- Hannah Leyva
- The chorus of opposition to a proposed development on College Avenue north of the Canal became so vociferous at points during a public meeting May 23 at Broad Ripple United Methodist Church that organizers threatened to end the event.
Editors' Note: Updates on our story about the battle over a large proposed development on College Avenue and 63rd Street, currently the site of an empty Shell gas station and a 1940s era apartment complex.
Developers' plans to build a mixed-use retail and residential building along Broad Ripple's Central Canal have a chorus of opposition clamoring for them to return to the drawing board.
At issue is a joint project between local outfits Browning Investments and Sheehan Development Co. to redevelop the site of an abandoned Shell gas station on College Avenue and a neighboring 1940s-era apartment building along the canal with an estimated 35,000 square feet of retail space, 88 apartments and 400 parking spaces. The two-building complex would be as high as five stories, anchored by health food supermarket Whole Foods.
The Hearing Examiner for the Metropolitan Development Commission is set to consider the developer's request to more than quadruple zoning guidelines for village retail space and more than double the height allowances at a public meeting set for June 13 at 1 p.m. in the City-County Building's Public Assembly Room, 200 E. Washington St.
Concerns that Whole Foods would undermine the viability of Good Earth Natural Foods dominated the nearly 1,500 public comments added to an online petition in protest of the project. Good Earth, which sits about a block away from the proposed development, has sold health food in Broad Ripple since 1971. With a Whole Foods already operating two miles up the Monon Trail in Nora, many petitioners said bringing the store to Broad Ripple would amount to overkill.
"I adore Good Earth, and would be heartbroken if it went out of business," wrote Micala Carey.
"There is already a Whole Foods right down the road, there's no need to build another one. Part of Broad Ripple's charm is in all of its small businesses where you can find interesting things that are not sold in generic corporate stores. If you introduce giant corporations that drive out small businesses, it becomes just another cookie cutter area, and there would be no reason to go there."
Local residents also packed an informational meeting hosted by the Broad Ripple Village Association on May 23. Though the BRVA does not have the power to approve or deny the developers' zoning variance requests — that decision ultimately rests with the city-county council — association leadership aimed to offer local businesses and residents with the information necessary to generate informed feedback before making a decision about whether to offer public support of the plan.
The BRVA will review the results of its online public survey on the project, which remains open through June 5, before making its decision.
"The bottom line is we need to get out information so that people can make decisions," BRVA Past President Mark Wolf told those gathered at the meeting.
Many in the crowd, however, seemed to already have strong opinions about the proposal. Frequent outbursts from the crowd several times during both the presentation and the question-and-answer session that followed led organizers to threaten to end the meeting.
About 45 minutes into the meeting, in the midst of a presentation by Joe Scimia from Faegre Baker Daniels, who represents Browning Investments, members of the standing-room-only crowd began to yell and jeer when Scimia suggested organic items are not currently offered in Broad Ripple — which opponents viewed, at best, as total ignorance of the village or, at worst, willful manipulation of the truth given the fact that organics are available within blocks at both Good Earth and Kroger.
"We have some of the best local grocery stores in the state right here in Broad Ripple," a resident named Diana said during the Q&A session. "I don't agree with having a grocery store or any sort of competition for Good Earth."
Panelist Bryan Chandler of Eclipse Real Estate represented Whole Foods at the meeting and said the company had been looking to invest in the area for a long time.
"They're very interested in doing business in Broad Ripple and have been for 20 years now," Chandler said, noting that the neighborhood is always the first stop of the Whole Foods president when visiting Indianapolis.
"That investment will come at the cost of other local businesses," said another resident. "Why should we support you in destroying our local grocery stores?"
Chandler pointed out that other big stores like Marsh and Target have stores in Broad Ripple and Glendale, respectively, as well as in Nora.
Scimia rejected the notion that added competition kills existing business.
"When the Fresh Market first came to town [at College and 54th], did it destroy all the local grocery stores?" he asked.
Envisioning the Future
To cultivate greater neighborhood vitality, the Envision Broad Ripple plan, adopted by the city in 2012, guides zoning decisions within the village.
"The desire of the BRVA is [to figure out]: How do we create a village that is all-day living?" explained Elizabeth Marshall, BRVA secretary and Midtown Economic Council member. "Services need people to stay in business ... We have vacant spaces that we can't seem to fill with anything other than bars."
Browning and Sheehan contend their project would enhance the village experience inline with several of the plan's tenets, including the desire to increase density, by promoting Broad Ripple as "a place to work, live, play and gather."
In addition to the apartments and retail spaces, the developer's statement outlines efforts to "dramatically improve this existing gateway into Broad Ripple Village" by designing public sitting, gathering and walking areas alongside the canal.
In a recent interview, Good Earth President Rudy Nehrling countered: "It doesn't bring anything new —it doesn't fit into the scale of Broad Ripple and, architecturally, it doesn't fit in with neighborhood. It certainly serves the developer and Whole Foods, but doesn't bring anything to village except for added traffic."
Response to the modern design of the complex, which is not yet final, according to architect Greg Jacoby of Browning Day Mullins Dierdorf, was less than complimentary, according to sentiments expressed during the recent meeting.
"This building looks like it could be any place. It doesn't look like it belongs in Broad Ripple," one woman said, garnering cheers and applause from the crowd.
Another resident said it had none of the old charm for which many buildings in the area are known.
"The people that live here appreciate that historical reference and that historical architecture," she said.
A man who said he is a landscaper by trade asked a more direct, personal question: "If your building is five stories high, how will you prevent people from looking into my backyard?"
"Since you're a landscaper, plant some trees," one of the panelists said half-jokingly.
In response to a question about how to make the facility's parking garage look less like a parking garage, Scimia mentioned efforts to incorporate local mural art into the project. He responded to safety concerns about added traffic by acknowledging the issue and noting that a traffic study is planned.
Funding is another point of contention.
"We know this project is not sustainable without some help from the city," said Jamie Browning of Browning Investments, who was a panelist at the public meeting.
The developers are asking the city to issue a $6.6 million bond and loan them $5.6 million of the proceeds to cover the cost of certain aspects of the projects, including demolition work, flood proofing, and construction of the parking garage and facilities along the canal. They propose that the additional $1 million be used to fund other projects in the neighborhood, suggesting that the incremental tax gains the city could expect from higher assessments on upgraded properties would cover the cost of bond repayment.
While some argue the use of this so-called tax increment financing, or TIF, money will be of ultimate benefit to the neighborhood — enabling the development of property which may otherwise be cost-prohibitive to tackle — others decry the idea of using any form of tax money to support private business interests, especially on a project so beyond the scale of existing operations.
Jim Holland, a BRVA board member and the night's moderator, grew tired of the repetitive questions and statements and asked for something new before he ended the session.
One father stood up and said, "I'd like to see Broad Ripple return to family-type businesses. Will you commit to not having businesses that sell alcohol?"
"No. Whole Foods sells beer and wine," responded Chandler, who seemed to be confused by the question in an area known, as BRVA Secretary Marshall said, as "a bar destination."
Bill Woolf, owner of Bill's Hair Design at 6163 N. College Ave., said he has mixed feelings about the project.
"I like the apartments. I'm not against five stories. I'm all for density. I do not like retail and housing combined because of the safety of the residents," he said, saying that his business' proximity to the Vogue and other bars means he sees a lot of "transients."
"I can't see any use coming out of mixed use [developments]," Woolf continued. "We still need to work on creating a safe environment."
The BRVA, which holds no vote in the ultimate decision, has yet to decide whether to support the project.
The proposed development still has a gauntlet for government approvals to navigate before it can possibly be built.
The Hearing Examiner for the Metropolitan Development Commission, who is responsible for making recommendations on zoning variance requests, will hear from the staff of the Department of Metropolitan Development, the project proponents, remonstrators and any politicians who want to weigh in before issuing a recommendation to the Metropolitan Development Commission.
The MDC will then repeat the hearing process. If it supports the project, it will then proceed to the City-County Council for consideration.