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Group's demolition plan draws ire of preservationists

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Home targeted for demolition by Keep Indianapolis BeautifulKeep Indianapolis Beautiful has proposed bulldozing four historic homes near its headquarters.(IBJ Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

A proposal by Keep Indianapolis Beautiful to bulldoze four century-old homes near Fountain Square has sparked a battle between the neighborhood beautification group and some of its typical allies: historic preservationists.

KIB, which does projects from tree plantings to trash pickup, last month floated the idea of tearing down four houses and a commercial building to make way for more plant and tree storage space by its Fletcher Avenue headquarters.

The idea hasn’t sat well with neighbors, some of whom work in historic preservation and have rallied groups such as Indiana Landmarks to their side. They say the homes have historic value and shouldn’t be tampered with – particularly by a group whose mission is to improve neighborhoods.

“To me, this is destruction of neighborhoods,” said Connie Zeigler, who lives in the area and works as a preservation consultant, protecting neighborhoods from having houses torn down. “[KIB] is all about being green and yet they’re doing the exact opposite by destroying homes that already exist.”

KIB leaders stress they haven’t decided yet whether they will tear down three of the houses–two Queen Annes and an Italianate on Lexington Avenue–whose demise draws most concern from neighborhood residents. That is just “the first option we’re looking at and putting out to the community,” said the group’s president, David Forsell.

After the neighborhood outcry, KIB began looking at alternatives. Forsell said the group hopes to decide how to move forward by early next week.

“We exist in very large part to meet the desires of the community that wants to improve itself,” Forsell said. “I hope we’ve been acting very consistently in putting this out there and going through this process with a lot of folks being very alarmed.”

KIB has decided to demolish the other two properties–a body shop and a green double on Grove Street. Neighbors aren’t concerned about tearing down the body shop, which KIB owns, since the building is newer.

The homes don’t qualify to be in a historic preservation district or on the National Register of Historic Places. But Zeigler said they have their own historic significance.

The six-block neighborhood, dubbed North Square, was the first addition to the city after the original mile square was platted. One of the houses was among the first five built in the neighborhood dating to the 1870s, Zeigler said. The others are at least a century old.

 “These may not be capital H but they’re little h historic,” said Mark Dollase, vice president of preservation services for Indiana Landmarks, who has visited the houses. “They’re important as part of the streetscape and as part of the fabric of neighborhoods. When you take them out, leave behind an empty lot, that diminishes the city as a whole.”

KIB employee Phil Schaefer, who has done preservation work on the Old Northside, purchased the homes and intends to donate them to KIB. Forsell said he wasn’t aware Schaefer was making those purchases but thought the idea of using them was worth considering. Schaefer did not return a phone call requesting comment.

Among the things KIB leaders must determine is whether the agency can afford to demolish the three houses on Lexington. If the group proceeds, Forsell said, it would “create a place that is beautiful and is an asset,” including tree plantings and gathering space with the tree-storage area.

Forsell said he’s also given some thought to whether tearing down the houses conflicts with his group’s mission. What he's concluded is that it would be for the greater good.

KIB needs space beyond its building to store materials the group plants, in some cases employing high-school students to do so.

“If that was the route we were to take I’d feel a loss and discomfort,” Forsell said. “[But] the question is, can that space provide young people opportunities, and can it be a place where our urban forest is tended and grown?”

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  • Investors & Associations
    As far as investors go, I have seen few who will make big profits on the revival in the near future. Most of the investors have been of the predatory, absentee landlord types who buy cheap houses and remuddle them, that is, remove the architecture, downsize the windows and then slap on vinyl siding to create a generic house that adds little value to the neighborhood. Fast cash in the short-term, no thought to the long-term.

    KIB has done the right thing in approaching the merchants, North Square and Friends & FACT to gather opinions. When seeking a zoning variance, it is always better to have letters of support from your neighbors.

    I agree with Neighbor...make your voice heard where it counts, become active in your respective associations.
  • Why now
    It seems that there are a lot of people that are putting out opinions on behalf of the neighborhood. Perhaps it is time to take a neighborhood vote on the plans offered by KIB. If it is the popular vote that the houses stay then that is the official word of the neighborhood association that can be printed in publications. If it is voted that the houses go then that is what is printed.

    Anyone that does not agree with the vote can then speak on an individual basis regarding the plans.

    I am a fan of keeping the homes in the neighborhood, but I know that not all are.

    A neighborhood association exists so that we can have a united voice. Perhaps it is time to utilize our association.
  • a dime a dozen
    Actually, Joe, those wood frame houses exist all over Indianapolis. In some neighborhoods they are a dime a dozen.
  • North Square
    Nancy: I bought my home in North Square five years ago. Not as an investment but as a home.
    Since that day I and many other new and old home owners have been working hard to improve the quality of life for everyone in North Square. You've been to meeting the same as I have, so I know you understand the quality of life issues we are working on. I don't know of anyone who has bought and moved into North Square to get rich. I'm really hurt that you said the things that you said about me and your other neighbors. I thought we were all getting along really well. I know it is not fair of you to suggest that you have to live here for thirty years before you can care about our community.
    Tim
  • A day late and...
    I have lived here far longer than most of these investors and it's only a couple of them making a lot of noise about what the neighborhood needs. They don't speak for OUR neighborhood. They came here to make money on the revival and are pushing their ideas to fill their wallets. KIB is much better than the industrial plant that they replaced. The investors don't live across the street, and don't represent those who do. Those houses are no more historic than my Dad's boots! They are just the same age and condition.
  • Close neighbor
    It's interesting that no one pays attention to empty, broken down, disreputable houses that create police runs, drug deals, fires for the past 20 years & then KIB has the opportunity given to them to do something and a few people get extremely upset. I live next to KIB and am not opposed to the houses being torn down. Houses are torn down, remodeled, rebuilt all the time. New houses can be rebuilt in the future. If you have the money - buy the houses and fix them up. This area is rated commercial C5 not residential, used to have a hair salon & a mechanics shop in this area so why does it matter if there are trees instead of houses? Sure, it would have been nice if someone would have fixed these rental properties but no one ever has. I think it's time to stop complaining, accept that Phil Schaefer/KIB can do what he wants with his properties and concentrate on fixing up the dozen of other houses in our neighborhood. Does anyone remember what KIB's building looked like for the 10 years before they bought it? I wish they would paint the back of it but maybe someday they will.
    • It's not about the individual houses...
      While the historic nature of these individual houses can be debated, my bigger concern is the preservation of the neighborhood. This block of Lexington is a nearly intact block of residential structures and is currently zoned residential.
      While KIB has a stellar reputation and everyone wants to see their programs succeed, I worry where their encroachment into the North Square neighborhood will stop. They've only been there a couple of years. I sure wish they had anticipated this success before choosing such a small location. I have no doubt that if this proposal came from a roofing company or auto repair shop more people would object to the proposed demolition. It appears that people who normally would support neighborhood preservation are wearing blinders because of their love for KIB.

      When our economic and real estate slump ends, the proximity of these homes to Fountain Squareâ??s thriving Virginia Avenue makes them very desirable for restoration and I have no doubt that most North Square houses will be restored and occupied by property-tax paying residents if the houses survive a few more years.
    • what if?
      You might ask the gas company to use some of the former twin drive in property for storage of your plants for KIB. I think of the fountain square area I know as my grandparents lived in a house on woodlawn. The current owners we have met and are very involved in the neighborhood and have done a very good job of preserving the home. For the greater good is reasoning your efforts are best past on by respecting those who live in these neighborhoods, not imposing your vision of what your perspective is.
    • Creeping Blight
      What they propose will only make the other side of Lexington less desirable. Who wants to live across from a storage yard, fence or no fence.
    • misinformation
      KIB has to get some neighborhood buy in if they need rezoning, which they appear to need. So they DID indeed have to present their plan to the neighborhood. AND many of us have already invested in this neighborhood. That's why we care. Phil Schaefer has also now invested in the neighborhood we just want his investment to be a postive for the neighborhood not just for one non-for-profit at the expense of the neighborhood. We can all still appreciate KIB's mission, which we do, while very much not appreciating these current plans, which have not been crafted with neighborliness in mind.
    • Thank you, all.
      Jo Ellen Sharp Meyers.... The more people that learn about our problem ( this is a good thing)
      The more people that learn about it the more misinformation is out there. KIB did not float this idea out there for community to give input to. They presented the plan as a done deal. They were very surprised that the neighborhood did not see this as a win /win great idea. We get rid of five old buildings and they get more fenced in storage. It is only after we began to get support for not tearing down the homes that they have backed up now and say they are open to other ideas. Three or four weeks ago we met with KIB and offered several ideas that were cheaper and still near by. They told us great they would meet and investigae our suggestions two more meeting and several weeks later they had not looked into even one of our suggestions. Saying that their board had already approved the original plan and they were moving a head with. They told us after our first meeting with them that they would not move forward with the plan with out talking to us first. Four days later they sent out an e-mail to the public announcing there great expansion plans. the other day they called and asked us to meet with them they had a new idea that they were sure we would like. The houses would still all come down but they proposed building some sections of lattise with plannings. When we told David Forsell president of KIB that we were going to contact their board and members of the community to try and get them to change the plan. DAvid said go ahead, I doubt that anyone will care. I don't have time to explain it all to you know but there are very good reasons to not demolish these home.
      I will be happy to share with all of you some time soon.
      Tim Harmon 627-0498
    • Crying Wolf
      Claiming historical significance for anything that's old always seems to diminish the value of preserving true historic landmarks. If these are truly historic in people's mind and generate value in their current state....my suggestion is that you all raise funds and offer to buy them out from KIB. If they are not worth putting your own money up to save...then let it go.
    • Dialogue
      KIB did not have to consult the neighborhood and could have moved ahead with its plans without doing so. Dialogue is good, I agree with Jo Ellen in recognizing KIB's effort to be a good neighbor.

    • Serenity Now
      To borrow from a very wise member of my family, "Everybody just calm down... Just calm down."
    • ???
      One person's historic home is another person's old vacant building. I am all in favor of saving historic homes, but all all old homes historic?
    • A Resident's Perspective
      Iâ??m a KIB donor and 10-year Fountain Square resident. One of the reasons KIB moved to the neighborhood was to consolidate its operations from multiple locations. Residents and business owners were excited about the move, and KIB has been a great neighbor. There are a number of points to consider. Were KIBâ??s future needs not adequately considered before the move or has the organizationâ??s projects grown more than expected? While these properties are the most convenient as they are adjacent to KIBâ??s current holdings, would other nearby propertiesâ??if availableâ??be convenient enough to suit KIBâ??s needs? Since CitEScapes is closed, that location has been suggested as an alternative for storing plant material. Lastly, there is a misperception that the entire Fountain Square neighborhood is historic, while only the commercial district has that designation. In the time Iâ??ve lived in the neighborhood, Iâ??ve seen a tremendous loss of architecture because there are no guidelines to follow. KIBâ??s proposal may be the catalyst that finally motivates residents to pursue protection of their neighborhoodâ??s architectural assets.
    • Old or new... doesnt matter
      With population on the decline in the city's core why is this even on the table? Granted it is only 4 homes, but it represents the wrong thinking in regards to promoting urban living. Besides, there are PLENTY of vacant lots and such in this area or near, that could greatly benefit from redevelopment. Is locating this spot adjacent to their HQ THAT valuable??
    • not true
      Of course that is not true. These homes were beautiful and can be beautiful again. I am happy to show you before and after photos for many homes I have restored. Or you can do a little research on the computer and see 100's of projects. I'll meet you anywhere that works for you.
      Tim Harmon 627-0498
    • Old doesn't allows mean it's good.
      I'm trying to envision these homes in their original condition, but it kind of looks like they might have been ugly for the whole 100 years.
    • NIMPY at play...
      As someone aware of how shrill Phil Schaefer was about the demolition of a more recent commercial building for the expansion of the parking lot for the Indiana Landmarks Center (in Old Northside), it is shocking to see that he is the person literally paving the way for this destruction in another historic neighborhood. Tsk Tsk. Inconsistent or just "Not in my backyard."?
    • Avid gardener
      True, about vacant lots being scattered throughout the city, buy they would not be as convenient and efficient as having the storage area near KIB's headquarters. I applaud KIB for floating the balloon and hearing what the community has to say.
      • Options
        Certainly there are vacant lots that could easily be used instead of removing an urban fabric not replicated in many decades. I agree with KIB's mission and support strongly their desire for improvement, but removing homes can't be the answer. Vacant lots exist all over the city, homes with true value in neighborhoods with actual character don't.

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