BURNS HARBOR | This small town's future is at a turning point.
Whether it will continue to be a bedroom community whose destiny is determined by its neighbors or grow to stand on its own will likely be decided in the next year or so.
The town is embarking on a mission to determine its future by hiring a master developer consultant who will help them find the answers, said Jeff Freeze, a member of the Town Council, Redevelopment Commission and Plan Commission.
The town is at a crossroads -- both literally and figuratively.
Freeze said officials are trying to determine if the town can support retail and business growth. The RDC, which is funding the effort, is looking at how it should best spend its money.
For many communities, they build infrastructure, hoping to attract a business or retail center.
Burns Harbor is doing the opposite, he said. They are hiring the consultant and asking them if the town of some 1,200 can or or ever in the future support such things as its own grocery store or other similar retailers.
"We hope we'll be able to have the start of some kind of retail district in town, some kind of anchor to start some sort of retail development," Freeze said.
If the answer is yes, the town can support retail growth and the development of a town center, that's were the money will be spent.
"We want to know if we can be what we want to be or if we can't, what can we be?" Freeze said.
While the town is one of the fastest-growing in the state, more than doubling its residential population in the last six years, Freeze said it can only grow so far.
"Burns Harbor is only 6 square miles total. We are never going to be Carmel or Fishers or Portage or Valparaiso. We are never going to get enough people here," he said.
But traffic through the town is high, and it's hoped that will help drive development.
"We have to plan our future -- or Portage and Chesterton will plan our future for us," he said.
If the consultant's answers are that the town won't sustain retail growth at this time, Freeze said officials will turn to other projects to make the town the best it can be for residents and their quality of life.
"We have a town to run and we have day-to-day realities to deal with," said Freeze, adding the primary reality is continuing to provide services with a fixed income.
There are other projects, he said, such as working on the town's portion of the Marquette Greenway Plan and linking up the trails between Portage and Porter. Freeze said making the town, which is divided into four quadrants, more walkable is important.