The Chatham Arch Question, Part II: What Are the Consequences of Low Density Just a Mile from the Heart of Downtown?

In the first half of this two-part series I looked at the prevailing mentality articulated by some of the most influential members of the Chatham Arch neighborhood, evidenced by the Chatham Arch Neighborhood Association (CANA) and its near-unanimous opposition to the redevelopment of a long-vacant charter school site at 9th and East Streets, into a mix of townhomes, single-family, and apartments with retail. Essentially, CANA argued that this proposal’s density was out of synch with the character of the nationally-registered Chatham Arch historic neighborhood, which largely consists of modest single-family detached cottages on narrow lots.


The critical issue from Part I is whether CANA’s argument for historic appropriateness aligned with an accurate understanding of Chatham Arch’s actual density when it was a flourishing, middle-class, urban neighborhood. My assertion remains that the majority opinion of CANA embraces a notion of density that precludes multi-family, mixed uses, or homes scaled to the original lot sizes, most of which had only 40 feet of frontage along their streets. The reality of historic Chatham Arch was crowded: almost 20,000 people per square mile, according to studies collected by the developer at this proposed 9th/East location. Whether or not that number is exact, it is mathematically impossible that Chatham Arch in 1910 was lower density than today, since it had many more houses on all the lots, and the average household size was much greater.


Quite simply, historic Chatham Arch was a much, much more densely populated place than today. And the majority of CANA members are opposing any hint of a return to the density of yesteryear. This part will explore the long-term implications of this anti-density approach, and yes, as you can probably see from your scroll bar, it’s a doozie.



With CANA’s approach taking a front seat in IHPC considerations, what’s to follow? Despite the integrity of CANA’s efforts to instill unity to the neighborhood (and regardless of the visible fruit these efforts have borne), the most vocal remonstrators may ultimately get hoisted upon their own petards. I don’t want that to happen—I don’t think anyone does—but it isn’t unheard of that the culture of opposition becomes so potent that it scares all reasonable developers away. And scaring away developers is tantamount to scaring away development, which amounts to repelling demonstrable investment in real estate—and such investment ultimately serves as the lodestar for most neighborhood revitalization efforts.


A Quick Site Survey


Let’s first take a look at the site in question, at 9th and East:  IMG_6854

The current owner/developer bought the large parcel in 2009, when the real estate market was at its nadir. After a daycare left the site in 2008, the building briefly hosted the Todd Academy, a charter school, but it went vacant again after around early 2013. Recognizing that the best use of the land is a complete repurposing (rather than a new tenant for an architecturally indistinct school building), the developer indicated his intention to build anew in 2014. The parking lot on the north side of the property gets minimal use—mostly, it seems, for city fleet vehicles.


All the while, the landowner has maintained the fenced grounds around the school and allowed complete access, so neighborhood residents had a protected place for their dogs to play and poop.


CANA has argued that this site merits a particularly sensitive treatment to avoid overwhelming the neighborhood, because it sits in the “core” of Chatham Arch. But it doesn’t: the old school fronts East Street, which serves as the neighborhood’s western edge.


Additionally, it’s hard to lend much credence to the argument that a five-story structure would overpower the nearby homes, since, directly across from East Street, we witness the Lugar Tower.


Fifteen stories. And, if neighbors are worried about losing their informal, pro bono dog park, maybe they advocate for something across the street, since the Indianapolis Housing Authority’s spacious grounds surrounding the Lugar Tower go nearly completely unused.



Regardless of the density of the area nearby, the fact remains that, under current standards promoted by the DPW, East Street in this area is a fairly high-speed, one-way collector road, lacking very many pedestrianized crosswalks and not nearly as suitable for single-family residential as the side streets to the east: Park and Broadway, for example, already offer the scale most suitable for quiet residential living that wouldn’t elicit unwanted traffic noise for people in one-story residences. Conversely, East Street is optimally scaled to appeal toward retailers or offices on that first floor—while consigning residences to the upper levels. In other words, mixed-use is far more appropriate along East Street than Broadway or Park—the streets that flank the actual geometric core of Chatham Arch.


A Mixed Use Comparison


And other developers have sought to build according to those mixed-use standards. Here’s an example in the block immediately to the north of the proposed site, on the northeast corner of 9th and East, constructed primarily in 2009:


Architecturally, it’s an unremarkable building in most respects. But it offers an appropriate urban design: a mix of retail/services on the first floor and residences on the second. From what I can gather, the retail has largely succeeded, with high occupancy levels for the most part. And it’s a vast improvement over what preceded it, seen here in a grainy Google Street View from 2007. Perhaps someone can correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe it’s a reconstruction using the foundation and load-bearing walls of its predecessor.


But it’s only two stories tall. While redevelopment still adds value to the parcel, doubling the Floor Area Ratio (from 1.0 to 2.0), it could have been so much more…if opponents hadn’t curtailed the density. Unfortunately I can’t find documentation of the original proposals for this neighboring building (which would now probably date almost ten years), but I know the original intention was to build higher. The developer accommodated the opponents and lowered the scale of the project to the two stories seen here. Apparently, he/she could still get a reasonable return on the investment. But, this was 2008/09: the peak of the recession, diminished land values, and serious uncertainty in the housing market. A number of developers had to tone down their ambition during those lean times: I wrote about one in Fall Creek Place on my own blog a few years ago.


And then there was this one. Thanks to its reduced intensity, it now serves as an exemplar by which opponents use to thwart other projects in Chatham Arch. Here’s the corner view of the structure, deemed the most sensitive area by the remonstrators:



Indeed, it features a house right next to it along the 9th Street. So the two structures (multifamily and twin) are more or less of the same intensity and impact (though I expect the FAR for the home is 1.5 rather than 2.0).


If this becomes the standard for future design in Chatham Arch, nothing will get built. The market cannot support such a low intensity. Land values have increased dramatically since 2008, and, if the developer were to construct on the old school site something that CANA could easily support—12 single-family detached homes, for example, he couldn’t expect to command the sales prices necessary to pay off his loans. He would go bankrupt.


Real Estate Fundamentals


The fact remains that, in order to recoup the cost for site acquisition, for the carrying costs all these years, for demolishing the school, for City approvals, and then for construction—all these costs require considerably greater density than single-family detached. And the demand for higher density is obviously there. Sure, the developer could subdivide, install infrastructure (including alleys) and sell off the individual lots, but, again, the prices may be greater than people in Indianapolis are willing to pay. And if he fails either to sell the lots or the homes, he bleeds money.


One could argue that I am merely speculating this assertion of bankruptcy, and that would be correct. I’m guessing. But that is the nature of the real estate industry: speculation on what the market can support. Accusations on the blogosphere of “Developer Greed” may often evoke a greater truth of the real estate development industry as a whole, but what’s the alternative? Are developers supposed to go bankrupt?


These accusers of “GREED!” fail to consider that it is highly unlikely it would just be one individual’s money: most developers rely considerably on equity partners and debt. If the project—i.e., the developer’s creative vision—seems too risky, a bank would never lend, or would only lend at prohibitively high interest rates, thereby again rendering the project impossible. The pro forma must find the sweet spot—the balance between hard/soft costs and anticipated revenue streams over the length of the amortization period. And, based on the going rates for land in Chatham Arch at this point, the sweet spot requires much higher density than single-family detached residences.


The Aftermath of Low Intensity


Putting aside that very basic (crude) real estate analysis, it’s interesting to witness how one other nearby parcel has developed, again due at least in part to neighborhood intervention in terms of density. Let’s walk a few blocks down, to the intersection of East and Walnut streets. Here’s the structure recently completed at the northeast corner:


It’s a single-family residence. Does it look kinda big? Well, it is: it spreads across two parcels. For scale, here it is with its adjacent properties to the north. (Note that the house on the left of the photo is a twin.)


By most metrics, at least one viewed from the front, it’s a reasonable contemporary infill—except for being “massively out of scale” in relation to its neighbors. But those quotes are mine; not CANA’s. When this house faced IHPC approvals, it received no opposition from CANA. No concern regarding whether a home straddling two parcels would still align with the neighborhood’s historic character.


This non-reaction from CANA carries much more weight when we investigate the history of these two (consolidated) parcels over previous years. Over a decade ago, Citimark Management Company Proposed 500 Walnut at the site, a three-story building featuring 12 condominiums and 20 parking spaces. An older issue of Urban Times covered the IHPC ruling, which shows a rendering of the final, approved plan: reduced from 12 units to 9, due yet again to community opposition about scale and density. By 2009 the developer was set to build the project at this 25% reduction in scale; a Google Street View from July of that year shows site clearance, construction materials and a promotional sign (along with the early vestiges of that segment of the Cultural Trail). Needless to say, 500 Walnut didn’t happen. The condo market collapsed, and Citimark eventually abandoned the proposal, then sold the consolidated lots. It sat vacant for over half a decade.


But now? An enormous single-family detached house. I hate to begrudge the owners of this property their development; obviously they have a right to do what they want, within the constraints of the law. And they clearly must have considerable liquid assets to afford such an expensive an key tract. But, as Urban Indy noted, the layout forces a large three-car garage against a stretch of the Cultural Trail, which is disappointing, though still better, of course, than staring at the front of said garage.



The Cultural Trail could have afforded an excellent opportunity for commercialization of the site, perhaps multifamily rental or owner (condos are starting to comeback), and even maybe some first-floor corner retail. Small mixed-use (under 10-unit) is extremely difficult to pull off, but it would have aligned nicely with the B&B on the opposite corner…


…as well as the pedestrian-scaled commercial just to the south of the B&B.


Oh well. It’s over and done, and at least a long-vacant parcel has been put to use. But CANA was silent on the matter, suggesting again that the most strenuous objections regarding “character” have far more to do with population density than fidelity to a certain look or style. From the front, the new home is only slightly less hulking than the condo proposal that preceded it, but it results in an 88.9% drop in unit density. And no one objected to that three-car garage. Who exactly had one of those in 1910?



Let’s just pretend once more that the old school site at 9th and East turned into a proposal for nothing but single-family detached lots. The owners would have to be as flush with cash as our builders of the mammoth home at 500 Walnut for those lots to sell—or even richer, since, after all, the developer would have to recoup costs for demolition of the school, among other things. Perhaps Chatham Arch could attract such well-heeled buyers. But if they don’t buy in enough time for the developer to meet his obligations to lenders, he cannot continue to operate. And since the 500 Walnut site sat fallow for half a decade, the risk is just too great. And, of course, the design outcome for these mega-homes may still be undesirable for the community. Lastly, from the perspective of the density dorks like those of us in Urban Indy, it represents a sad squandering of urbanism that would make the site desirable.


Anticipating Future Trends in Housing


Macro-level development trends also do not bode well for such an overwhelming dependence on single-family detached residences. While sales have certainly improved since the 2010 nadir, the construction of new homes remains at a fraction of the pace prior to the Great Recession, all across the country. Apartments in urban centers have been going gangbusters, achieving near complete occupancy within a year. Yep, it’s largely a millennial thing—the youngest generational contributor to the labor force has shown remarkable apprehension toward homeownership, no doubt in part having come of age during the foreclosure crisis, but also because they lack the equity to make a down payment. Student loans are colossal these days.


Admittedly, the apartment bubble is showing early signs that it may burst, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to a bunch of thirtysomethings shifting immediately to single-family detached homes in Carmel or Fishers. Certainly, some will, but others may just as easily thirst for a continuation of the urban experience that they never knew from their suburban childhoods, thereby opting for housing in Center Township and the like. And, should they choose to own in the city, odds are strong that they will still lack the equity and access to credit to afford an enormous lot and home in places like Chatham Arch. Since they’ll be paying off those loans until they’re getting AARP in their mailbox (or inbox to their smart phones), chances are slim that they’ll ever afford a mega-home: either on a 1 acre lot in Carmel or a big ‘un like that house at 500 Walnut.


So, if CANA continues to push for low-density, single-family detached housing on double lots, who will buy these mammoths in twenty years? I don’t have a clearer crystal ball than anyone else, but in carrying the current trends forward on building permits, we can presage a future of smaller homes: small lots, townhomes, and even condos. Or, for that matter, the restoration of older homes in formerly neglected inner-city neighborhoods. And neighborhoods with key goods, services and activities within walking distance seem to earn a particular cachet. Neighborhoods like Chatham Arch. That’s why the land is worth so dang much. People really want to live there! But they can’t all afford to live in 1200-square-foot detached homes. As a result, what do we see for proposals?daynurserysite1daynurserysite2


At this point, I have to put away my nitpicks (momentarily). The long-term residents of Chatham Arch have resoundingly succeeded in getting the neighborhood where it is. They pioneered in the 1970s and 1980s, when broad swathes of 100-year old neighborhoods faced clearance for high-rise public housing towers-in-the-park (like Lugar), market rate high-rises of somewhat better urban design (like Riley), or niche suburban-style condo experimentations (like Renaissance Place). They salvaged a fractured neighborhood and kept it from turning into an extension of those aforementioned proposals, or from turning it into a Wild-West landscape of light-industrial homesteaders (like much of the scattershot area along Senate Avenue north of North Street). They instilled further unity through signature lighting and signage, with special care (in recent years) toward renaming even the lesser alleyways—they rediscovered a road named Chatham!


[Pause. Clear throat.]


A More Inclusive Chatham Arch


That said, isn’t it possible that they may need to extend an olive branch or two, if not to the development community (who essentially flatters them by capitalizing on the burgeoning demand for the neighborhood, through physical construction) but also to the newcomers who articulated the demand that has caused their home values to surge? As the back-and-forth on Part 1, the Indianapolis Business Journal and Urban Times articles have indicated, CANA conveyed its sentiments through 26 votes, with only 3 approving the proposal. But Chatham Arch population exceeds 1,000. At a modest additional cost of $25 (beyond what people must pay through stipulations of the deed), renters and owners get the right to vote through CANA.


So why do so few people opt to participate? Could it be that many pro-development, pro-density neighborhood residents perceive that CANA does not welcome them? The comments in Part I remained civil but highly cynical, using terms like “pay to vote”, “does not reflect the majority opinion”, and, yes, the most dreaded epithacronym, “NIMBY”. Many of those accusations may seem a bit harsh to the long-term residents of Chatham Arch. But then we must consider the overwhelming CANA response when a new development comes up—nearly always opposing unless it is low density—coupled coupled with the lack of buy-in toward the voting process among so many residents. Is there at least a tiny bit of application of “drawbridge mentality” when people start shouting “no future tenements” in IBJ comments?


The application of basic microeconomic principles shows what is ultimately happening, regardless of the intentions of CANA as a collective. By forcing height, massing and overall density limitations in the neighborhood—in many cases far more stringently than existing zoning (or even the CANA plan devised several years ago) aren’t they fundamentally constraining supply while demand remains high, thereby further inflating prices? This isn’t fundamentally a malicious act, but it definitely suggests the notion that some opponents have essentially sprinted into a gated area, then closed that gate behind them once others try to get in. Or a drawbridge.



Speaking of gates, shouldn’t some of the most ardent opponents recognize that the site of the school has remained fully gated—but unlocked—to serve as a dog park for the community all these years? The developer certainly did not have to allow the general public to traipse all over the grounds. For all the accusations of greed, surely the remonstrators trying to stop the owner from developing his land must recognize that he has essentially donated the land for general use this same community all these years.


Sure, developers are often greedy. And this developer, like most, strives to earn a handy profit by meeting the demand. But look: our anti-density contingent has applied the constraints to further supply, resulting in escalating home values to the point that only the ultra-rich may ultimately be able to afford Chatham Arch—people like the buyers at 500 Walnut. If that isn’t greed, it’s certainly conveys an attitude that the CANA drawbridge will only come down for the elite.


The Best and Worst Possible Outcomes


My Pollyannaish hope is that CANA and the rest of the neighborhood will reconcile their differences through this proposal, maybe pushing the developer a bit further too. (I personally agree with one accusation from the IHPC—that the entire thing may be too uniform and will always look like it was conceived by a single entity. Slight tweaks to ornamentation, massing, and color could probably instill greater variety. But that’s just my humble opinion.) Beyond that, it’s hard not to wonder if the 23 opponents and the remaining community members can sit at a table to forge a definition of urban, one that allows development at an intensity reflective of current land values.


It won’t be easy. After all, the Urban Times quotes one member of CANA as objecting to this development because “they need to find a place to put it where it belongs, in an urban area”.   If Chatham Arch isn’t an urban area, what is? And why does Urban Times feature it as one of the pre-eminent urban neighborhoods of Indy, month after month? If we champion Chatham Arch as reminding us of “a small town”, as at least one prominent CANA member has said, where does that leave us? Indy is the state’s largest city by far and the only one with any semblance of global prominence. Meanwhile, Indiana has hundreds of actual small towns. Why squander a neighborhood a mile from the absolute center by trying to make it a facsimile of a small town, when there are plenty of small towns throughout the state, but only one prominent city? If these observations represent CANA’s ethos (or even a part of it), can it be any surprise that newcomers, many of whom specifically seek Chatham Arch because of its urban characteristics, find that CANA has nothing to offer them?


Considering what I’ve said here, my vision probably seems overwhelmingly to favor the developer and the pro-density contingent, rather than CANA. And, yes, it does. Otherwise, why write this Tolstoy novel? But it’s mostly out of fear for what might happen if the proposal faces too much opposition. It’s not hard to imagine, because it’s happened here and elsewhere across the country. Here’s a possible scenario:


The opposition escalates. The approval board offers strict conditions that the developer must first meet. The remonstrators only accept proposals that are low density. The developer’s lenders and equity partners don’t like all these delays. The proposal gets modified to the point that it no longer aligns with market demand. The deal collapses, the developer gives up and puts the parcel back on the market. A new developer makes a proposal, meeting most of the standards of the original objections, but “wrong in many new ways”. The conditions imposed on the project prevent the developer from getting a return on the investment. The developer tries to sell, but cannot command the same price amidst such a culture of opposition and takes a loss. The parcel sits vacant, as an inexperienced developer buying the devalued land is out of his/her league, then goes bankrupt. The building itself begins to show signs of neglect, vandalism, and code violations. The increasingly blighted site causes neighboring properties to lose value, thereby forcing the City to step in.


Again, I speculate to high heaven. But let’s face it: freezing parcels into development limbo rarely benefits anyone. The opposition will always run the risk that, rather than eliciting a more appealing development result, they will end up killing development altogether. I understand that, once built, a structure will probably stay with us for at least a generation. But some parcels in downtown Indy have sat vacant for years thanks to remonstrations: the sloped lawn along the canal next to the parking garage, opposite the Indiana Historic Center, remains a perfect example.



The best approach, I believe, will involve a systematic re-evaluation of the CAMA (Chatham Arch-Mass Ave) Historic District master plan, last adopted in 2006. Most master and comprehensive plans warrant updates approximately once per decade, to account for unforeseen changes in the market and land use patterns. In the last ten years, the entire city underwent its first major zoning overhaul, adopted in April of last year. For the master plan update, CANA must be at the table, but the plan cannot succeed without including a thorough cross-section of Chatham Arch residents—renters and owners, old and young, urban advocates and the noncommittal. Much as Indy Rezone intended to reduce the dependence on time-consuming variance requests, a spruced up master plan could help minimize some of the dissention we witness in Chatham Arch each time a new proposal comes along. And, while it will inevitably require multiple iterations and compromises, it could bring this community of X-thousand together for more substantively than any decorative features, streetlights or dog parks.

Comments 42

  • Such a big fuss over high and low density here , while in other major cities there is no problem , other than nyc, Chicago or Houston, la, etc just look at Columbus oh, and yes even Nashville tn, to see what I am talking about , heck while indy, is still trying to figure it out, high rise residential and even some hotel and office high risers are popping up all over the place in other cities , beautiful example for you guys is just pictures what two twin 15 or 18 story brick and glass with some Indiana limestone towers would look like in broad ripple “” just saying.

    • Yes. Indianapolis is embarrassingly falling further and further behind cities like Nashville, Austin, Portland, Denver, Charlotte, Columbus, etc. It’s going to take strong visionary leadership to take on our strong anti-density NIMBY culture. Unfortunately, that kind of leadership doesn’t exist in Indianapolis.

      • Eradicating NIMBYs wouldn’t make Indy any of those cities culturally and those cities also have NIMBYs.

      • All those cities have NIMBYs. Nothing happening here is remotely unique. It’s the effectiveness of NIMBYism that might vary from city to city. “Give them an inch…”

      • What are you talking about? Do you not see the bazillion condo developments downtown? Can’t an historic SFR neighborhood simply stay that way? So what if it’s a mile from downtown – should we plow under Lockerbie Square and build skyscrapers?

        Btw Indy has kept up with Portland in one important way – it’s thrown all of its black people out of the way of developers. Which should make all the ppl on this blog very happy. Old Northside and Herron Morton were 99% black just a generation ago, now they’re 99% white. PROGRESS!

        • Nothing ensures a neighborhood will remain homogeneous (racially and economically) than forcing it to be Single Family Detached residential, especially since it never was “historic SFR” to begin with. Chatham Arch has always had apartments, townhomes, street-corner small commercial. Forcing it to essentially one housing type, especially when land costs are fairly high, will only perpetuate the current condition: whites in the restored homes, blacks in the adjacent Indianapolis Housing Authority high-rises nearby. Is that the dichotomy we’re seeking?

          Nobody’s recommending bulldozing Lockerbie Square. Or Chatham Arch. This subject here is an abandoned elementary school.

    • the people here are a ignorant and fearful. it gives me a headache. like someone continually arguing that 2 + 2 = 5

    • I disagree, there have been thousands of new apartment units built in Indy in the past 5 years with most getting little pushback. Infill multifamily development in NYC and Chicago can be much more difficult as you essentially will not be approved if you don’t have neighborhood support.

    • Chicago, NYC–obviously on a completely different league. But I’d argue that neither Nashville nor Houston have comparable or better neighborhoods fringing their downtowns. Sure, they both get plenty of good, dense multifamily projects, but their historic districts are newer, smaller and less walkable than Chatham Arch…and Chatham Arch is a middling district in its own right.

      Columbus OH is an interesting counterpart: its huge, largely featureless downtown (a DT that seemingly declined worse than Indy’s) is ringed by very strong neighborhoods, probably abetted by the fact that they have a huge institution just north of downtown (OSU) that wasn’t going anywhere, even while everything else was fleeing in the 1960s. As a result, they had a built-in contingent of faculty and staff who recognized the good bones in German Village, for example, and fought the good fight when everything else was facing the wrecking ball. As a result, German Village in particular (which is NOT adjacent to OSU) is a stronger and bigger neighborhood than Chatham Arch, Lockerbie Square and St. Joseph combined. It features many single-family houses, but also townhomes, twins, carriage houses, and so forth. Very few side lots.

      The fuss over high and low density is absolutely NOT unique to Indy–it happens everywhere. Even in Chicago they fight high-rises on the Lakefront.

      • German Village is slightly different, maybe a little more like Fountain Square in Indy. It is now separated from the downtown core of Columbus by their inner loop freeway, and that freeway took out the northern edge of the neighborhood. (Today, the historic German church my grandmother attended stands at 3rd and Fulton, just across the freeway from where its parishoners once lived.) It also remained significantly German-American well into mid-century. Indy doesn’t really have a comparable German-American enclave.

        • Thanks Chris. I have read in the past that Lockerbie Square was Indianapolis’s “Germantown” (much the way Holy Rosary and Fletcher Place were the old Italian neighborhoods). Granted, even without all the fragmentation that took place during the interstate construction (and subsequent redevelopment of some parcels into light industrial), Lockerbie Square was a fragment of the size of German Village.

  • The 500 Walnut project kills me every time. A nice 12 unit brick condo building on the corner of East & Walnut. This is a building that could very well have been built in 1900 – although it probably would have had 18 units and 4 commercial spaces in the same sized building.

    There was literally no excuse on this one. I am not sure how it all went down, I do know that I saw the full construction plans for 500 Walnut – so it was more than just a dream. I just hope the IHPC wasn’t swayed by these ridiculous claims. They know better and the blame ultimately lies with them if they cave to these arguments no matter how popular they are.

    • you can talk to meg purnsley at IHPC, they are constantly berated by “concerned citizens” all day every day, like water torture. I wouldn’t be surprised if they caved.

    • Paul, I’m nearly certain that the economy killed the 500 Walnut project more than anything. The intention at all times was condominiums. However, the neighborhood did manage to get the density lowered by 25% before it started to break ground.

  • Footnote to your comments about the Fall Creek Place development: that was the same developer as the 9th and East 2-story building. He (Larry Jones) is now working on the old Circle City Industrial building.

  • The one thing I think is missing from both parts is proof of a historic building or zoning precedent for mid rise development in this neighborhood. One new mixed use building or hi rise isn’t proof of an established building pattern and the past and current examples you gave appear to be primarily single family. Comparing density of single family and multifamily is irrelevant since they’re two different building forms. That said, either the city should defer to CANA given the developer’s paltry support, or council should ignore CANA if they’re being unreasonable as long as the developer has made some effort to improve the proposal in their eyes.

  • Came to this article circuitously, and not familiar with Indy in particular, but my northern VA neighborhood is also facing discussions on density. Missing from the posts here appears to be consideration of the increased services that increased density brings. I can’t imagine that in the discussions on this project, those were not raised. Are neighborhood schools overcrowded? Are there nearby daycare providers that can accommodate young families moving to the community? What about green space, parking, increased traffic? Can area public transportation support increased density (or should the city be planning for improved transportation while planning for the development)? Will all the new toilets have implications on the sewage system (actually an issue in my neighborhood, as I learned when I wanted to add a half-bath to my duplex)? There are issues with density that move beyond the historic nature of a neighborhood, and at least in my community, there has been an unwillingness on the part of the government to address those issues on the front-end of development. But now we face a seat crisis in our schools and we live in a child care desert, and public transportation can’t even begin to keep up with demand. Curious as to whether those issues have been addressed in this community, and how the city is working proactively to prevent the complications that development can bring.

    • Low density auto oriented areas typically have a much lower tax dollars to services ratio. The tax dollars from dense development and lack of “wasted space” more than make up for the somewhat modest increasing in services.

      On top of all that, in downtown Indianapolis the answer to most of your questions is no. Nothing is overwhelmed, and if something like day cares or schools are than perhaps they should build more. It is really as simple as that. As the article stated this area used to support FAR more people so people.

    • Hi Anne, I appreciate your comments and thoughts. I think you’re asking the exact questions that should be asked in a fast-growing exurban environment, and parts of NoVA are crazy. Is Arlington facing those sort of growth pressures? I definitely imagine places like Loudon County and Stafford County are dealing with exactly those issues–even sewage capacity–as they look to expand key infrastructure. On a per-unit basis, a high density area will always deliver more efficiencies, largely explained through economies of scale. So the biggest issue about high density, though, is the demand. Obviously not every place can support 20 dwelling units to an acre, and it isn’t always wise. Not everyone wants a park to be the only source of green space, and many people want yard, within reason of what they can afford (a big problem for many in pricy NoVA!).

      As Paul noted, these simply aren’t issues in the Chatham Arch neighborhood in Indianapolis. This area is recovering from a staggering population loss. It’s an inner-city neighborhood that lost probably over 50% of its population from a peak. So the infrastructure in terms of utilities is capable of handling much, much more–probably 3 times the current amount. As for schools, the Indianapolis Public School district has been plunging in enrollment for years. Select schools are high performing, but more are closing then opening…as manifested by the fact that the parcel in question for this blog post is an abandoned old IPS elementary school.

      Places with high housing costs are going to force people into a higher-density arrangement, which you’re no doubt witnessing there in Arlington and the surrounding area. I can imagine in some cases the density is far beyond what they were expecting when they built the water/sewer lines in the 1970s, which was the time that the northern Virginia suburbs first started taking off. Now that they’re expensive, people are packing into smaller strips of land because that’s what they can afford. Thanks for writing!

  • The history of abusive power is kept quite in Indianapolis. The 500 Walnut project, the Waldorf, and the Uptown and Uptown Business Center at 49th and College can be seen under “Development” links @ .

    What I have experienced in Indianapolis, is far to often the complainers and the one their to assist “supports” have back door connections with organizations who are benefiting financially to interfere, and then fast track their own organizations projects. In order to clean up this “economic hit man”, abusive process and the control of the Indianapolis Markets, we need to see the Media, intermediate, do their jobs and expose the truths regarding the individuals and their abuse of their public and/or private positions, expose how they have abused their power in order to pass off layers of unjust gains to their few, often directly benefited themselves by doing so.

    By enacting an abusive process, control of the zoning, sources, and it enables control of the markets via a few people appointed to key public positions, were these few work as advisers, consultants, middlemen on our “volunteer” community boards, in order for their preferred power brokers, legal teams, and organizations to take over the markets, contracts, and whole corridors and sections of the City, so they can take layers of unjust gains, in perpetuity.

    Indianapolis needs an enema to expose of these abusers of authority, and needs greater support for the creatives who have done the work, paid it forward, because in Indianapolis human capital and the authorities public officials word means little, as these authorities have continually played flip/flop politics in order to take advantage!

    The larger corporate back door practices, and root causes for of these compounding damages which Indianapolis is trying to survive are hardly ever discussed, certainly not acceptable topics, and are not currently connected to the abuse of these authorities publicly awarded positions!
    Where is the oversight!?; When “The Authority” and the people implementing the Rule of Law are the ones self-dealing!?

  • Couldn’t agree more regarding the silliness of CANA and the ridiculous fear of density / development in Indy. That said, the argument of pointing to East Street and Lugar Tower is a weak one. I think most of us can agree that one-way arterials and “tower in the park” housing complexes are complete failures of urbanism. These should not be held up as an example of the surrounding neighborhood fabric, because all they do is destroy any fabric that might be there. Better to showcase the row homes on east street, or the historic mixed use building at east and mass. Now that’s how you do density right.

    • Good points, Matt. I would never hold Lugar/Riley Tower as an exemplar for urbanism. But, despite having an expanse of unused greenery around them (mostly gone with Riley, partly gone with Lugar), they still offer far greater population density than a Chatham Arch with exclusively SFD homes, many of which have claimed side lots. From an aesthetic argument they fail; not as much from a numeric/metric argument. And, since they are “filling in” the Corbusian failures at Lugar/Riley, they’re only growing denser for the future–all while showing a co-existence of income levels on a single block that rarely happens in this day and age.

  • Any opinions on how Indy would look today if UNIGOV never happened?
    I’m just curious.

    • I hate Unigov personally, but I think it’s very difficult to predict how Indy would be had that not happened. Yes we’d be maintaining a lot less infrastructure around the city and the county would be responsible for maintaining the parts outside of the old city limits. But as I’ve had other people say to me before, Indy might be less relevant today without the bailout that Unigov was to the city at the time. They needed a pot of money fast, and Unigov provided that. It’s classic kicking the can down the road, but Indy was on life support at that time bleeding population and thus revenue.

  • According to experts, in order to live sustainably into the future, we must begin to rethink neighborhoods and look at a combination of: population or residential density; proximity of retail and service destinations; land use mix; and street connectivity. Residents of urban areas with combinations of high population density, many destinations, connected streets with short blocks, and a high land use mix tend to have higher rates of utilitarian or transport-related walking.

    Studies have shown that walkable urban environments may be important for stemming the tide of physical inactivity, overweight or obesity and diabetes and that walkability can be measured using either the availability of walkable destinations or residential density.
    I believe it is important to acknowledge that Density helps create walkable neighborhoods. Density supports housing choice and affordability. Density helps expand transportation choices, Density supports community fiscal health, and Density helps improve security. Density helps protect the environment.

    As you are aware, nodes of more intense development can help achieve local economic development goals, provide housing options, create walkable neighborhoods, and protect their air, water and open space. This balance helps create a sense of place – a place to walk, a place to talk to neighbors, a place to know the children are safe to walk to school.
    It is interesting that this discussion invites Chatham Arch residents and the community to think about designing great places, rather than just thinking about density. It reflects a lesson being learned across the country: to create great communities, neighborhoods must combine density with great design.

    And, there is no significant remonstrance against the architectural design. It is a great design. The issues are density and height.

    Communities that allow only low-density development limit housing choices and may drive up housing costs. Several residents at the CANA meeting stated that the goal of opposing this project was to protect the high and rising housing costs of the neighborhood. Apparently, some have a view that keeping people out and limiting housing availability will cause higher prices and low supply. I am opposed to this argument.

    The project is designed to protect “affordability” of housing in the neighborhood by higher density and less square feet per living space. The CANA member comments included that the project was a great design, but it should not be in Chatham Arch.

    The remonstrance of only 23 voting members of CANA effectively intentionally or intentionally results in favor of creating a homogeneous analogue to a gated community in Chatham Arch and thereby allowing only the most well-off to live in the vibrant, culturally diverse Mass Avenue neighborhood while ignoring racial inequality and thereby reflecting the injustices that still exist in major urban centers. Not in my backyard remonstrators are effectively creating an analogue to an invisible fence and we need policy makers to push back and allow for increased density, affordable housing and appropriate growth of our urban core.

    By balancing lower, medium and higher-density projects, communities can offer a wider range of housing types. In contrast to conventional development in which housing tends to be similar in style and size, this higher density project will provide townhouses, apartments, and individual residences to accommodate a broader range of lifestyles. This greater range of housing types expands housing choices within the neighborhood and allows residents to choose housing that meets their changing needs and preferences over their lifetime. Also more housing choices at different square feet and price points increase affordability. Higher densities mean less land per unit, reduced site preparation, and lower per unit infrastructure costs – all factors that reduce the hard costs of construction and expand reasonably priced housing.

    So now we have the objection over the fact that the Neighborhood Development Plan does not allow for this type of development. The Neighborhood Plan is a guideline. CANA admits that the Plan is a guideline and that the members would be willing to compromise on certain projects. They do not want to compromise for the Day Care site project as it is presented and CANA would like to control any future compromise limit themselves from the development plan on a project per project basis. This is the problem with a guideline. There is no consistency and the reviews and standards are arbitrary. I believe the Plan should not be controlling and the particular project should stand alone as to appropriateness for the site taking consideration the context of East Street as a high traffic artery and the other factors.

    Finally, the issue is height. I do not believe a five story structure on the corner of East and Ninth Street is overbearing in any way considering the fact that the property is in the Urban Core and where the property is located. The concern for height, if any, would be on Park Avenue as a residential Street and I understand the height of the single family proposed residences is consistent with several residences immediately across the street, many of which are multiple dwelling units.

    • Well thought out and well said Joe. Keep getting this message out to as many people in Indy as possible. That’s one of the biggest things needed is education as to why everything of what you mentioned is important and critical for our city’s future.

  • What was the original intent of the developer when they purchased the property? Just because one owns a particular parcel does not guarantee a profit on that investment either. What is the main concern of CANA, the entire project, the five story portion? It doesn’t appear there are any properties of that height in the immediate area. Just need some clarification..

    • Hi Scott… To clarify and answer your questions, no business venture will ever guarantee a profit, but no rational person would invest in real estate with the expectation of taking a catastrophic loss. This developer has had very little chance to generate revenue on the property, as it has not proven lucrative for its original intended use as a school.

      There is a property significantly higher immediately to the west, in the form of the Lugar Tower, which measures 15 stores. On part of the expansive grounds of the Lugar Tower, another developer built apartments fronting Fort Wayne Avenue that are five stories tall. So, yes, there absolutely are properties of comparable height in the immediate area.

    • really? there’s an 8 story tower across the street. so… you are incorrect.

  • Yes, Chatham Arch is less than a mile from the center of the city, but it is designated an “historic district” and has different development standards from the Central Business District or other neighborhoods. If you don’t want to follow those guidelines, you should build somewhere else. There is no mystery about what is “too dense.” The Chatham Arch – Massachusetts Avenue Historic Area Preservation Plan clearly spells out what is appropriate for the neighborhood in general and this site in particular. The developer chooses to disregard the guidelines. I choose to object.

    On a side note, I own the lot you described in an earlier post as “this yawning space between two homes….” You are correct that it is a separate parcel, but it has never had a building on it, and it won’t as long as I am alive. I’m sorry if that offends you.

    • Thanks for your comments, Sally. As you said, “There is no mystery about what is “too dense.” You’re right. According to CANA, everything that passes for urban: Chatham Arch in 1890, 1910, and even 1960 is “too dense”.

      There are well over 1,000 people living in the neighborhood and the immediately adjacent blocks, and yet only 26 people have opted to vote through CANA. The numbers demonstrate far better than my wordy article exactly the level of value that the community confers to this organization.

    • So CANA objects to density that you claim is inappropriate for the historic character of the area, but not to that ugly, nondescript school building? Why didn’t you demand the school be built in a 19th century schoolhouse style? Why is it a de facto dog park now? There were no dog parks in the 19th century!! Your dog park is destroying the historic character and charm of this neighborhood!!

      • Thanks for your comments, belle. Incidentally “their dog park” really only exists through the generosity of the landowner who has let them use the land as such for these last few years…a time period where he has made no revenue off the land but has still had to pay taxes, maintenance etc. Yet now, many of these same members of the community are trying to stop him from profiting off of his land.

    • While that may be true about your lot it is clearly the exception rather than the rule. Also, I think the entire point is that a “historical preservation” plan that seeks to pick and choose certain era’s that it wants to borrow from becomes incoherent at some point. The 1880’to 1910’s were the best time for the built form that you see now but somehow we must respect the density of the 1960’s & 70’s – even though that was a very low point for the neighborhood (precisely because houses were being demolished and less and less people chose to live there). Also, no need to be passive aggressive with your non apology about “offending” someone. We can have reasonable discussion without inferring that people can’t handle your so called truths.

  • CANA’s opinion means nothing. I could go door to door in the neighborhood and easily get 900 signatures to petition the whining of the 26 bullies that fight any development. Those 26 like to take credit for the success of the area, but guess what, the reason your property values have gone up is due the developers investing in the area. Sally is the same person that used the neighborhood platform to speak out against mass transit. Embarrassing.

  • Yes, Please go door to door. We will sign a petition to see this development move forward. Tired of the few crabby people who think they are looking out for the neighborhood. The eye rolling and “under the breath” talking that I have seen in the meetings is a disgrace. We need new development and various price ranges for homes.

  • Power to CANA – Keep it they way they want. They live there and should ultimately control how it develops. Though I love good development, I find it tiring to hear all of the Urbanist and their push for high density projects – if they do not like it then move to a large city!

    Yes, I am bit frustrated with all of the all of the new, boring, cheap architecture and developments.

    • If they want to “keep it the way they want”, they should buy the land itself and build big & low density–much like the people did at the NE corner of Walnut and East. It would result in a low return on their investment, since the land is worth too much, but hey–it’s their money.

      But at this stage, it’s not their land, and they are trying to circumvent zoning and conventional pursuit of variances so they can keep out people of the neighborhood on land that they don’t own.

      If we embrace a worldview where four stories amounts to “high density”, then Indy is unlikely to ever to be able to compete with places like Grand Rapids, let alone Nashville.

      It is precisely because of obstructionist organizations like CANA that Indy sees so much “new, boring, cheap architecture and developments.” As long as CANA gets its way (an organization that reflects the interests of a tiny percentage of the people in the general area), there will be much more.

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