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Developer proposing $100M project for Carmel

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A proposed 64-acre development just west of Carmel’s U.S. 31 office corridor would help satiate a craving for retail, allowing office workers a lunch hour with more time for dining and less driving.

The grocery store, pharmacy, apartments and restaurants that Gershman Brown Crowley is proposing for the southeast corner of 116th Street and Springmill Road also could attract more employers to the corridor, home to the state’s second-largest concentration of jobs behind downtown Indianapolis.

On the other hand, Carmel zoning maps envision residential lots on the site, and neighborhood groups are putting up a fight to preserve the thoroughfare’s residential character. They fear a traffic mess, and object to the project’s size, the inclusion of apartments, and the proposed half-million-square-feet of office space—which some opponents see as a boondoggle given already high vacancy rates.

“The project is over the top as far as size and scope,” said Zak Brown, president of the Springwood Estates Neighborhood Association and CEO of a Zionsville-based motorsports marketing firm. “It feels like they’re putting a massive mall in my back yard without addressing traffic. And I don’t think any of us think it’s needed.”

Plans for the roughly $100 million project call for a 250,000-square-foot, grocery-anchored center with several outlots for restaurants, banks, a gas station and a pharmacy; about 300 apartment homes or a senior community; and room for about 500,000 square feet of office space in several buildings.

The development is dubbed The Bridges, named for the old-style stone bridges the developer plans to construct over landscaped water features set to circumnavigate the site.

“We think this is going to be a great project for the area,” said Tom Crowley, a principal at the locally based developer, which partnered with Simon Property Group on Hamilton Town Center, a mixed-use project in Noblesville. “It will be a place where people can live, work and shop, all tied in together.”

The proposal presents a classic conundrum in growing communities like Carmel, one that nonetheless feels new after a years-long drought of major project proposals.

Developments like The Bridges are few and far between. But when the location and demographics are so promising, the dour economics of land development become less of a roadblock.

“I’m really surprised at the interest we’ve had in this project without going to the market,” Crowley said. “We’re already getting unsolicited proposals, including from three grocery stores.”

But opponents have proffered a list of demands that make Ruth Hayes, the outspoken president of the Nora-Northside Community Council, look like a pushover.

Among them: Limit retail space to 90,000 square feet; keep office buildings to between two and six stories depending on location; allow only one entrance along Springmill Road; and exclude any apartments, hospital users, gas stations, carwashes, kennels, taverns, hotels or restaurants with walk-up or drive-through sales.

springmill“Typically, when an area is zoned for residential and a request to rezone for commercial [is made], developers and communities do tend to work together and come up with something that’s acceptable to everyone,” said Ed West, a spokesman for the group opposing the project.

“They all recognize this is going to be developed at some point,” he said. “But they want to talk to the developer about their concerns. So far, they’ve been stiff-armed.”

Crowley fumes at the suggestion.

Gershman Brown first approached nearby neighborhoods around Thanksgiving of last year, before filing its first round of plans with the city in December.

Crowley said he has met with an attorney for opponents of the project five times and with individual neighbors 75 times. About 90 neighbors wrote letters of support, and 28 people showed up to support it.

He noted his firm has made at least 120 concessions since December to accommodate concerns from city planners and neighbors, leaving a project that exceeds Carmel ordinances for landscaping and setbacks.

The project’s buildings would be prairie-style, designed by the same architects that designed Hamilton Town Center, and surrounded by bike and pedestrian paths.

It could take up to 15 years to build, depending on market demand, and would cost more than $100 million, Crowley said.

He said the company has flexibility under a land contract with the property owners, the Pittman family, to build only as the market dictates. The land is now used for agriculture.

Financing still is available for “good projects,” particularly for apartments and retail anchored by grocery stores.

The Carmel Chamber of Commerce is supporting the project in hopes it will spark an evolution of the traditional office corridor—from a model featuring high-rises and large parking lots to one that includes retail and walkable spaces.

“It’s really important to us that [the U.S. 31 office corridor] remain viable—a strong tax base for the city,” said Mo Merhoff, the chamber president. “The No. 1 reason we support this is remaining competitive on the corridor.”

The group didn’t take its support of The Bridges lightly: A 12-member committee vetted the proposal, and a 14-member board approved its recommendation.

The Bridges "is something different, and it’s a big deal,” said Abbe Hohmann, a vice president and principal with Cassidy Turley who specializes in land transactions but did not broker the Gershman deal.

Springmill Road has a mostly residential feel, though Carmel has approved retail projects nearby, including the lifestyle mall Clay Terrace. That project won approval over the strenuous objections of some neighbors.

Hohmann also noted that there is some precedent for apartments in the corridor: The Village on Spring Mill apartments at 146th Street and Springmill Road.

Ultimately, Gershman Brown Crowley brings development credibility, and public input could help make the project better, she said.

“It really comes down to whether people think it’s appropriate to put commercial uses over on Springmill,” Hohmann said.

The Carmel Plan Commission first discussed the project on Feb. 15, before sending it to a “special studies committee.” That group is scheduled to reconvene May 4.

The city also is considering another request from Gershman Brown Crowley to build 193 apartments in five buildings at 12346 Old Meridian St., a triangular site where a similar apartment proposal dubbed Meridian Pointe did not materialize.•

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  • earth to Dhani
    You hit the nail right on the head. All the empty spaces in shopping and office areas on 31. And they say they need MORE? You are answering your own question about why this development is not needed. Some people (like bridgewater) move to an area to get away from this type of monstrosity. There are plenty of amenities up and down the road, and this is not needed here, nor is one around Bridgewater.
  • About TIME
    It's about time this property began it's evolution. Clay Terrace was wrong, the old Omalia's center is whithering away....The plan here is great and fits into a nice mix with the IU Health hospital and other office buildings and neighborhoods. More communities should look at the model; this is the last piece of the puzzle. Just wait until all the Bridgewater folk try to sell their houses but can't because they don't have the amenities that the surrounding neighbors are about to have here! Your property values will stay strong! Way to add to the mix GBC and Pittman.
    • response
      I like the Pittmans too, but if you literally want a grocery store, bars, parking lots with lights, and apartments right across the street from you, then I suggest you move to Williams mills, or Spring Mill place. (thats where its headed) And regarding where was I? Sir, you don't know me, and don't even begin to belittle or minimize my contribution to either this community, or Indianapolis area in general. I have supported with my time, and my money, community projects charities and not for profits in Carmel, and Indianapolis for many many years. As far as Home place goes, anyone who lives in Home place is welcome to be my next door neighbor.
    • RKW - IS SO SHOOK UP
      Come on now RKW, be fair. You folks are the same people that after the public hearing at the plan commission were so shook up and angry that you started to aggressively pursue people in the hallway and later by email trying to get people to change their position. Shame on you! Next, you made the argument that if you didn't live directly adjacent to the site then your opinion didnt matter. I have found it interesting to listen to the elitist comments that come out of these meetings. Like, " we don't want those kind living around here, they can live in Home Place." Nice brotherly love RKW. Your last attack was equally weak when you go after the land owner for trying to maximize his property value. I happen to know the Pittmans. Where were you when they built the football park and lacrosse park off of Shelborne Road at no cost to the taxpayer. I am a former member of the Board of Directors of the Carmel Dads Club and if it wasn't for them we would be turning kids away from our wonderful programs!
      • Yes Shills
        One must remember, the developers, lawyers, and their group sent out HUNDREDS of solicitations for support for this project. (us along spring mill did not receive these of course). Many of the people appeared to be workers who work in the corridor, and live on the east side. A few folks that lived west of towne road thought it was a good idea. We saw quite a number of folks speaking for the development, who had some employment interest, relative interest, work near the development interest, etc. Not residents. These were SOLICITED responses, and I believe some of this is going on here today. There is one fact that can't be denied. Several members of the planning commission are appointed by the Mayor. These same developers, lawyers, and property owners are major contributors to the Mayor. In addition, there have been fund raisers for the Mayor, and council candidates, with the sole purpose of getting the wheel greased on several developments, that can help fund the HUGE debt Brainard has accrued. They want this in the Tax zone. 3, and only 3 reasons for the purpose of this monstrous development. Vastly increased land profits to the owner family, Large legal fees to the Attorneys and developers, and a prime tax base to pay for the palladium et al for mayor Brainard

        Last Comment, its voting day tomorrow. Note, there is PLENTY of bare land along the corridor itself. There is also underused blacktop behind some of these buildings. If there needs to be retail, lunch, ice cream support in that area, build it in THAT area. We don't need gas stations, supermarket (thats called in my parlance "vaporware" ) I doubt if it even exists. Apparently the current building owners dont feel they need it at 116th and Meridian, cause there is room to build there, and they haven't done it!! That should tell you something.

        Someone mentioned the Mormon Temple coming in. Frankly, if Pittman had sold this land to the Temple, none of us would be having this issue. I will be welcoming the Temple with open arms. My guess is they will invite neighbors for an open house, and I plan on baking them several dozen oatmeal cookies myself :)
      • shills?
        Ok RKW. I suspect there are plants working for the opposition amongst these posters! I love how remonstrants(sp) are left unquestioned but any support is accused of being propaganda!
      • Not needed
        Looks to me, like some of these comments are coming from some of the same people recruited by the developer for public backing. To even begin to suggest this is needed, or proper for a residential area is ridiculous. People west of Towne road can drive to 86th or Michigan road. People east of Towne can drive to Meijer, or Clay terrace, or 86th. Any persons who live in the direct area that could walk to it, absolutely don't want this monstrosity. People who are not within walking distance.....well, you have to drive anyway! Again, its not needed, and not appropriate for the area. I smell some shills in the posting crowd.
      • Finally & Isn't It Ironic?
        I have lived on the west side for twenty years. This is a great project. I can't wait until they start construction. Gershman Brown is an incredible developer. It seems like the city has been talking about this forever, finally! I have seen the plans and researched the other developments of Gershman Brown and everything they have done is outstanding, exceptional. They are in a league of their own. Carmel is lucky that Gershman Brown sees this property as worthy to invest in to create a better way of living for the community. Hopefully most people are wise enough to realize that nothing remains the same. So, get over it already! Funny that the same people who are opposed to this project, the "not in my backyard" neighbors are the same people who put the Monon Center (which loses an enormous amount of money every year for tax payers) and the Monon Trail literally through the backyards of hundreds of family's homes. I don't get how these people neighboring this spring mill property can be that openly hypocritical! Doesn't everyone see that? This project is an outstanding development by an outstanding developer which will improve the lifestyle for everyone in Carmel who choose to be open minded.
      • Agree with you Idyllic
        I think that is fair. It would be counterproductive to say absolutely that a development cannot be built if there is no transit in place. That is a tough sell and stifling of moment and such. However, as with modern zoning and design, the development should be planned to accomodate transit in the future. Would it not be nice if a transit route, be it bus or rail, could pull up in the middle of said development 10 years from now and offload passengers? I dont think anyone can argue with how convenient and dare I say, "fun" that would be? How nice to not have to park an 1/8 of a mile away, pay for the gas to get there, fight the traffic to get there, when one could instead hop on a bus or train that goes there?

        Just some thoughts.
      • Parking
        Why doesn't the site plan included with this story show how much parking is planned?
      • sprawl inducement?
        Curt, would it wrong to build this because there is no public transportation in Carmel, IF it were built in a transit-ready, pedestrian-oriented manner that could take advantage of transit in the future? I don't know that it is planned as such, but I think that should be the question. Surely, we can't stop development in all the areas not served by public transit. But I believe we should require these developments to be designed to accommodate, and stimulate demand for public transit in the future.
      • mixed-use?
        What would be the appearance and possible tenant mix in the "mixed-use" buildings? One-story buildings with varied retailers? Or one-story retail and office? That's not what I think of when I hear mixed-use. I think of residential above retail and/or office, with less surface parking than building area. 64 acres is a pretty large area, but certainly not too large to be developed as a walkable mixed-use neighborhood. The key is in the design, and I don't see enough information in the graphic above to judge whether this would indeed be a great project as others have suggested. From what I can see above, it doesn't appear that buildings would cover very much of the land, and I would suspect that most of the space in between would be covered by surface parking lots, which does not ever make for a vibrant walkable community. Does anyone have a link to any more detailed plans and the PUD statement?
      • Induced Sprawl
        Perhaps Carmel is redeveloping itself more efficiently with the Arts District and the City Center. However, developments like this are simply inducing more sprawl. When this is built, how many MORE cars are going to travel to this place as a destination for shopping? Im willing to wager a lot. And what of the existing traffic? It will be a mess. Add the freeway-ification of US31 to this and more cars will travel here.

        Perhaps my biggest complaint is since there is NO public transportation in Carmel whatsoever, a car will be required to travel to this development. Those cars will require parking. That parking is expensive and drives up rents and land values and as stated before, does nothing about the existing traffic issues.
        • All Things Considered
          I found the article and corresponding comments to be very interesting. I live in the area and serve on my Homeowners Association Board of Directors. I attended the plan commission public hearing and the committee meeting that discussed traffic. When I went to the Plan Commission hearing I went there oppossed to the development. All of my information was based upon what the homeowners at Williams Mill and Springmill Place communicated to me. In addition, I had received a letter from a competitive developer that was fiercely against the development. What I learned after attending the meeting (besides the facts) was that the adjacent neighborhoods were extremely unreasonable on their expectations of how this property should be developed. They were not interested in negotiating w the developer to find a win win outcome but just want this property to remain a field. I was impressed w all of the support for this development from residents in surrounding neighborhoods as well as business owners in the area along w residents throughout the city. I talked to some of these supporters like Chuck Lazarra who owns the Ritz Charles and Kelly Shepherd who are long time Carmel residents. They were sincere in their beliefs and the developer was not pointing a gun at their head. The Chamber of Commerce supports this development. How can the neighbors say the developer has not transitioned well. The neighbors building height is allowed at 35' while the proposed apartments are 38'. The nearest buildings are almost a football field away from existing housing. How come we don't have any conveniences on the west side of Meridian? The people against this project are all the same people who said Clay Terrace was going to destroy the area. They were all against Clarian Hospital and I suspect they will fight to keep the Mormon Church out of the area. Lets have a little faith in the planning department and the people on the planning boards in reviewing this project. Lets get away from accussing everyone of buying off the politicians every time something happens that we dont like. Lets also be respectful of other peoples opinions and not try to attack them because their opinion is different than ours. I say YES to the Bridges.
        • Too congested already
          Anyone who lives on the west side of carmel and uses 116th to cross over merdian knows that this area is already congested and a challenge to navigate during the busiest times of the day. This is NOT the area to add retail/commercial. The article mentions Clay Terrace, but that is a mile away from Spring Mill Road (which will never be more than a two lane road because of historical significance.) I say NO WAY!
        • The core?
          Ivo, it is ridiculous to even pretend this property is in the core of Carmel. There is plenty of commercially zoned property along the corridor to provide this supposed need. This property needs to be transitional, not anything like proposed. Even the commissions and city council in the past has called it transitional. Transitional in this area would mean smaller offices, smaller retail, transitioning to single family homes like the ones across the street in Williams mill.
        • Needed?
          Irina, let me guess. You don't live within a half mile of the proposed development. And don't forget, there is PLENTY of commercially zoned land along the corridor that is not developed, that could serve your needs.
        • Ridiculous
          For Crowley to say they received 90 letters of support from neighbors, is absolutely FALSE!! They received those letters from a mailing and phone campaign they initiated themselves to receive support, and NONE of those writers were neighbors. Some worked on the 31 corridor, or had businesses in the corridor, but absolutely none of them live within a 1/2 mile. Crowley is offering false information to the press. In addition, to say we need restaurants and grocery shopping in the corridor is ridiculous. Across the street, a couple blocks north, and a few blocks south there are dozens and dozens of options for shopping and eating. If the current developments need retail or restaurants, let them build that within their already zoned and built buildings! This development is requesting commercial zoning for one reason, and one reason only. To increase the price to sell. Keep an eye on this, the builders, property owners and developers are big Brainard contributors.
        • Good Idea
          Poor execution. There are much better ways of laying out this site. The purpose is great but the design is not well thought out. why is the mixed use away from most of the residential and office space? Do the developers not want people living in the community to be able to have a walkable lifestyle?
        • question for Yuck?
          So Yuck,
          What do you think should be developed here? Also, where's the "strip mall?" I've read the actual PUD submitted to planning and cannot seem to find it.

          Thanks for clarifying.
        • Yuck
          Another gross complex for the land of endless strip malls. I am sure the people in carmel are excited to invest in more big box strip mall culture. The world is so much better when its uniform and sterile.

          I wonder when they are going to start selling condo's in the mall. I'm sure the lemmings up there would buy into it quickly.


        • Thank goodness
          This type of project is sorely needed on the west side of Carmel. I cannot wait for this to happen!
          • fryde1
            This project does indeed have many positive features, and it may be considered a "best use" of the land. But it is not a "Highest and Best Use" by a long shot, nor does it answer any cravings for more retail. There is plenty of retail space still available in Carmel, and there are more than enough vacancies to answer any housing demand for seniors. The developers should not be too resistant to meeting the demands of nearby residents, especially when it comes to traffic problems, and buffering the border of the development with buildings that will starkly impact the surrounding residential areas.
          • Highest and Best Use
            This site is ideal for this type of Development. It's adjacent to high rise office and a growing regional medical complex. Better still, the commitment to walkable/bike-able spaces is setting a new bar for smart development.

            The land suitable for low density suburban development is farther west and also suffering from a lack of demand for that type of lifestyle.

            If Carmel wishes to remain the pacesetter for World Class Edge Cities it MUST intensify the core with smart designs and appropriate higher densities. The baby boomers and soon to arrive echo boomers will both demand this type of living and without it Carmel will suffer stagnant growth sooner than many realize.
          • How about Westfield
            Why don't they bring this to Westfield? We need more business, restaurants, and retail up towards 161st and 31. Carmel is saturated, so it's time to move north. This will help bring down our property taxes which we need to help our community to prosper.
          • Wow
            This looks like a stellar project. Any city would be lucky to have it. Quality development and increased tax revenue is sorely needed when you have a mayor who spends and borrows like Brainard.
          • Really?
            A "craving" for retail? Really?

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          1. By Mr. Lee's own admission, he basically ran pro-bono ads on the billboard. Paying advertisers didn't want ads on a controversial, ugly billboard that turned off customers. At least one of Mr. Lee's free advertisers dropped out early because they found that Mr. Lee's advertising was having negative impact. So Mr. Lee is disingenous to say the city now owes him for lost revenue. Mr. Lee quickly realized his monstrosity had a dim future and is trying to get the city to bail him out. And that's why the billboard came down so quickly.

          2. Merchants Square is back. The small strip center to the south of 116th is 100% leased, McAlister’s is doing well in the outlot building. The former O’Charleys is leased but is going through permitting with the State and the town of Carmel. Mac Grill is closing all of their Indy locations (not just Merchants) and this will allow for a new restaurant concept to backfill both of their locations. As for the north side of 116th a new dinner movie theater and brewery is under construction to fill most of the vacancy left by Hobby Lobby and Old Navy.

          3. Yes it does have an ethics commission which enforce the law which prohibits 12 specific items. google it

          4. Thanks for reading and replying. If you want to see the differentiation for research, speaking and consulting, check out the spreadsheet I linked to at the bottom of the post; it is broken out exactly that way. I can only include so much detail in a blog post before it becomes something other than a blog post.

          5. 1. There is no allegation of corruption, Marty, to imply otherwise if false. 2. Is the "State Rule" a law? I suspect not. 3. Is Mr. Woodruff obligated via an employment agreement (contractual obligation) to not work with the engineering firm? 4. In many states a right to earn a living will trump non-competes and other contractual obligations, does Mr. Woodruff's personal right to earn a living trump any contractual obligations that might or might not be out there. 5. Lawyers in state government routinely go work for law firms they were formally working with in their regulatory actions. You can see a steady stream to firms like B&D from state government. It would be interesting for IBJ to do a review of current lawyers and find out how their past decisions affected the law firms clients. Since there is a buffer between regulated company and the regulator working for a law firm technically is not in violation of ethics but you have to wonder if decisions were made in favor of certain firms and quid pro quo jobs resulted. Start with the DOI in this review. Very interesting.

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