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Porter residents urge Town Council to regulate old Johnson Inn

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By LILY REX

Porter residents 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 that?”

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.

Building 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.

Larry Starett 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 anymore.

Rob Albrecht-Mallinger, 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 added.

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.

Town Council 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 closed.

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 Health Department.”

Sewer Bills

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.

Reports

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.

Bugajski had 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 park improvements.

 

Posted 8/12/2020

 

 

 
 
 
 

 

 

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