The Duneland area of Porter County is thriving.
With plenty of available land, residential and commercial developers are working closely with government officials to create plans that adhere to smart growth guidelines. The recent designation of the Indiana Dunes as a national park is bringing more attention to the lake shore. The cost of living in the county is 96.8, compared to the national average of 100. A balance of residential, commercial and destination development is on every town’s agenda.
Reimagining Burns Harbor
Burns Harbor is known for steel mills and supporting industries. But the town government has been working hard to stress livability.
This year, the Redevelopment Commission acquired land along State Road 149 and Haglund Road for development near the former Westport Community Center. A partnership between the commission and Holladay Properties led to the 32-acre purchase from the Duneland School Corp.
"We plan to create a vibrant center where people can experience a Duneland community that is a blend of residential and commercial uses next to the Indiana Dunes National Park,” said Nick Loving, town council president and commission member. “We envision a community with a large development of single-family homes and supporting commercial development."
It may eventually be the largest major residential development in the town, according to Loving. “Corlin’s Landing will be 212 lots when it’s fully developed,” he said. “Right now, Corlin’s has about 50 homes built, and another 20 under development. Depending how the acquired land is planned, we may create that many additional homes or more.”
It’s part of a larger plan to reinvent Burns Harbor as more than a steel mill town. “While ArcelorMittal is a great neighbor, we want people to realize what a wonderful place Burns Harbor is for raising a family,” Loving said. “The Duneland schools are a major draw, and these new residential communities are also a big help.”
The town is also developing three miles of the Marquette Greenway Trail, considered a vital link connecting the eastern and western sections of the National Park and bringing trail users to the town. “We hope to see an economic benefit from trail users visiting our community,” Loving said. “The trail is another way of making our town more inviting.”
In July 2018, the Chesterton Fiber Optic Network, or CFON, was turned on. The 15.5-mile fiber optic line was developed for high-speed business internet. With 144 fibers lit (active) and another 144 dark (in reserve), CFON provides gigabyte speed to participating businesses.
Town Manager Bernie Doyle said CFON is a great marketing tool. “Chesterton will maintain its small-town charm while having state-of-the-art technology for the type of innovation that brings businesses to our community.”
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Doyle cited Urschel Labs as a prime example, expanding with a new project that will add 36,000 square feet.
The tech network has allowed Chesterton to create a commercial corridor along State Road 49 that is shovel ready for developers. “We’ve got storm and sewer infrastructure in place, and the fiber optic connections are up and running,” Doyle said. In 2018 invested $10 million in its infrastructure, including sanitary and storm sewers and increasing wastewater plant capacity, according to Doyle.
StoryPoint and Residences at Coffee Creek are two examples of development along SR 49. Both feature senior living for empty nesters, with a total of 275 apartments developed. “We see an opportunity to create a great environment for aging baby boomers to make Chesterton their home,” Doyle said.
Another focus is on single-family homes. Four phases at Easton Park will eventually create 346 new single-family homes. Brassie Estates is adding 90 homes, and Stone Meadows 25. Construction permits for new housing for 2019 will exceed those issued in 2018, according to Doyle.
“We realize the demand for homes in Chesterton and try to balance supply to meet that demand," Doyle said. "We take into consideration things like additional students in our school community and want to be prepared for enrollment changes.” Current enrollment numbers, around 6,000, are about 15 percent below capacity.
Advertising itself as the Gateway to the Dunes, Porter has been busy building its brand as a destination as well as a wonderful place to put down roots. Porter is the gateway to the Indiana Dunes National Park and Visitor Center and is adjacent to the Indiana Dunes State Park.
The town completed its part of the Dunes Kankakee trail last year and is working to connect it to smaller branches.
“We’re working on a connecting trail on Waverly Road,” said Michael Barry, director of development and building commissioner. “The Orchard Pedestrian Trail will head north across (U.S.) Hwy. 20 and eventually connect to the Dunes Kankakee Trail.”
When completed by all communities involved, the Dunes Kankakee Trail will run the length of Porter County, connecting the Indiana Dunes State Park and National Park at the north to the Kankakee River at the south.
Local businesses are renovating and retooling to lure expected traffic from the national park. Renovation of the Spring House Inn is nearly done. Developers are discussing options with the town for property that was once a water park. “The plan will probably tear down the water park infrastructure and design something different,” Barry said.
There’s not much space for new subdivisions, according to Barry. Three being developed are Mineral Springs Villas at Beam Street and Mineral Springs Road, Sugar Bush on Oak Hill Road, and Summer Tree just off Waverly Road. “These are not huge subdivisions,” Barry said. “But if people are interested in moving to Porter, there are some opportunities.”