Chesterton Tribune

State Park Little League expansion approved

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“I believe every child deserves to play baseball,” State Park Little League Inc. president Audra Peterson told the Porter Board of Zoning Appeals.

Especially children with mental, physical, visual and hearing impairments on a baseball field designed to accommodate their special needs.

To that end the BZA voted 4-0 Wednesday granting SPLL a use variance allowing the non-profit group to expand its current baseball complex in a residential zone on property donated by Ron McColley of McColley Real Estate.

The new challenger field, to serve players age 5 to 22, will be located south of SPLL’s two diamonds north of Woodlawn Avenue near League Lane.

A condition of the BZA approval was that town department heads sitting as the Technical Advisory Committee review and approve a landscaping plan to buffer the use and new access road from nearby residences.

During a public hearing Porter’s Brenda Brueckheimer and Woodlawn Avenue resident Ken Timm both urged the BZA to grant SPLL’s request.  “I can’t even imagine why we wouldn’t approve something for such a great organization,” she said. Added Timm, “I think this is a great addition to the town of Porter.”

Peterson said SPLL started the Challenger Program about 12 years ago with 15 participants; today 60 children are enrolled from the Duneland area and neighboring communities. The ag-lime field isn’t easy for walkers, wheelchairs and special-needs children to use, she noted, but the new field will be smaller and built with user-friendly materials to maximize enjoyment and safety.

John Thorstad, who has participated the past seven years as a parent and coach in the Challenger Program, told the BZA, “To see a child in a wheelchair going to a base where they could flip over, it’s scary as a coach. I implore you to make a recommendation to pass this.”

Challenger athletes Eric Thorstad and Andy Petrovich also urged the BZA to approve SPLL’s request.  John Thorstad said he’s visited an Illinois challenger field developed with the help of the Chicago White Sox. “To see that (pride) come to this area would be phenomenal.”  Agreed Peterson, “Our goal is to put Porter and the Duneland community on the map.”

After the meeting Peterson said the site development, challenger field, access roads and twin parking lots will cost an estimated $250,000. The league has applied for three grants and has $20,000 in cash donations; additional donations may be made at Porter Bank to the SPLL Expansion Fund account.

Peterson said SPLL also has benefited from donations of equipment and volunteer labor to ready the formerly wooded land. Among those doing so is BZA member Lorain Bell. “He’s been very instrumental in clearing the property.” Last night Bell did not recuse himself from the petition or discussion but did abstain on the vote. 

Bell noted the first 14 feet of SPLL land north of Woodlawn was purchased by the town for the planned Orchard Pedestrian Way hike/bike trail that will begin at that location, head west on Woodlawn to Waverly Road and proceed along the latter to U.S. 20.

SPLL attorney Terry Hiestand predicted the popular Challenger Program will grow even more once the special field is constructed. “This is one of those things, build it and they will come.” Peterson said they hope to start construction next year. Initially the complex’s parking lots will be gravel, she added, and a planned sign will conform to town code or additional variances will be sought.

BZA president Bruce Snyder, attending his last meeting after resigning effective Jan. 1, asked that SPLL’s expansion blend with the existing single-family neighborhood as much as possible. Peterson said that’s their plan as well. The league as a whole serves 700 youths in the Duneland community.

Addition OK’d --- barely

Voting yes on SPLL’s expansion were BZA members Greg Stinson, Bob Kremke, Henry Huyser and Snyder. They split earlier in the evening with Bell to approve two variance requests for Mike Henkel and Lisa Henkel so they can build an 18 foot-wide addition to the north side of an existing 42-foot by 61-foot pole barn at their 1020 W. Beam St. home in a residential zone.

During a public hearing, only town resident Jennifer Klug spoke. She said Henkel wants to keep his various recreational vehicles out of sight from neighbors. “It’s a good idea trying to keep those things inside.”

The variances are needed because the accessory building exceeds the size of Henkel’s home, making the pole barn a non-conforming use, and because it exceeds the town code limitation for height. Henkel said he has 1.92 acres there, he would not encroach on the 10-foot rear yard setback after the addition is built, the addition won’t be visible from Beam, and at least four other neighbors in the area have large pole barns.

Bell said the expanded accessory building would be 3,660 square feet or about 1,100 square feet larger than Henkel’s home. “I think we’re setting a precedent if we grant this petition.”

Snyder said while the pole barn didn’t pose any health or safety issues and no one remonstrated on the grounds their adjacent property would be adversely affected, it was difficult for Henkel to prove hardship because an accessory building is a convenience. Town planner Jim Mandon said state law requires the test of practical difficulty, a lower standard than the Porter ordinance’s “unusual and unnecessary hardship.”

Town attorney Patrick Lyp said, “This is an increasement of the size of the non-conformity.” In judging practical difficulty BZAs have wide latitude, he added. “It comes down to your own personal observation.” An advantage to having the larger pole barn is more vehicles and equipment can be stored indoors, said Lyp, but even if the variances are denied, Henkel still could enjoy the use of his current buildings and property.

Bell moved to deny the variances; vote was Bell and Snyder yes and Stinson, Kremke and Huyser no. The motion failed. On a second motion to approve, the votes were reversed and the motion passed 3-2. Those voting for passage stated no reason why. No restrictions were placed on the variances.


Posted 12/19/2008