site

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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 Appeals.

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 system.

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 thing.”

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.



Posted 11/27/2013