VALPARAISO | The debate over placing the Porter County animal shelter at Sunset Hill Farm ended before it began at Thursday's meeting of the Porter County Parks Foundation meeting.
Saying she and Board of County Commissioners President John Evans "didn't come (to the foundation) with an edict but an idea," Commissioner Laura Blaney said, because of objections to the proposal, "We are no longer pursuing placement of a shelter on foundation property."
While the park site met the specifications recommended by a consultant, Blaney said the commissioners "will continue to diligently look for a new location."
"We need parks, we need a new animal shelter, and we need education and activities to teach our children compassion while keeping them busy and out of trouble," she said. "Jail overcrowding is another issue."
She said the commissioners have not had time to discuss other sites although a site near Ind. 130 and Ind. 149 was a possibility as was the suggestion of using Brookdale Park about a mile north of Sunset Hill Park on Meridian Road.
"We're looking at what is for sale," she said.
County Parks Manager Matt Howton suggested the Brookdale site. He said the proposed site at Sunset Hill is wet all year round and is part of a prairie restoration effort at the park. Brookdale is 67 acres that is not being used by the parks department at this time.
Howton said the county had talked about using the park for baseball and soccer fields along with a passive recreation area, but the cost to develop it was estimated at $20 million, a price tag well beyond county resources. Since it is vacant, he previously suggested it as a dog park.
"Before someone says, 'Not in my backyard,' I do live at Brookdale so it would be in my backyard," he said.
About 20 people attended the meeting to speak out against the proposed Sunset Hill shelter and several spoke their piece on the issue despite Blaney's announcement. Foundation Board Member Mary Simon said the foundation never was approached about the idea.
"We read about it in the newspaper," Simon said. "It was a complete surprise to us."
Blaney said, "Since a partnership with the parks department was the cornerstone of our plan, we went to them first to see if such an idea was worth pursuing. It seemed it was. We did not go to the park board meeting to ask for land — we knew it was the foundation's property — but for support."
Charlotte Read said she would like to see the commissioners send a formal letter withdrawing the idea. In the meantime, she said she has asked for copies of all records of any discussion of the proposal from the county.