Reconsidering Crown Hill - or not 

In a move that has had many Indianapolis residents and businesses protesting, Crown Hill Cemetery recently announced its plan to sell 70 acres of land at Michigan Road and 42nd Street to boost a dwindling care fund. Last week, that fund more than doubled with a $15 million infusion from Gibraltar Remembrance Service for what Keith Norwalk, president and CEO of Crown Hill, terms a “many decades” agreement to manage the funeral home and cemetery.

Tom Dolan, speaking for the Alliance of Crown Hill Neighbors, a group formed to oppose the destruction and promote the preservation of the mostly undisturbed woods and wetlands that comprise the 70 acres, hoped the deal with Gibraltar would “give Crown Hill an opportunity to rethink what might be the best use of the land.”

But Norwalk maintains that Crown Hill is under contract with Mann and considers that the proposed development of 321 housing units and a 9-acre retail strip mall would be “beneficial to Crown Hill, the neighborhood and the city.” The $15 million deal with Gibraltar will not affect the sale.

Last week, Keep Indianapolis Beautiful, a local non-profit organization whose mission is “to unite people to beautify the city, improve the environment and foster pride in the community,” released a study of the economic and environmental benefits of about half the trees on the 70-acre tract. (See the Keep Indianapolis Beautiful letter to the editor on this week’s Letters page and their Web site at for details of the study.)

David Forsell, president of KIB, says the organization is taking no position on the proposed destruction of most of the trees, but wants to promote an “educated debate about how incredibly important trees are to both the economic and environmental health of a community.”

Meanwhile, Kerry Michael Manders, president of the Crooked Creek Community Council (C4), wants an extended debate and reconsideration of the Department of Metropolitan Development staff recommendation approving Mann’s petition to rezone the Crown Hill land from cemetery use to the mixed retail/residential use Mann needs to realize its development plan.

Manders wrote to DMD Director Maury Plambeck asking that staff reconsider their approval, saying staff comments are “glaringly inconsistent with the Michigan Road Corridor Plan.” Manders questions “how staff could support approval when the retail element of Mann’s plan would undermine so much of the work C4 and the Crooked Creek Northwest CDC [community development corporation] have accomplished following the Corridor Plan.”

The Michigan Road Corridor Plan is an element of the county’s Comprehensive Plan, which is devised jointly by local officials and citizens to guide community land use. It is the only criteria DMD staff is obliged to consider in making zoning recommendations. Though Plan designers did not anticipate that the Crown Hill land would ever be used for anything other than a cemetery, the Plan points to the need for more park space, especially in Washington Township and in the southern part of the area covered by the Michigan Road Corridor Plan, which almost pinpoints the land in question.

As Manders’ letter states, “Folks … are now wondering why they should participate if the Plan holds no weight and participation is meaningless.”

Plambeck’s response at press time consisted of forwarding the letter for inclusion in the file on the zoning petition.

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