Proposed residential development in limbo
Wetlands have been found within the 76 acres that Crown Hill Cemetary is seeking to sell to Brenwick Development.
Wetlands have been found within the 76 acres that Crown Hill Cemetery is seeking to sell to Brenwick Development, the architect of such upscale residential communities as the Village of West Clay in Carmel. The discovery puts on hold the sale, as well as Brenwick's plan to build 73 single-family homes, 142 townhouses and a few retail spaces on the site in the Butler-Tarkington neighborhood.
"Yes, wetlands have been found on the site that is being sold to fuel the growth of our endowment," says Keith Norwalk, Crown Hill's president and CEO. "This discovery is resulting in a new plan that is currently being developed. It is premature to provide any other information."
Jurisdictional wetlands, such as those found in Crown Hill, are protected under the Clean Water Act. Under the act, anyone seeking to develop the site would need to work with the Army Corps of Engineers to ensure the wetlands are avoided to the maximum extent possible. These regulatory hurdles will force Brenwick to make significant changes to its plan for the site. Consequently, Brenwick likely will ask Crown Hill to reduce the sale price for the land, meaning the deal could ultimately fall apart if the two sides fail to come to terms on a new agreement. Thus, the discovery of wetlands represents a victory of sorts for those who oppose the sale of the land to Brenwick.
"Residents would benefit in myriad ways if this natural asset is protected," claims Clarke Kahlo of the Hoosier Environmental Council. "Washington Township is significantly park deficient - 2,500 acres deficient per capita according to a 1999 report. Sites such as this are very rare in the city and, if preserved, would provide a place for kids and schools to come to experience 60 or so acres of high-quality woodland."
Wetlands can be found throughout Indiana, though, over the years, millions of the state's acres of wetlands have been lost to economic development. According to the Department of Natural Resources, wetlands covered 24.1 percent of the state's surface area in the 1780s. Today, that percentage has declined to 3.5 percent. Indiana ranks fourth among the 50 states in proportion of wetland acreage lost.
In addition to providing a habitat for a wide variety of plant and animal life, wetlands offer numerous other benefits. Perhaps most importantly for flood-prone Indianapolis, wetlands store massive amounts of water during rainstorms, thereby slowing down the flow of surface water and helping to prevent flooding. Moreover, wetlands can reduce pollution, replenish aquifers and minimize soil erosion.
"If they must develop the site, it would be wiser and the highest and best use of this site to redevelop it for a public park or semi-public use," asserts Kerry Michael Manders, executive director of the Crooked Creek Community Council. "This land has been supported all these years by the taxpayers due to its tax-exempt status. It seems to me that at least the most sensitive areas of the 76 acres should be preserved regardless of who eventually owns it. It also seems to me that Crown Hill has a moral obligation to consider the highest and best use of the site with the greater community's interests at heart."
Situated northwest of Crown Hill, the Crooked Creek neighborhood is bisected by Michigan Road. Brenwick's original development plan called for retail sites near Crooked Creek's boundaries.
"Crooked Creek Community Council is opposed to retail development at 42nd Street and Michigan Road," Manders says. "The reason is that the Michigan Road Corridor Plan does not include retail uses at this site. The lower portion of the corridor is to be special uses to form the second cultural center of Indianapolis."
Such nearby cultural institutions include the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the Christian Theological Seminary and the International School.
Manders adds, "Our group has long worked for retail redevelopment on Michigan Road between Kessler and 60th Street. This old retail area was a vital retail niche, but it has fallen on hard times for the last two or three decades due to big box stores locating farther north on Michigan Road. This retail node needs to be redeveloped and not left to die on the vine by developing retail at Michigan Road and 42nd Street."
Those opposed to Brenwick's plan for the site are hoping to gather public support for their cause.
"We plan to convene a town hall meeting, a community conversation, likely in the form of a panel discussion, plus open mic to air public sentiment," Kahlo says. "Given some additional time and a process of community education, we believe we can find a solution that would help Crown Hill increase its endowment and, at the same time, create a nature preserve or public park."
For more on the Crown Hill development story see www.nuvo.net/archive/2006/02/15/crown_hill_controversy.html and also Bob Sander's First Person this week on page 10. Also, you can view Zachary Shields' video of the woods that McClure and Sander describe: www.nuvo.net/multi/CrownHill.mov.