A Letter to Members of the City-County Council of Indianapolis re: Haverstick Woods

by Jeff Stant

Honorable Members of the City-County Council of Indianapolis, Marion County:

Indiana Forest Alliance (IFA) respectfully asks you to vote NO on the proposed revised Alexander at the Crossing development negotiated for the property known as Haverstick Woods because this one-sided proposed agreement will allow substantially more trees to be removed from this site than can be removed under the current Tree Preservation Plan required for this site.

IFA has reviewed the “Preliminary DP Plan 2016-ZON-020” for the proposed agreement negotiated between Keystone Realty Group and supporters of this development and compared this plan to the plan currently authorized in this 2006 zoning document, commonly known as the “Kite Development.”

In an email of April 6 from the Nora Alliance to Councillors, you were shown an outline of the 2005 approved D-P “Kite Project” for this site and informed that this Project “can proceed as zoned with no further public input process (only needing the required administrative permits)” — the implication being that the development in the outline you saw will be built as depicted unless you approve this agreement.  

You were not told, however, that the development plan required by ordinance for the Kite Project never reached the level of triggering an approval.  After obtaining the zoning for this Kite Project, its developer did not submit a development plan. Had they submitted this plan, it would have had to meet the Tree Preservation Plan that was approved with the zoning for the Kite Project.  This would likely have required modifications in the outline you were shown of the Kite Project to meet the requirements of this Tree Preservation Plan.  At the least the repeated assertion that the Kite Project is or was going to “clearcut” the site is completely unsubstantiated and remains to be seen given the requirements of the Tree Preservation Plan.

The current developer of the site, Keystone Realty Group, still has to meet the requirements of the Tree Preservation Plan approved with the Kite zoning should it choose to move forward with the Kite Project.  We understand from city planning staff that Keystone has submitted at least two proposed Tree Preservation/Mitigation Plans to the Department of Metropolitan Development which have both been rejected as incomplete and un-approvable.   We urge you to consult Keith Holdsworth or Kathleen Blackham, the city planners knowledgeable about the Haverstick development, to confirm the substance of the Tree Preservation Plan for the Kite Project as well as these rejections of Tree Preservation/Mitigation Plans submitted by Keystone.

The requirement in the current “Tree Preservation Plan” in the Kite Project that appears to be difficult for Keystone to meet is:

8. All non-invasive trees greater than 10 caliper inches in diameter, which are healthy and disease-free, as determined by an arborist shall be saved, or if removed shall be mitigated by the planting of trees at a ratio of one to one between the caliper inches of trees removed and the total caliper inches of trees replanted, either onsite or in the immediate vicinity, to compliment the greater community.” (page 6 in the Kite Plan, emphasis added)

Given that there appear to be no open areas in the immediate vicinity available to Keystone to plant as much as “1,375 trees” (attributed to Mr. Holdsworth in the email you received from Nora Alliance) to mitigate the replacement of trees exceeding 10 inches in diameter that Keystone wants to remove, this requirement in the Kite Tree Preservation Plan appears to be nearly impossible to meet without preserving a significant portion of the forest. This would appear to require a more substantial reduction in the foot print of this development than the fewer surface parking spaces and 2,000 square foot reduction in building size proposed in the agreement between Keystone and those supporting this development.

This explains why the proposed agreement has relaxed the requirement to replace trees onsite or in the immediate vicinity.  Specifically, on page 5, the proposed agreement states:

“Petitioner may satisfy its mitigation/replacement requirement under the Existing Tree Commitments by causing plantings to be made . . . (c) outside the boundaries of, but in the immediate vicinity of, the Subject Property; or within the boundaries of the Nora-Northside Community Council.”    (emphasis added)

Below is a map of the boundaries of the Nora Northside Community Council taken from this organization’s web site:

Allowing mitigation trees to be planted within the boundaries of the Nora Northside Community Council means they can be planted 3-4 miles from Haverstick Woods to mitigate the removal of the larger trees from this Woods.  Thus these words will gut the existing Tree Preservation Plan, the purpose of which is to protect the forest on this site.

The April 6 email from the Nora Alliance questions the tree mitigation requirements, stating “Whether the tree mitigation requirements could ultimately prevent the Kite Project development is a matter of opinion.”

We beg to differ.  Rather than opinion, the tree mitigation requirements for the Kite Project are a matter of law, a legal requirement that the developer must meet.  The referenced developer who cleared the southeast corner of 86th and Meridian in violation of tree preservation requirements at that site has paid fines for doing so.  If the Kite Tree Preservation Plan can be ignored, why has Keystone been trying to meet it?  Are we going to just let developers flout the law?  In that case, why should we trust the tree mitigation plan being proposed in this agreement?  

We are also concerned that the density of homes in the negotiated plan has been increased from 31 units in the Kite Project to as many as 64 units if the proposed density of 8 units per acre is accommodated in the 8 acres in the northern area which this plan allows.  This will afford less ability to conserve any of the contiguous forest across the northern area.

In essence, we agree with the Nora Alliance that “Negotiation is largely about compromise” but fail to see where the Developer significantly compromised from the position he took before the MDC last fall.  We certainly don’t agree that the outcome of these negotiations “incorporates the existing tree commitments from the approved Kite Project” or that “stringent tree mitigation is still required.”  In fact, the requirement in the Tree Preservation Plan to save the larger trees or mitigate their loss within the immediate vicinity that is attached to the 2005 rezoning of the Haverstick Woods property is the singular factor preventing high density development that will destroy this woods, and this proposed agreement gets rid of that requirement.      

We are left asking if this is how we are going to handle land-use issues? Are we going to allow affluent, politically connected developers who have been rebuffed by the experts in the city planning agency and can’t get their way at the Metropolitan Development Commission, to have these decisions overturned by the City Council?  The neighborhood and the local community have been strongly against this development all along.  The Nora Northside Community Council voted 8-3 against the development and then testified against it before the MDC last fall as did the Driftwood Hills Neighborhood Association with both applauding the MDC’s October 4 decision turning down the development.

Then Councillor Fanning approached the community in January (not the other way around as you’ve been told) informing them of her judgement of the need for the call down.  Leaders of the Driftwood Hills Neighborhood Association and IFA were summoned to a “summit meeting” called by Councillor Fanning on January 20 who demanded that we support the call down in that meeting, and later informed both groups that we would be excluded from these negotiations if we objected to the call down on March 12.

Rather than protecting the interests of the local community, we believe this negotiation has turned sound decision-making by city planners that has been protecting the interests of the local community and the objectives of the Marion County Comprehensive Plan for this site on its head and thwarted the democratic process that we all count on. 

We urge you to listen to the leadership of the Driftwood Hills Neighborhood Association — the people who live in the neighborhood around Haverstick Woods and north of 86th Street — and respect the decision-making of the Metropolitan Development Commission in this matter.  We urge you to protect the Tree Preservation Requirements that are in place for this site.  We urge you to vote NO on the proposed agreement for the revised Alexander at the Crossing development at this site.   Thank you.

Respectfully,

Jeff Stant, Executive Director, Indiana Forest Alliance