Back in 2005, I sat on the Historic Irvington Community Councilâ€™s design and zoning review committee. Irvington had just recently become a historic district and was under the jurisdiction of the Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission. Not long into our life as a historic district, a developer submitted an application to redevelop the northeast corner of East Washington Street and Audubon Road, a prominent intersection in the neighborhood.
The corner was home to two vacant buildings. The corner building was a 60â€™s era building that most recently housed an auto parts store. East of it was a long vacant building that formerly housed a chain pizza restaurant and, intermittently, a fireworks store. The neighborhood was desperate to rebuild this corner.
The developer proposed building two new buildings to house a bank branch and a Starbucks. The bank branch was great, but the addition of a Starbucksâ€¦ that was a sign for many that Irvington had arrived. The neighborhood caffeine addicts were foaming to have a nearby fix.
But we were given a catch: we were told that Starbucks would only sign the lease if their typical design was built, surrounded with a moat of asphalt. There would be no way that Starbucks would build a more appropriate design. If the neighborhood pushed back, Starbucks would pack up their Pike Place and go somewhere else.
Flash forward to today. Irvington has its Starbucks, but the building isnâ€™t surrounded by a parking lot. It is located on the corner with the long side facing Washington Street. Yes, there is plenty of parking and a drive thru, but the design and orientation fits Irvington. And it is because a group of appointed individuals said that the original proposal was not suitable for Irvington.
The IHPC is made up of mayoral and council appointees. At the time, none of the members lived in Irvington. But because the neighborhood petitioned, the City-County Council approved, and the Mayor signed a proposal to put the design and zoning considerations of Irvington under the careful watch of the Commission. They were designated to be the aesthetic conscience of the neighborhood.
So when the corner parking lot came forward and 100 residents came to the Commission meeting to support the suburban design out of fear of losing the development, the Commission did the right thing: it said no.
Many commissioners made comments regarding the proposal. The one that stands out the most to me was made by Susan Williams. It was succinct but poignant: Irvington deserves better; you (the residents) may not believe it, but you do.
With that, the developers were sent back to the drawing board. In spite of the threats made, they returned with an architect experienced with historic and urban designs. The parking lot was moved from the corner. They provided an appropriate design and IHPC approved it.
I bring this up because there is a current case before IHPC dealing with the construction of the firefighterâ€™s credit union and an addition to the firefighterâ€™s union hall. The construction of the credit union is part of a larger plan to redevelop the existing credit union and fire station on Massachusetts Avenue. The majority of components were approved, including a drive thru that exits onto Mass Ave. But IHPC said no to a parking lot proposed at the corner of Mass Ave, College Avenue, and St. Clair. It is a prominent intersection and there are multiple reasons to save that corner from being paved. By saying no to that component, the IHPC is saying that the neighborhood and the intersection deserve better. And it is true.
There are other options. One option would be to split the parcel in half. Parking along the western half and leave the eastern half open for future development. Another would be to rotate the addition to the hall by 45 degrees; this would allow for perpendicular or angle parking on St. Clair. Then maybe add parking along the alley between St. Clair and Arch. That saves the majority of the lot in question for future development. And there are certainly other solutions to consider.
Given some extra time, a solution will be found that will allow things to proceed. And that is what the IHPC has provided: extra time to find the right solution. That is what IHPC is charged with doing and it is what they successfully do every time they meet.
It is true; the commission members are not elected. They are appointed by those that we elect. The same is true of the directors of every department in the City and every commission member in the County. The Bond Bank, the Department of Code Enforcement, and the Department of Metropolitan Development are all guided by appointed commissioners. The Police Chief, the Fire Chief, the Director of Public Safetyâ€¦ all appointed. During the recent string of violent crime, nobody has criticized the Police Chief because he is appointed.
The commission is appointed by the Mayor and the Council as delegates. The responsibility for zoning and design review has been delegated by the Mayor and the Council to the Commission. And when these historic districts were locally designated, it was not because the will of an authoritarian applied it. It is because the neighborhood at that time asked to be held to a higher standard. The neighborhood created the plan that guides the Commission.
And on page 62 of the Chatham-Arch & Massachusetts Avenue Historic Area Plan, that corner lot has a specific recommendation. And that recommendation is â€œ658 E. St. Clair Street: If this site is developed, new development should be residential and should be sensitive to the houses on St. Clair and Arch Streets.â€ This is a recommendation in a plan created by the neighborhood. It was not created by the IHPC; the plan was created by the neighborhood. And the plan was presented by the neighborhood to the IHPC and the MDC in 2006. The neighborhood asked to be held accountable to their plans and on September 3rd, the IHPC did exactly that. The proposal offered a parking lot and that is the opposite of what the neighborhood wanted.
The commission members said no. And I commend them for doing their job.