- Zunk received a notice last December about a Sunset Avenue streetscaping project. It did not mention that trees would be lost or that street parking would be prohibited — those points he found out later.
Editor's note: Please note that Ben Hunter is not the direct supervisor of this project, as one may infer from a statement made in this story; his involvement has been more tangential. Also, we regret that Hunter did not have a chance to respond directly to Zunk's criticism. We are happy to update this piece to reflect his input or circle back for a formal interview as part of a more in-depth piece on the city's public/private partnerships.
For more than 25 years, Mark Zunk has lived next to Butler University on West 46th Street. In December, he received notice from the Department of Public Works about proposed changes to the "Sunset Avenue Streetscape." Not mentioned: The plans for West 46th Street included banning street parking, installing sidewalks on the north side of 46th Street and felling of mature trees in Zunk's front yard.
"Public funds going to pay for a plan designed and proposed by a private entity, and to be installed over the objections of many of the affected property owners," Zunk wrote to NUVO. Half of the project's $3 million cost is paid by DPW, the other half by Butler, Zunk found. He lamented that Butler's interactions on the project were being overseen by Councilman Ben Hunter, who is chief of staff to Butler President Jim Danko. "I personally know Irvington residents who have been asking the city for improvements, including sidewalks, for years," lamented Zunk, in reference to Hunter's district.
"No one can explain why the 'complete streets' ordinance mandates a sidewalk through my trees, but not through the yard of Butler President Jim Danko, who also lives adjacent to this project. The only answer I could get came from Rich Michal, Butler's vice president of facilities, who said, 'We decided against it.'"
Butler officials were unable to comment by press time, but DPW slipped in a reply just before we went to print noting that the public/private partnership is but one of many across the city — including Irvington — that aim to leverage greater purchasing power out of tax money.
From DPW, Kelly Ann Janssen, DPW construction & project outreach coordinator:
The goal of the City's Sunset Avenue Streetscape project is to provide a safer multi-modal experience for the residents, students and visitors to the Butler area. Through a partnership between the City and Butler, we have been able to design and bid a complete street (based on our recently passed complete street ordinance) that will allow us realize the highest pedestrian and vehicular safety while not infringing on any private property (all work will take place within City right of way). There will be some removal of trees (all within City right of way) and the relocation of two private trees that the City will warranty through the life of the project.
This project is an example of a public-private partnership that has allowed us to leverage tax payers dollars against University money to realize an even greater project. We are always looking to leverage local monies against private, state, and Federal dollars to ensure we get every pennies worth of work and product out of it. This is not a new method as we did the same thing with the University of Indianapolis on the south side a few years ago. We have also worked with Marian University, IUPUI, Irvington Development Organization, Broad Ripple Village Association, and others on various other projects to maximize our monies and projects.
The City has committed up to $1.5 million towards this project and Butler University will cover the remaining cost. Our portion will come from the RebuildIndy Program.
And from Michael Kaltenmark, Butler University's director of external relations and caretaker of Butler Blue III, the official Butler mascot:
For Butler University, the goals for this streetscape project are essentially three-fold, including campus beautification, traffic-calming, and public way-finding. We consider it to be a safer multi-modal experience for residents, students, and visitors to Butler University and the Butler-Tarkington Neighborhood.
At this point, plans have been completed and approved, bids have been received, and we expect to break ground in about a month. All work being done is either on Butler University property or in the City of Indianapolis' right of way.
As far as trees are concerned, there will be some removal of trees, again this will occur in the City's right of way, or on University property. There will also be a relocation of two private trees that the City will warranty through the life of the project. Once the project is completed, new trees and mature landscaping will be added to a new boulevard style median that runs along Sunset Avenue, from Hampton Drive to 49th Street.
Butler University has committed $1.5 million of a $3 million dollar budget for this particular streetscape project. The City of Indianapolis has also committed $1.5 million toward the project via the RebuildIndy Program. Additionally, Butler University has agreed to assume ongoing maintenance and upkeep of the streets, plant life, electricity, and overall infrastructure of the streetscape project.