As Porter County looks to a new year, quality life life issues are a priority.
The town is poised this year to become the sixth Dark Sky Community in the world.
It began six years ago, when residents Alan and Rosemary Bell, members of the Association of Beverly Shores Residents Environment Committee, embarked on a campaign to reduce light pollution in the town.
A plan was developed to alter the streetlights to direct light toward the ground, thereby reducing glare. All of the town's 48 streetlights now have been refitted with downward shields.
The first downward shield retrofitted light was given to the town by NIPSCO more than four years ago. The other 47 lights were paid for by residents.
If granted, the town would join the communities of Flagstaff, Ariz.; Borrego Springs, Calif.; Homer Glenn, Ill.; the Isle of Coll, Scotland; and the Isle of Sark, Channel Islands, United Kingdom.
- Susan Emery
Burns Harbor has seen residential growth over the past decade and in recent months that growth continues, despite the state of the economy.
Jeff Freeze, vice president of the Burns Harbor Town Council, says that growth is a testament to the town.
“It says that people want to live where they have convenient access to expressways, a low tax environment, and a community that is trying to grow with a sense of place and they see the advantage of being in a small town with access to big amenities."
New apartments and new single-family homes are being built in Burns Harbor in the Traditions and Corlin’s Landing developments. The town’s parks also continue to be a source of attraction for neighbors.
“Our parks programs are wonderful and director Kim Burton does a great job. They offer art camps, sports camps, they have introduced coffee and canvas nights at the park, and Lego Club. We will host the '80s-themed Footloose 5K on June 28 as a fundraiser for the parks,” he said.
Another major success is the sewer bonds were paid off two years early so that frees up some TIF income for the Redevelopment Commission that it has never had before, Freeze said.
The money could be put toward Redevelopment Commission projects, he said.
- Heather Augustyn
After years of continued smart growth, Chesterton is realizing the fruits of its efforts.
“We are starting to see an increase in traffic in town and an increase in building permits for both residential and commercial, which is a sign of the economy doing better," Town Manager Bernie Doyle said. "Word is getting out that Chesterton is special.”
One of the biggest advances in the town’s economic growth over the past year came with the announcement that Urschel Laboratories would be relocating its national headquarters to the town’s Coffee Creek development
“Urschel planting their flag in in Chesterton has breathed new life into the Coffee Creek development," said Heather Ennis, president of both the Duneland Economic Development Co. and the Duneland Chamber of Commerce.
"We’re getting many more inquiries into developing the property and having a company as world-renown as Urschel says a lot about your community. The entire infrastructure is there and not a week goes by that I’m not talking about those properties to interested parties.”
Doyle said another big advancement for the town is the completion of the Ind. 49 utility corridor this winter which makes this area shovel ready. Chesterton is attractive to many companies for a variety of reasons, he noted.
“Because of our favorable location with transportation, we’re seeing an increase in national and international businesses looking at Chesterton. We have the quality of life, the school system, the relatively low crime rate, and the cost of living is reasonable, and we will actively recruit high-tech industry specifically in the medical field to fit in with Chesterton."
- Heather Augustyn
Expanding the town’s fire station would provide better emergency care to the residents of Hebron and the surrounding areas, Town Council President Don Ensign believes.
Because of that, expanding the station in downtown Hebron on Washington Street is a primary goal this year, he said.
Porter Hospital has agreed to provide an ambulance to the station if the station has a place for it, Ensign said.
The town recently received $150,000 from the county for construction, and the Economic Development Commission is working on getting grants and raising money to complete the cost of the project.
Once the money is raised, the building plan can be completed and construction can begin.
A volunteer fire department serves Hebron and Boone Township. If the expansion proceeds, the new ambulance would be a secondary ambulance to the Porter Hospital ambulance that already serves the area.
The town is also in the beginning stages of a community center project that would house a community center, clerk-treasurer's office and Police Department. It also would include an outdoor area that would feature an eight-lane, competition-length swimming pool that could be used by the schools.
“We’re still in the planning stages for a community center,” he said. “We need to get our business plan and then take small steps as we go.”
- Carrie Rodovich
Creating a new town park is on this year's agenda for Kouts Town Council President Tim Jones.
“We’re looking to purchase some property and make a downtown park on Main Street,” said Jones. “It’s in the planning stages, but if we’re able to complete the purchase, we have funds available to start construction immediately."
Jones said plans for the 0.75-acre space could include a small amphitheater, restroom facilities, a splash pad and a children’s playground.
“The town has used the property for years for the Pork Fest,” said Jones. “We’d like it to be a focal point and include it in Dunes Kankakee Trail that will come through Kouts.”
Jones, now in his fourth year as president of the five-member Town Council, said the town also hopes to complete a new well field by the end of the year.
“We’re in the test stages on that — we’re testing the ground and groundwater, but we’re confident that everything is going to work out,” said Jones.
Town officials are optimistic that a proposed new county park north of town will bring more commerce to the town.
“We’re looking forward to working with the county on that,” Jones said. “We hope a new south county park might help spur economic growth and expand the downtown.”
- Susan O'Leary
Residents are looking forward this summer to installation of elevated walkways with handrails at two of the town's access ways to the beach.
Rob Schlyer, president of the Ogden Dunes Home Association, said all of the town's access ways eventually will get elevated walkways, which are made of plastic and recycled wood materials.
Schlyer said installing elevated walkways similar to those at West Beach will allow the Dune grass to grow and leave “less of a footprint on the environment.”
When it comes to the environment, Ogden Dunes residents are involved in a number of efforts to preserve, protect and restore the natural surroundings of their community. The town is the birthplace of the Save the Dunes Council, which is dedicated to preserving the environment of Northwest Indiana.
Residents also know how to have fun. The second annual cardboard boat race on Lake Michigan is set for July. More than 20 “boats” entered the soggy competition last year, and hundreds turned out to watch.
- Susan Emery
Pines Town Council President George Adey said the community is “kind of excited” about its new comprehensive plan, which has been in the works for more than a year.
“We’re going in the right direction to update our building and zoning laws,” Adey said.
The community will work to secure development along U.S. 12, and “try to capitalize on our proximity to the national park,” Adey said.
Adey said discussions about joint ventures with former Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore Superintendent Costa Dillon were positive, and he looks forward to working with new Superintendent Paul Labovitz.
“We’d like to find some way to capitalize on Ind. 520, the shortest state highway in the country,” said Adey. “Maybe a place to hike or walk.”
Making the town’s two parks, Wardean Park and Pines Park, more “ADA-friendly” also is in the works, with plans to secure funding to create handicapped-accessible walkways.
Adey said the town’s 700 residents are interested in progress, but want to maintain Pines’ intimate feel.
“There are people who like our small town and are worried about rampant development,” said Adey. “Our master plan will help us control what happens along the U.S. 12 corridor.”
- Susan O'Leary
For years Portage officials have dreamed of the city having a downtown.
This year, said Mayor James Snyder, the dream will come closer to a reality.
It will give the city an identity and help drive economic growth.
"A lot of people don't know where downtown is," Snyder said. "This year we will be building the amphitheater and the splash pad and that will drive traffic into the downtown.
"We are working with the county officials to relocate the county annex there," he said, adding that will be a key ingredient in redeveloping the area.
The city also likely will locate a new fire station in the area.
Snyder said there has been interest in private development in the downtown area and the city has seen its first purchase agreement for property in six or seven years.
The idea to redevelop and create a downtown for Portage was initiated by former Mayor Doug Olson.
"I want to complete the vision Mayor Olson had in cleaning up downtown," Snyder said.
The downtown area is defined as being along Central Avenue, between Hamstrom and Willowcreek roads. Work has been done in the area around Founder's Square Park, which will be home to the amphitheater and splash pad.
- Joyce Russell
For years, the town of Porter has been laying plans for economic development as well as pedal and pedestrian trails, and those plans are coming to completion with area residents and visitors to benefit.
Greg Stinson, president of the Porter Town Council, said one of the most visible advancements for the town has been opening the Seven Peaks Waterpark on the northwest corner of U.S. 20 and Ind. 49. The property had been abandoned.
"The reopening of the waterpark is a major addition to the town and the fact we were able to get that cleaned up, renovated and operational is a success.
"That area will be a place of ongoing growth because there are plans for more renovation, new attractions and upgrades to the facility," he said.
The area around the waterpark has drawn development The Dollar General store will open across the street and just down the roads, thanks to the establishment of a riverfront district to allow for additional liquor licenses, the Spa restaurant is set to reopen this year under new ownership after sitting vacant for years.
Simon also cites the pedal and pedestrian trails as a success as they near completion.
- Heather Augustyn
The community hopes to be nearly finished with improvements to two of its parks by the end of this year.
Work at Haven Hollow Park along County Road 700 North and Field of Dreams Park on McCall Road is expected to be 85 to 90 percent complete by the end of 2014, said Portage Township Trustee Brendan Clancy.
Two full-size baseball fields were renovated at Haven Hollow, including new fences, dugouts and infields. New playground equipment also was installed.
Three fields were renovated at Field of Dreams, including a concession stand. An ice rink also was built at the park.
Other improvements include new park entrance signs, new picnic shelters at the parks, and the installation of a fishing pier at Haven Hollow.
Goals include a Splash Pad at Field of Dreams, a park office at Haven Hollow and crosswalks at intersections and entrances to the parks to enhance safety.
The estimated $300,000 in investments are being funded through grants, grant programs and capital funds. They are part of improvements called for in a master plan, Clancy said.
There also are plans to install a playground in the Coventry subdivision, and way-finding signs throughout the community, he said.
South Haven residents are looking forward to a variety of festivals this year, the success of which, Clancy said, is due to the combined efforts of groups such as the Fire Department, Boys & Girls Clubs, Little League, Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion, Kiwanis and Girl Scouts.
- Susan Emery
Valparaiso seems to be playing a game of "Can You Top This" with itself each year. If that's the case, the city's going to have a hard time topping 2013.
The events of 2013 that will be tough to beat are construction of the latest roundabout at the five-points intersection of North Calumet Avenue, Roosevelt Road and Vale Park Road, and the announcement by Pratt Industries of plans for a $260 million expansion, including construction of a paper recycling plant.
The roundabout is the biggest one in the city and the only two-lane model. The Pratt project is the biggest in the city's history. The city also had huge increases in ridership on both its V-Line and Chicago Dash bus services, and it was named the best place in the state for baby boomers to retire.
It might be tough, but it appears the city is determined to do even better in 2014 starting with ground breaking for the new $6.4 million public works campus in January. Later this year construction will begin on the $8 million expansion of Central Park Plaza downtown with an ice skating pavilion and accompanying facilities.
A different kind of community event just shifted into high gear with the Wallop Next effort to involve the whole community in preparing a blueprint for the city's direction for coming decades.
- Phil Wieland
Union Township Trustee Anthony Pompano is proud of the township’s ability to provide high quality services to its residents while keeping taxes in check.
Pompano said new tax rates for the township have been reduced nearly 17 percent from 2013 to 2014.
“We’re very happy with that,” Pompano said. “That’s the goal, to provide maximum service for minimum taxpayer expense.”
The township’s two fire stations are well-equipped in 2014, with a new aerial fire truck purchased last year, Pompano said.
Pompano said while one of his most important jobs is providing township assistance for qualifying residents, he has budgeted money to spruce up the township’s two cemeteries — Mossier Cemetery and Jane's Cemetery.
Maintaining the parks for the residents’ enjoyment also is paramount.
In the coming year, Pompano said he will “take a hard look” at the budget to see if “taxes can be reduced further without making cuts in service” for the township’s 8,500 residents.
- Susan O'Leary