March 06, 2011 12:00 am  •  By Jeff Burton

BURNS HARBOR | This town, built around the steel industry, is enjoying its first rise in population since it was founded in 1967.

Cliff Fleming, a Town Council member and developer of The Village in Burns Harbor said while the 2000 census had the town at around 750 residents, he expected that number to be closer to 1,100 this year.

And he was right. The 2010 data released by the U.S. Census Bureau put the town at 1,156.

Originally known as Westport, the unincorporated area in Westchester and Portage townships found itself growing rapidly when the former Bethlehem Steel opened its doors in 1964 and began hiring thousands.

Three years later when the town was established, it was home to 1,300 residents, but has steadily declined since.

But, with the development of The Village in Burns Harbor and other subdivisions on the books, Burns Harbor is becoming known as one of Porter County’s bedroom communities.

Fleming, who lives in the development and moved his law practice into the neighborhood, said his goal has been to raise the bar when it comes to housing and the quality of life for families, creating a sense of camaraderie and community.

“We’re revisiting the concept of neighborhoods that we had 100 years ago,” Fleming said. “By being a clean slate, we can design ourselves to be a pedestrian-friendly community.”

Fleming said with its proximity to ArcelorMittal Steel, the community offers quality employment and with the National Lakeshore a short drive or bike ride away, it offers the natural recreational beauty families are seeking.

Fleming said while the state of the economy has stalled development around town, council and commission members have worked to pass a comprehensive plan and adjusted zoning ordinances, so when the economy rebounds, developers will find it much easier to take root in Burns Harbor.

“Our next stop is to increase our population base, so that retail and offices will locate here,” Fleming said.

One way Fleming is exploring to increase the town’s population is through development of The Manor Homes at The Village. Flemming said the six- to eight-unit buildings will provide an upscale place for seniors and young working families to reside and become part of the community.

“There’s a lot of lifestyles that can exist in a community,” Fleming said.

Northwest Indiana Times