spoke out at Tuesday’s meeting, asking the Porter Town Council to do
something about the old Johnson Inn at Porter Beach.
Residents said the
property is an eyesore, that the business activity there is harmful and
unregulated, and that it seems like the Town is putting the Inn’s owner,
Carl Dahlin Jr., ahead of everyone else in Porter by not cracking down.
Dahlin “is flouting
every rule,” according to Jim Morsch. “The busines needs to start complying
with the law. They’re long overdue,” he said.
Though the Inn is
on “the most valuable piece of land in Town,” Morsch said, it depresses
neighboring property’s values, and visitors get their first impressions of
the Town of Porter from an eyesore. “Why would we want people to know us by
Dahlin has long
allowed beach visitors to park on the Inn property for a fee during summer.
The residents argued Dahlin’s parking business is “totally illegal and
unregulated” and that the Town should enforce its ordinances, including code
requiring paved and striped parking lots, to shut it down.
Commissioner Michael Barry, however, said it’s not that simple because
changes to Porter’s Town Code don’t apply to existing properties. The Inn,
and other “non-conforming structures” in Town are exempt from requirements
that came after them.
agreed with Morsch, saying the building is also a safety hazard. Starett,
Morsch, and a third resident also noted that overcrowding due to other
COVID-19 beach closures makes them feel like Porter Beach isn’t even usable
a Porter Plan Commission member and also a Porter Beach resident, agreed.
“That’s the acute problem,” he said of the overcrowding, and Dahlin’s
property is “the chronic problem.” “It wouldn’t be allowed anywhere else. It
can’t be tolerated here, especially at what is the jewel of our Town,” he
The Council members
acknowledged the building’s problems, and Barry said it’s been five or six
years since he went in for an inspection. Then, he said, “the floor was
pretty squishy,” though the inside is in better condition than the exterior.
Barry said he’s
been trying to contact Dahlin lately but hasn’t been able to get a hold of
him. The Council approved Barry to issue an unsafe building order to Dahlin
compelling him to secure the building and appear before the Board of Zoning
Appeals for a hearing.
In the meantime,
Barry said he’ll pursue a new inspection of the property with Porter Fire
Chief Jay Craig and a State fire marshal. It is an option for the Town to
order removal of the entire building, depending on the results of the
inspection, Barry said. Though Town Attorney Greg Sobkowski noted if a
building owner doesn’t comply with such an order, the Town would have the
burden of funding demolition and later seeking repayment. Removing an
average house would cost $25,00 to $30,000, Barry said, and removing the Inn
would be a much larger task.
President Bill Lopez, Vice-president David Phillips, and member Greg Stinson
said they see the residents’ concerns, and the Town is interested in a
long-term solution to their frustration. The process, however, will surely
not solve any problems this summer, they said. Per the unsafe building
order, Dahlin will be given time to secure the building and then compelled
to appear at the BZA’s September meeting.
On the overcrowding
issue, Barry said he’s tried repeatedly to get in contact with State
officials about closing the Indiana Dunes State Park and hasn’t gotten
answers yet. However, the advice from the National Park is that complaints
to the Porter County Health Department are the best way to get the beaches
Calling the health
department (instead of the park itself) and complaining about overcrowding
or lack of social distancing “carries a lot of weight,” he said. “That’s
what I was told would be helpful, a lot of people calling the Porter County
Gov. Eric Holcomb’s
moratorium on utility shutoffs is slated to end Aug. 14, and Porter
residents’ sewer bills happen to be coming due the same day. Clerk-treasurer
Carol Pomeroy received the Council’s approval to continue waiving late fees
and postponing shutoffs for the next billing cycle, but residents should
start thinking about how they’ll pay any outstanding balances, Lopez said.
Payment plans will be available.
Craig reported the
Porter Fire Department’s inflatable dive rescue boat was damaged beyond
repair during a call last month. The Council approved Craig to deposit
$1,475 from an insurance claim on the boat into the Fire Equipment budget
line item and dispose of the boat.
Craig then gave a
special thank you to Dave Wagner, owner of Wagner’s Ribs, who donated $4,500
for the PFD to cover the cost of a new boat with some extra upgrades and the
insurance deductible on the old boat.
In other business,
the Council reapproved Parks Director Brian Bugajski to spend $35,000 on
park improvements, including $11,500 for resurfacing and striping the
basketball court at Hawthorne Park and $23,500 for finishing a sidewalk
project at Porter Cove Park.
already been approved to spend the money last year, but sought reapproval
Tuesday because the work is being done in a different year than he planned.
The $35,000 will come from the proceeds of the $830,000 general obligation
(GO) bond the Town secured in 2018 to purchase a new fire engine and make