Indianapolis-based Centre Properties LLC is beginning to move dirt on 96th Street just west of Allisonville Road, a sign that a battle over developing part of a 220-acre site may be nearing an end.
In late March, Centre dropped a lawsuit it had filed in mid-2004 against the Indiana Department of Natural Resources over the agency's reversal of a permit granted to Centre. That permit would have allowed Centre to fill in 15 acres of White River floodway to build a 52-acre retail center on the site.
Through a spokeswoman, Centre officials said they hope an agreement is imminent that would allow construction to begin on White Oak Center, an extension of Centre's existing retail center on the northeast corner of 96th and Allisonville.
DNR provided no details on where things stand other than to say an appeal of DNR's decision on the permit is pending.
Some observers believe the dismissal of the lawsuit may have paved the way for DNR and Centre to negotiate details of the permit, but neither side is saying what led to the lawsuit's dismissal.
Agency spokesman Russ Grunden acknowledged negotiations may be part of such an appeal process, but the agency doesn't disclose whether they are taking place in any specific case.
In the meantime, workers have been moving dirt on the site. The work has been done under a separate permit obtained from the Army Corps of Engineers, said Centre spokeswoman Myra Borshoff Cook. That permit, dealing with wetlands and a White River tributary creek running through the site, had to be performed before the permit expired, Cook said.
Centre hasn't said exactly how much or what kind of retail space it plans to build on the site. Those details will be released when the DNR permit issue is resolved, Cook said.
Along with retail, Centre has said it plans a 119-acre nature park on the site, including an excavated channel for floodwater. The park would be donated to the town of Fishers.
Plans also call for converting 45 acres of farmland to forest land and preserving 13 acres of stream and river bank.
Plans for most of Centre's 220 acres have caused little controversy and have been approved. It's the 15 acres of filled-in floodway and the excavated floodwater channel that have held up the project since Centre first purchased some of the acreage in 1996.
The Hoosier Environmental Council, which had filed a motion to intervene in the lawsuit as an interested party, is keeping tabs on the case but hasn't heard much since the lawsuit was dropped, said Executive Director Tim Maloney.
"We have not seen anything to confirm [negotiations] or to tell us the nature of those talks if they are," Maloney said.
HEC has not changed its position on the development, regardless of what might be happening behind closed doors with Centre and the state.
"It's an engineering experiment that's very likely to fail, with serious consequences," he said.
In addition to being environmentally questionable, the retail center is also unnecessary, Maloney maintains.
"It's 15 more acres
of retail in one of the most retail-concentrated areas in the state," he said.
In its permit application, originally filed in 1998, Centre sought to fill in 15 acres of floodway and to create an alternate floodway channel through its land. In 2001, DNR granted that permit and Centre began to move forward with the development.
The Hoosier Environmental Council, a not-for-profit that works to protect and restore the state's natural resources, urged DNR to review its decision. HEC argued that the state had not used its own data properly, a position DNR agreed with.
HEC maintains filling the floodway and constructing a new floodway channel through the site will not only destroy 15 acres of floodway habitat, but will also worsen flooding upstream and potentially downstream from the site, Maloney said.
DNR revoked its approval of the permit, bringing Centre's work to a screeching halt. After filing an appeal, Centre in 2004 filed the lawsuit against DNR seeking $3.4 million in money spent on professional fees and acquiring land before DNR revoked the permit.
Centre has continued to pursue the retail center because it believes the tract is ideally situated in the bustling 96th Street corridor where retail development has taken off in recent years.