The Chatham Arch Question Gets an Answer

The time for Chatham Arch has arrived.

This Wednesday, February 1, at 5:30pm, on the second floor of the City-County Building, the Department of Metropolitan Development’s monthly agenda will include the applications for 855 N. East Street and 812 N. Park Avenue—the old Indianapolis Day Nursery Association building and more recently the home of the Todd Academy School. First announced by Kevin in November of last year, this is the same site upon which I wrote two lengthy articles called The Chatham Arch Question. Part I focused on the mismatch between historic preservation and density, showing how goals among the neighborhood association to “preserve the historic character” are disingenuous, since the density in 1890, 1920 or 1950 (when Chatham Arch clearly began declining economically) were all much, much higher than the density today. The extensive Part II looked at some of the aftermath of this anti-density mentality, and why this approach could kill all development in the neighborhood (one of the city’s oldest), even though most evidence shows that Chatham Arch Neighborhood Association—the most ardent opponents of high or medium density development—does not reflect the interests of the majority of the residents of Chatham Arch.


Here’s a PDF of the full DMD agenda for this Wednesday, and here are some of the most important graphics: specifically the site plan and a rendering.

As is evident from the visuals, the changes from the previous proposal focus on lowering the density along Park Avenue, featuring more twins and single-family detached homes instead of townhomes, while increasing the density in the multi-family buildings along East Streets. The overall unit density is about the same as it was, and it will continue to host retail at the corner of 9th and East. The aesthetics will show greater diversity than in the previous proposal, so that it looks far less like a single, uniform development.

All said, this is an excellent chance to instill good urban design principles to the Chatham Arch neighborhood for a site that, based on land values, carrying costs, and the need to demolish the existing structure, will never be feasible for the sort of low-density development that CANA prefers. Quite simply, a developer could not build low density at this site without going bankrupt: the revenue generated from just a few units is far lower than the costs for preparing, clearing, excavating (for underground parking) and subdividing of the land.

The proposal also involves rezoning the site from its existing district (an institutional/charitable use) to a mix of Dwellings and CBD2. My suspicion is that this aspect of the case, despite the fact that the current zoning allows next to nothing, will be the most contested aspect at the hearing on Wednesday. The promotional website for the development, named Chatham Park, offers a greater array of renderings and descriptions of the proposal, which of course involves far greater diversity and intensity of use than an institutional classification.

We encourage supporters of the development to use this blog post as a chance to organize so that you can help IHPC and the DMD recognize that most people in Chatham Arch and Indy’s other oldest neighborhoods—the neighborhoods featured in Urban Times magazine—support this and other developments that add activity, value, and the historically supported population levels.


Comments 34

  • This still looks fantastic and thanks to Eric for writing this up. I’m strongly considering making it to the hearing this Wednesday and I’ll be at the same room tonight to help show support for mass transit tonight. Both of these issues are key things for Indy setting the right direction towards more walkability and less car dependence. If Indy is to ever get out of its financial hole mostly thanks to too much infrastructure for too few of people, both of these things are necessary. Transit allows more developments like this one to flourish and reduces the costs since less off-street parking is thus required. And this proposal is important because of what Eric mentioned – it sets the right precedence in Chatham Arch for quality and sensible density levels in the evolution of this neighborhood. We need to keep that in mind – an urban neighborhood is never complete and if it’s truly vibrant, should be continually evolving with more intense land use.

    • people here don’t seem to understand that having such low density is why the infrastructure is terribe. they think they can have the infrastructure and all the benefits of a city while everyone is living in single story, single family homes…

      • The lack of good infrastructure is the fault of the city itself. Money spent on the wrong projects, TIF and other handouts.

        • Poorly designated land uses absolutely affect a taxing entity’s ability to generate revenue and pay for basic services. Witness Franklin Township in SE Indianapolis: the school district has struggled to fund itself and has forced a disproportionate burden onto homeowners. Why? The “rural character” it promoted put an inordinate emphasis on single-family detached housing, with virtually no lands zoned to allow commercial (a land use that would generate far greater revenue in property taxes). Perhaps it’s the will of people choosing to live there to pay heavily for schools for the advantage of semi-rural living, but they could get that same semi-rural living in a genuine rural area (same crappy services too) and pay a whole lot less. Thus, Franklin Township struggles to compete, despite being a generally well-off area.

          • Also, the schools are likely the most obvious sign since they have their own district and it is easy to shake out. They are most likely a net importer of dollars for city services.

        • You’ll do yourself a favor to look in to the finances of Indy to see that it’s far more than that. The revenues that Indy generates doesn’t even cover 30% of the required basic maintenance costs of the roads and sidewalks alone! Thus you get what is easily observed – zero maintenance of anything because the city is functionally insolvent.

          • Very true, Jim, in terms of revenue. I deliberately used Franklin Twp as a microcosm because it isolates some of the key problems. It has all the trappings of a prosperous area: generally good schools, low poverty, decent parks (far better than Perry for example). But it only has township obligations, which (without researching it) I presume to be schools, some fire, and few others. The township doesn’t pay for its roads and sidewalks (it has virtually none of the latter, outside of subdivisions built since 1995). And even with those few obligations, Franklin Twp struggles and must put its homeowners under far greater tax burden than, say, Washington or even Perry Townships. There’s simply too much emphasis on low-density residential.

            In keeping with your point, the City’s maintenance obligations are enormous and far outstrip what it can pay for. This is probably the case in virtually all cities, though obviously worse in lower density ones. (Columbus OH has many of the same problems, and, thanks to its spindly annexation shape, still much denser than Indy. But still has awful infrastructure.) What’s interesting is that Indy has been comparatively frugal and disciplined, as manifested by its generally prime or high-grade bond ratings with Moody’s for example (–PR_903628614). I’m hardly an expert on this subject, but it seems to me that what it means is that the city confronts its insolvency not by extreme deficit spending but by simply spending very, very little. In some respects, that makes it much better shape than profligate Chicago. But the result of such little spending? Well, the proof is in the pudding.

          • eric, indianapolis doesn’t spend money when it NEEDS to spend money. it’s like buying a hammer at walmart for a dollar vs a 10 dollar higher quality hammer… you’re just gonna have to replace the walmart one over and over again and end up spending more in the long run. Indy/Hoosiers are too cheap to know whats good for them.

  • Thank you! How can we make this happen?

  • this is such a good project, how do we stop these nimby’s?

    • Depends on where you live. Are you in Chatham Arch? If not, let them decide, it’s their neighborhood. Don’t blame them for poor infrastructure either.

      • I live in Chatham Arch and it IS NOT cana’s neighborhood. They only represent a small clique of nimby neighbors that push out anyone that doesn’t adhere to their viewpoints. So, no, DON’T “let them decide,” because they don’t allow everyone in the neighborhood in their clique.

        • Kimmie, I hope you can attend the meeting Wednesday evening and convey your thoughts about CANA. It is important that the other side’s voices are heard, and that it’s clear that many people question whether CANA is still an honest ambassador for the diverse views of the neighborhood.

        • Are you in the CANA boundries and are you a member of the association? I’m confused about who’s neighborhood it is. Just some clarification.How do they keep people out?

          • I know you are trying to be difficult, but I’ll take a shot.

            CANA is a neighborhood association who has used expensive dues and politics to keep out those from Chatham Arch who disagree with them. They have also tried to convince officials and commissioners on IHPC that they speak for the whole of Chatham Arch neighborhood.

            From the sounds of it, Kimmie is in CANA’s boundaries since she is a resident of Chatham Arch but has been excluded from CANA proceedings because of her dissenting viewpoint.

        • Kimmie: I’ll be there at the IHPC meeting tomorrow night. Care to join me there since you actually live in that neighborhood? I live in close by Lockerbie and fully support this development in Chatham Arch.

      • Neighborhood associations are not legislators. Since the officers are not public officials and the election process is democratically dubious (as Kimmie can attest), the idea that they can dictate zoning in their neighborhood’s boundaries is unconscionable.

        • I am a little confused about your concerns, since you live 700 miles away. So, if a developer or neighbor wants to rezone a property next to or very near, you have no say in that process? You would not seek the help of neighbors or associations? You would have to go to DMD or the zoning board all by yourself and present your case against corporate lawyers and developers.

          • Should the neighbors be able to influence developments just based on their opinion alone? Should the IHPC be concerned with historical preservation or should it just be a vehicle for the veto power of neighbors?

          • Hi Scott, happy to clarify your confusion. A neighborhood is always a mishmash of residences, rights of way, open space and sometimes commercial, all in boundaries that are open to debate. It doesn’t belong to a single entity. People with titles to the land certainly have viable ownership per their titles…which includes those who seek to develop or redevelop. CANA, as far as I know, owns the pocket park at East and St. Clair that gets virtually no use. But beyond that, they are an interest group, entitled to their opinion as much as anyone 2 blocks away, 700 miles away, or on Mars.

            I’d presume that DMD will weigh a variety of interests in making their judgment for rezoning and approvals: 1) those of the neighbors (both pro and CANA); 2) those of the landowner himself and his right to improve the land within existing regulations; 3) the always vague broader public good, to which anyone can offer suggestions, and probably will.

            In this case, the developer has sought to work with the neighbors, who have offered him a variety of suggestions and feedback. CANA has offered him some clear ones: build single-family detached or twins, or don’t build at all. He’s meeting them halfway through offering exactly that on Park Ave. But based on current land values and carrying costs, exclusively SFD and twins is not financially feasible.

  • Still a great proposal. I do wonder why such a large alley is needed when a simple grid alley would have done. The proposal suggests widening the existing brick alley to 22′ wide – seems enormous.

    Also, I wonder what that ramp off East St will look like…

  • Love the modifications, but this mktg tagline fro the website is LOL–

    Gracious Living In Center City’s Upper East Side

    Who in Indy would use such a description for this area?

    • Catfish don’t fry in Kountry Kitchen.
      Beans don’t burn on La Parada’s grill.
      Took a whole lotta trying just to get up Crown Hill.
      But now we’re up in the Triple A leagues,
      And it’s our turn at bat.
      As long as we’re sitting at Victory Field baby,
      There ain’t nothing wrong with that…

      I feel like that was a very productive use of 15 minutes of my time.

    • I’m thankful they didn’t try to create a nickname for the neighborhood like Chatter or Charch or some other stupid thing, like SoBro…

  • on the plus side, they are condos and not apartments.

  • The developer will be hosting a drop-in reception for everyone who is interested, this evening from 6pm to 8pm in the Veterans Room at the Athenaeum, 401 E. Michigan Street. Drop in anytime for an update on plans for Chatham Park and to to ask questions, voice you concern and offer your comments.

  • T said:
    eric, indianapolis doesn’t spend money when it NEEDS to spend money. it’s like buying a hammer at walmart for a dollar vs a 10 dollar higher quality hammer… you’re just gonna have to replace the walmart one over and over again and end up spending more in the long run. Indy/Hoosiers are too cheap to know whats good for them.

    I’ve said this numerous times about curb aprons, power lines, maintenance, and a few other things I can’t remember. It would be amazing if the city did just a modicum of long term cash flow projections on various projects and took the best instead of going with the straight up cheapest.

    I have a relative who is always unhappy the outcome of home renovations yet continues to pick the dirt cheapest contractor EVERY TIME!

  • After attending the IHPC meeting on Wednesday night, my opinion has not changed concerning the lack of value inauthentic behavior CANA brings to Chatham Arch, especially when you cannot rely on the testimony to be the truth or to acknowledge facts. Testimony by the President of CANA indicated that parking would be an issue as a result of the development. Of course, this is an alternative fact. And, when you do not like the facts, the inclination is to make up alternative facts. The truth is that the developer is providing more parking than required and when you add in the actual street parking and garage parking available in the area, there is an abundance of parking. As the developer pointed out, there may be parking issues on the weekend when Mass Ave visitors park in the area, but the development is not the cause of the solution of the problem. The President also indicated that the remonstrance from CANA was “overwhelming”. I almost laughed out loud. 23 votes against the project by CANA, where many of those votes are in the same households, is hardly an overwhelming indication of a majority in the neighborhood of at least 1,000 residents. Statements were made concerning objections to the number of planned single family and double family residents on the Park Avenue side of the development. The fact is that the Sanborn map clearly shows more residences on Park Ave side of the development than what the Developer is planning. Again, a misrepresentation by CANA. Further, there were statements about Retail not being historic or conducive to the neighborhood. It turns out that Chatham Arch has a strong history of Retail existing in it’s core and the neighborhood. I believe the organization loses credibility when arguments are presented that are shown not to be true. The tendency is to pile on objections, whether they or valid or not, in order to increase the force of the opinion to oppose. If the parking issue is not supported, the retail opposition is not supported, the density on Park issue is not supported, then it leaves the issue of density and height for the entire site. CANA should stick to the supportive arguments and not pile on falsehoods or misstatements to maintain integrity and value. Even the Neighborhood Development Plan states that the large parcels are unique and need to be examined differently than the rest of Chatham Arch. When people stand up and testify using false narrative, I tend to discount everything they say and as a result I have little or no faith that CANA will fairly represent the entire neighborhood versus the minority opinion of a few.

    • Thanks for your comments, Joe. You have to hand it to CANA–their members are committed to their anti-development viewpoint and prove their commitment in numbers and attendance as remonstrators. Bearing in mind that the physical presence at these hearings is a pivotal way to show interest/concern in neighborhood development issues, CANA does seem to win. I’m glad a few supporters showed up, but it is essential for those who value good proposals such as this to make that extra effort by adding a visible united front of support that surpasses CANA. Lukewarm advocacy will leave us stuck with lukewarm developments for (most likely) the rest of our lifetimes.

      We here at UI will try to keep people updated on the next hearing and any other advancements that might take place.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *