Chesterton Tribune

Waverly pedestrian tunnel, $2 million revamp planned for Porter waterpark

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One of three needed approvals remains for Seven Peaks Waterpark of Utah to buy the shuttered Splash Down Dunes waterpark in Porter.

Seven Peaks owner Gary Brinton said Wednesday he plans to make $1.5 million to $2 million in improvements once closing on the property occurs shortly, and when Porter Bank finalizes the sale the forest of weeds at Splash Down Dunes will be cut immediately.

The new attraction’s grand opening would be Memorial Day weekend of 2013.

“We’re about clean, wholesome entertainment and want to bring that to the Town of Porter,” said Brinton. He later predicted that in 2015, “We anticipate being extremely successful so whatever the park has done in the past, we’d do a multiple of that.”

He also said if the town allows it, Seven Peaks will build a pedestrian tunnel under Waverly Road between the water park and its parking lot on the west side of Waverly, and Seven Peaks will work with highway officials to make modifications if needed at the U.S. 20 intersection.

Seven Peaks Porter will not be open on Sundays. About 10 year-round positions will be filled and 350 seasonal employees hired locally.

Last night during a public hearing conducted by the Porter Board of Zoning Appeals, nine of the approximately 35 persons attending voiced support for the project with the audience at times applauding positive comments. Two speakers were neutral but posed questions.

The BZA subsequently voted 4-0 granting Seven Peaks a use variance to allow operation of a waterpark in a Business-3 zone at Splash Down Dunes’ 17-acre site.

A companion use variance to allow parking in a Residential-1 zone on the 15-acre west lot also won 4-0 BZA approval.

Member Henry Huyser abstained on both votes without giving a reason. BZA president John Kremke explained Huyser owns property adjacent to the waterpark.

The approvals contained conditions: hours of operation could be between 8 a.m. and 12 a.m., new park rides could not exceed 90 feet tall, new buildings could not exceed 50 feet tall, and parking in the west lot was restricted to the waterpark’s use only.

The biggest contingency for both variances is that the Porter Town Council, which meets Tuesday, approve a rezoning of both Splash Down Dunes parcels to B-3 and R-1. The Porter Plan Commission, meeting immediately after the BZA Wednesday, heard one favorable comment during a public hearing and forwarded that rezoning recommendation to the council on a 6-0 vote.

Operations, plans revealed

Brinton, whose Provo company owns four fun centers and three water parks including one in Missouri, said Splash Down Dunes is the approximate size of facilities Seven Peaks has so the company is familiar with the water rides and their operation.

Typically, Porter’s waterpark will be open from 9:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. although some special group events, seasonal themed parties and other activities would end about 11 p.m.

As far as noise, Brinton said his other parks are not a problem for their neighbors and “we like to be self-regulated rather than regulated” by having neighbors call Seven Peaks first instead of town officials.

During public comment, Robert Setlik said although he is neutral on the BZA proposal, he sees a real potential for chaos on Waverly on Saturdays. Porter police chief James Spanier said pedestrians trying to cross Waverly, not traffic back-ups, have been the problem.

Brinton said motorists will enter the west lot and be directed west within it until told where to park so stacking of vehicles will occur in the lot, not on Waverly. Seven Peaks local attorney Greg Babcock noted the signalized Waverly/U.S. 20 intersection has both a dedicated turn lane and a turn arrow there.

Residents Jennifer Klug and Kathleen Williams asked about rumors that Seven Peaks plans to build apartments or other housing on the west lot.

Replied Brinton, “We’re not going to build a hotel or apartments or condominums there.” He said the company asked for the restrictive Residential-1 zoning so future development plans would have to be approved by the town.

Some concern was expressed about parking lot drainage and whether the lot would be paved. Town planner Jim Mandon said once Seven Peaks’ building plans are received, town department heads will review the application. “Obviously the parking lot has to work properly.”

Economic boom welcomed

Town Council president Greg Stinson commented during the public hearing, “U.S. 20 is a key to developing the community and it’s hard to attract anyone when you have an abandoned waterpark sitting in the middle of it.” As a resident, he described Seven Peaks’ proposal as a wonderful opportunity to restore a vital asset to the community.

Stinson also said that during its operating years, Splash Down Dunes was Porter’s third largest taxpayer. Prompting applause, Brinton said, “We hope (Seven Peaks Porter) will be the No. 1 revenue generator for the town, not No. 3.”

Waterpark adjacent property owner Tim Sheeran said the revamped site could draw complementary businesses and with summer beach closures and the price of gasoline, could become a local destination of choice.

Mandon said the town’s intended uses along the U.S. 20 corridor are meant to emphasize tourism and recreation. Babcock said Seven Peaks Porter will enhance surrounding property values.

Resident Chuck Trinkler supported the opportunity to create jobs and noted the waterpark site, formerly the Enchanted Forest, has been an amusement center for years and noise has been a part of that.

Karen Pisowicz, who lives south of the waterpark, endorsed Seven Peaks’ proposal and said she doesn’t mind hearing the sound of children playing.

Roger Carnell welcomed new jobs and a Waverly tunnel, and cited the waterpark’s proximity to the nearby state and federal parks.

As Porter Public Works director, Brenda Brueckheimer said she gets complaints about the current condition of Splash Down Dunes. A former employee at Disney World, she also said as far as Seven Peaks Porter, “From what I can see, this is a top-notch quality park.”



Posted 6/7/2012