Chesterton Tribune

 

 

Burns Harbor mulls Pop Warner request for league home at renovated Wesport

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By PAULENE POPARAD

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 Westport?

*  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 rentals.

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.”

 

 

Posted 6/20/2013