INDIANAPOLIS — Plans for new development just north of Broad Ripple has some residents voicing their opposition.
The Willows Event Center, located just off Westfield Boulevard, is closing due to the pandemic after more than 30 years of business. Still, owners plan to take something old and make it new — announcing plans to convert the property into apartments and townhomes.
“I know the owners of the property are surprised by that pushback. I think we are as well,” said Mark Juleen, chief operating officer for Carmel-based developer, J.C. Hart Co.
The $53 million redevelopment project would include three separate apartment buildings, developed by J.C. Hart Co, with a total of 239 units. It will also include an investment from Indianapolis-based Chase Development to include 16 townhomes.
“The question really has to do with, is this the right tract of land for what they envision?” asked John Kautzman, a member of the newly-formed coalition of neighborhoods called the Marott Island Community Association.
Kautzman said a total of five surrounding neighborhoods are opposed to the Willows Project as it is currently presented.
“Well, I think the biggest concerns of the neighbors have to deal with things like safety, environmental concerns for this area and following the city’s own comprehensive plan.” said Kautzman.
From a safety standpoint, Kautzman said the development would be located on a dangerous blind curve of Westfield Boulevard.
“You don’t have to live around this area too long to understand the congestion going into Broad Ripple. The traffic concerns and the pedestrian concerns if anyone would be trying to cross the street. Especially if we bring in hundreds of more people to try to do that,” said Kautzman.
Juleen said developers had a licensed traffic engineer complete a study which showed there would be no anticipated impact to overall traffic at nearby intersections following the completion of the project. He said developers also plan to add crosswalks, new paved paths along Westfield Blvd., and two new connections to the Monon Trail.
“We try to make sure it fits the area and fits the neighborhood, and we want that feedback,” said Juleen. “We want to make sure it fits the neighborhood and what growth in that area looks like.”
Neighbors have also raised concerns about the projects impacts to nearby waterways. The Willows Event Center surrounds Spirit Lake, which residents claim eventually feeds into the White River.
Developers said a storm water quality system would be installed to treat and enhance the water quality of the lake, which will positively impact the lake’s ecology.
“We’ve tried to go above and beyond to make sure that that isn’t an environmental issue,” said Juleen.
Lastly, Kautzman said the project, and its specific location, does not align with the city’s comprehensive plan.
“The city’s own comprehensive plan calls this [area] suburban residential, which calls for low densities. Low densities isn’t anything close to what is being proposed, at least what we’ve been told. Right now, the proposals we’ve seen from the developer are at least two times, if not more, what is the permitted density for this area.”
Kautzman said the area surrounding the proposed project was deemed suburban residential. Unlike nearby newer developments, like The Line and The Coil, which he said were built in urban Broad Ripple with a “much more robust density.”
“We started with a four-story building trying to maximize the density and use of the land here and we’re scaling it back based off feedback,” said Juleen. “Many of those [other apartments] are four and five stories. So we think three stories is – compared to other apartments and things in the area – is a pretty good compromise.”
“We’re not anti-development and we’re not anti-progress in trying to put a reasonable project in here. But what has been proposed so far is not reasonable. And we’re asking the Metropolitan Development Commission to agree with us and vote this proposal down,” said Kautzman.
A re-zoning hearing is planned by the Metropolitan Development Commission on Wednesday, May 18. However, developers said they have requested the hearing be pushed back one month to allow for more residents to share feedback and possible changes. Officials have not yet confirmed if or when a new date would be granted.
“While it might be change for the people that have been here for a long time and not what they’re used to seeing, it’s going to be positive change in the long run,” said Juleen.