Broad Ripple up for grabs

David Hoppe

David Hoppe's Blog

It's almost 18 years to the day since my wife and I first came to Indianapolis. I'd been offered a job and we had one weekend to find a place to live. The sky looked like permanent dusk, the trees were bare and it rained steadily.

Somehow we managed to find our way to Broad Ripple. We've lived there ever since.

I've learned that Broad Ripple means different things to different people. For some, it's a place to party. Others come here to shop or have a meal. Residents tend to think of it as a walkable neighborhood, with a variety of small to medium-size houses. For business people, Broad Ripple is a place to make money.

Giving all these interests their due can seem downright alchemical at times. It's a juggling act that relies on a certain amount of creative tension. It's not perfect by any means, but on balance it can be argued that Broad Ripple has done a decent job of taking care of itself. As the Indianapolis Cultural Development Commission put it in its 2003 Cultural Districts Working Plan document: "The Village is exceedingly livable and diverse. Pride and independence are the hallmarks of residents and business owners alike who come together to protect and preserve the heritage of this special area."

It's no wonder, then, that a proposal by Kosene and Kosene developers to build two, high-density condominium projects has got those residents and business owners up in arms. K and K wants the city to rezone a 1.43 acre parcel of land in the 6100 block of Winthrop Avenue so that they can put 28 condos there. On the north side of the canal, they want a variance to clear four lots in the 800 block of East 66th Street to construct 23 units on three quarters of an acre.

These projects will increase population density in these neighborhoods by several orders of magnitude. They also fly in the face of the city's most recent planning document, the 1997 Broad Ripple Village Neighborhood Plan Update approved by the Metropolitan Development Commission. The plan noted that: "[Broad Ripple's] historic residential development pattern has been 5 units per acre or less on average. Given the lack of street access, or off-street parking, and other off-site externalities of apartment complexes on single family residences, new residential development should follow the low-density residential pattern."

Clear as this seems, if you think such recommendations are enough to deter developments that flip the bird at public interest, think again. When it comes to putting up buildings, there is also a thing called clout. K and K appear determined to show us how much of this commodity they've got.

It's easy to see why K and K targeted these particular parcels for development. The site on Winthrop consists of four, one-story matching doubles arranged in a kind of shallow horseshoe. They're reminiscent of an old-time motor court, except that the parking is in the rear. The lot is definitely more valuable than the small houses that sit on it.

The same can probably be said for the rather motley string of buildings between 806 and 888 East 66th Street. A nice stand of fir trees on the corner of Ferguson is that site's most attractive feature.

But neither of K and K's proposed projects takes its immediate surroundings or, for that matter, Broad Ripple's larger situation, into account. These projects don't seem intended to fit into their respective neighborhoods, but to change them.

Winthrop is a street of small, single-family bungalows. Adding 28 condos there will amount to a population explosion. And the plan for 66th Street aims to put almost as many people in roughly half the space. The K and K projects will transform these neighborhoods from their current, single-family character into high-density, heavy-traffic entanglements - call it urban sprawl.

In situations like this one, builders often complain that opponents are anti-development and against change of any kind. That's not true in this case. Almost everyone recognizes that in order to thrive, Broad Ripple needs new housing options to attract residents who can support the businesses there. But Broad Ripple is also a special case. Across America, new urbanist developers are trying to concoct mixed use communities that aspire to the qualities that Broad Ripple comes by organically. If Kosene and Kosene presented plans that enhanced Broad Ripple's character rather than just their own bottom line, the controversy wouldn't be eliminated (this is Broad Ripple, after all) but considerably reduced.

There is a remarkable degree of unanimity in the Village against these proposals. The Broad Ripple Village Association, with its mix of residents and merchants, is against it - in November the BRVA's zoning committee rejected a petition to recommend a zoning variance. The Greater Broad Ripple Community Coalition has also expressed opposition.

But this opposition hasn't deterred Kosene and Kosene. Tomorrow, Jan. 12, they will test their clout downtown. There they will petition a representative of the zoning board for the variance necessary to bring more urban sprawl to Broad Ripple. This hearing starts at 1 p.m. and the public is welcome to attend. In the meantime, you can also contact Larry Williams, staff planner with the Department of Metropolitan Development, at 317-327-5156 or