Rx for Haverstick Woods: Creative Problem-Solving

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.