by Clarke Kahlo
There are almost no public parks in the entire 12-mile square area covered by Indianapolis’ Nora-Northside Community Council (NCC). Does this fact represent a lack of creative vision for common greenspace? You bet.
Nora has has rarely pushed for new parkland. It has been content, over many years, to allow all open land to be privately developed. The exception is Nora’s support for the Monon Trail following the City’s acquisition of the rail corridor from CSX Corp. in the late 1980s. In the intervening years, private development of open land has proceeded apace, parcel-by-parcel, and open land has been converted to urban development.
From time to time, when residents have advocated for park use instead of private development for particular properties, the brusque retort from the NCC has been: “if you want it to be a park, then buy it.”
The Haverstick Woods property on East 86th Street is the most recent example of that myopic attitude. Indy Parks, upon inspecting the property last year, indicated that it would be interested in acquiring the wooded land. However, because it has no budgeted funds for land acquisition, it said it would need to rely on the donation of the small urban forest.
It’s unfortunate that NCC’s otherwise strong community advocacy doesn’t include pushing for needed greenspace. The controlling mindset seems to be the presumed primacy of private property development, instead of seeking creative solutions which strike a balance between return on investment and the community impact and welfare.
A mutually-acceptable development is possible on the Haverstick tract. It could be an exemplar of green infrastructure paired with appropriately-scaled building, as we seek to create a “more sustainable, resilient” City per its 2020 Bicentennial Vision.
The voice of the people was registered and resoundingly affirmed last October when the Metropolitan Development Commission denied the requested rezone. Yet now the NCC has capitulated to the developer’s threat to develop the land with an inappropriate commercial use— which is widely considered to be an antiquated rezoning aberration from 2005. Regardless, the community doesn’t need or deserve a legally-infirm Council call-down, which was apparently contrived to circumvent the MDC’s decision.
There is plenty of philanthropic wherewithal in Indianapolis and more of it could be used to purchase needed parkland. Our community leaders and elected officials should recognize the well-documented high public need for more greenspace and be willing to push for it.
A prime candidate for utilizing best site design practices, the Haverstick Woods especially lends itself to creative problem-solving. But the process must free from the duress of a Council call-down.
By Stacey Clark, Driftwood Hills resident
The intersection at 86th St. and Haverstick Rd. is a forested parcel owned by Keystone Realty, a company that proposed to develop the property. The Metropolitan Development Commission (MDC) denied Keystone Realty’s proposal for Alexander at the Crossing, which was a request for a change from the previous commercial zoning for a big box retail building. Now, Indianapolis City-County Councillor Colleen Fanning is planning to call the proposal down at the March 12th full council meeting in an attempt to overturn the denial. (Zoning Case #2016-ZON-020)
The decision to call down this case is the single greatest threat to respecting the wishes of the surrounding Driftwood Hills neighborhood, of 300 plus homes, and would undermine the whole process of zoning denial through the MDC.
Elizabeth Mahoney in the woods at 86th St. and Haverstick Road. (photo by Mary Bookwalter)
The Driftwood Hills neighborhood, with the support of Indiana Forest Alliance (IFA), is negotiating for a development that maintains the residential character of the neighborhood and preserves as much of this forest as possible as the Marion County Comprehensive Plan recommended when it designated this site as a critical area in 2005. The previous safety concerns of placing a large, commercial space on a small, residential street have not changed. The previous concerns with exacerbating traffic in a gridlocked, accident-prone intersection, have not changed. The need for an environmental buffer from sound pollution, water runoff absorbance, and protection from further commercialization on the north side of 86th St and west of Keystone, remains the same.
By attempting to call down the MDC decision, the City-County Council would be weakening the leverage of the surrounding community to negotiate with Keystone Realty for a mutually acceptable development. In the call down process, any negotiations that could be potentially reached between Nora and Keystone would not be legally enforceable. There is also a serious legal deficiency with Councillor Fanning’s attempt to call down this defeated ordinance, which will be addressed shortly by our legal counsel. Thus, Driftwood Hills is advocating for negotiations outside the call down process.
The Driftwood Hills Neighborhood and IFA are essentially asking for the same thing that the MDC did when they initially denied Keystone Realty a variance: come back to the table with a project that benefits the community. As the neighborhood immediately adjacent to the property, we respectfully make the following requests of the developer, Keystone Realty:
- Commit to a substantially lower impact residential development.
- Even better: keep the remaining 10 acres on the property as a park for the Indianapolis community to enjoy. Indianapolis ranks second to last in terms of park space available yet pubic parks provide numerous benefits for our health.
- Regardless of the plan chosen, please disclose your plans for the remaining 10 acres of the property. This has been a primary question from the community and other city planners all along.
We ask that Councillor Fanning urge Keystone Realty to negotiate with the Driftwood Hills Neighborhood for a compromise — not use the developer’s threat to clear-cut as an excuse to undo the MDC denial decision that gave the area a reprieve.
By: Stacey Clark, Driftwood Hills resident
What is the value of an urban forest left standing? Besides absorbing flood runoff, and buffering noise and heat, a woods where people can walk their dogs and let the kids play is a precious asset on the Northside of Indy.
That’s why the Driftwood Hills Neighborhood is against Keystone Realty’s proposed “Alexander at the Crossing” development at the northeast corner of 86th St. & Haverstick Road. The zoning required for said proposal was, thankfully, denied by the Indianapolis Metropolitan Development Commission (MDC) last October.
Stacey Clark pictured (second from left) at the Oct. 4, 2017 MDC hearing.
So why, in an unprecedented move, is Indianapolis City-County Councillor Colleen Fanning attempting to reverse the decision of the city’s governing land use body and have the woods bulldozed for yet another needless development?
As anyone who lives or drives through the intersection at 86th St. & Keystone Ave. knows, the traffic is a nightmare! This intersection was just listed as the number one intersection for seasonal accidents by the Indy Star. How could anyone recommend further developing this area, exacerbating the existing traffic and safety concerns?
Indianapolis ranks terribly when it comes to greenspace available, 98/100! Why would we want to see one of the last remaining green spaces on the Northside be cleared for more commercial development?
We need to let Councillor Fanning know that the community has spoken on this issue already. Our communities deserve better!
Please contact your Indianapolis City-County Councillor and urge them to vote “NO!” on Councillor Fanning’s proposal to reverse the decision of the MDC. Once you know who your City-County Councillor is, click here to get their contact information.
The Driftwood Hills Neighborhood Association thanks you in advance.
This article was submitted as a letter to the editor to major Indianapolis publications. Click here to learn more about the issue.