Burns Harbor Town Council members said more negotiation and fact-finding are
needed before a decision is made whether to allow Chesterton Pop Warner
football to lease and help upgrade the Westport Community Club and grounds,
now in the process of being acquired by the town.
Sixteen people attended an input session Wednesday, which for the first time
included a formal request from Pop Warner to use Westport under a long-term
lease and build a competition football field on the vacant portion of the
4.7 acres and eventually a pole barn for storage.
League vice-president Todd Eichenberger said if Burns Harbor agrees to terms
for Westport’s use, Pop Warner would approach the Duneland School Board
about allowing it to build two practice fields and a parking lot on about 5
acres of the school’s adjacent 25 acres now being farmed.
The league has no permanent home and uses land at three Duneland schools for
games, practice and equipment storage.
Key questions remain unanswered after last night:
* Do residents want a youth sports league in town?
* How much would the town and Pop Warner each commit to renovate
Westport’s 1954 clubhouse? What is the extent of necessary repairs?
* To what degree should a renovated Westport be available for rental
by the public and other groups if under lease to Pop Warner? Would league
use discourage other rentals?
* What should the length of a Westport lease be --- long enough for
Pop Warner to justify its investment but not so long that the use of
Westport is restricted by others?
* How involved would the Burns Harbor Park Board be in what goes on at
* Perhaps most importantly, how would Pop Warner’s practices, games,
meetings and associated traffic for more than 14 weeks a year disrupt the
lives of those living in the adjacent residential area?
Westport neighbor Nelda Cram predicted, “My solitude will forever be gone.”
Resident Gayle Van Loon cited traffic concerns. “The community will see such
an influx of people and vehicles that Haglund Road is not prepared to
handle.” She also questioned how many Burns Harbor children would benefit
from a league here.
Troy said football games are a safe, family-oriented event and as for
traffic, “It’s not what you think it is. It’s a misconception.” Eichenberger
said Burns Harbor youth already are involved in the league.
Town resident Kurt Zehner, a former Pop Warner player who praised the
organization, thanked the council for accepting Westport and said it’s too
soon to tie up its use. He urged that the town invest money for a viable
building renovation and purpose.
Several people present agreed it would be a credit to Burns Harbor to have
historic Westport again become a well-used asset like the Hawthorne Park
community building is in Porter. But that would take money.
Resident Ray Poparad said the town needs to step up, gut and renovate
Westport’s block building and spend $200,000 to $300,00 to do it right.
After the meeting clerk-treasurer Jane Jordan said there’s $647,142 in the
town’s rainy-day fund and $225,357 in the cumulative fund with another
$100,000 due by year’s end.
Councilmen Mike Perrine, Jeff Freeze and Jim McGee said although the money’s
available, it should be spent wisely. Member Gene Weibl said there’s no need
to rush a decision on Pop Warner’s offer. Troy said they anticipated
Westport wouldn’t be ready until next spring, if at all. Councilman Greg
Miller was absent.
The Park Board had been invited to the meeting but only member Leann
Perrine, who signed the Westport land transfer representing the club, could
attend. She said of the Park Board, “We want to go the way the people in
this town want.”
Amy Zehner said the town needs a rental hall for meetings and private events
larger than can be accomodated at the town hall or at the Arts & Crafts
building at Lakeland Park. Jordan said she regularly gets requests for such
Zehner also suggested that since rentals are sporadic, a renovated Westport
could include a fitness center. Although Pop Warner’s evening traffic would
fall between 4 and 7:30 p.m., a busy time on Indiana 149, said Zehner, the
town and the league should work together, not against each other.
Other discussion rehashed opinions that Duneland residents wouldn’t want to
come to Burns Harbor, that long-time residents need Westport for continuity,
that newer residents don’t understand Westport’s significance, that it’s
counterproductive for the town to divide itself unnecessarily, and that
Burns Harbor needs to grow as a community with common goals, not one divided
by highways and pettiness.
Mike Perrine said both sides are passionate in their beliefs, but the
majority of people in town don’t care one way or another what the council
does about Westport.
Troy said Pop Warner will be flexible, reasonable and willing to work with
the town. McGee said another joint public meeting will be scheduled with the
league and Park Board so negotiations can continue.
According to Freeze, “There’s a lot that has to be ironed out.”