Crown Hill land’s price tag hinges on retail approval

Now that Mann Properties LLC has won the bidding war for 70 acres of land on the northern end of Crown Hill Cemetery, the rezoning debate begins.

For the cemetery, which wanted to sell the excess land to shore up its endowment, an additional $450,000 hangs in the balance. It will pocket that sum if Mann is able to convince zoning officials that retail should be part of the development plan.

Under the purchase agreement, Crown Hill will get $5.65 million if Indianapolis-based Mann gets permission to put in both residential and commercial buildings, while it will get $5.2 million if the land ends up zoned only for residential, cemetery President Keith Norwalk said.

The land is now zoned for cemetery use, which is also its recommended use in the city's comprehensive plan.

Mann Properties said it wants to put in 40 custom homes with wooded lots, a cluster of "urban-style" homes and several town homes while preserving 20 acres of wetlands and woods. It also wants to develop a seven-acre retail project.

Norwalk said Mann is committed to getting input from neighbors on its entire development. But it is especially eager to work closely with the Indianapolis Museum of Art on the possible retail component, which would be across Michigan Road from the museum's grounds.

"It was obvious the IMA would be most directly impacted by the commercial component in terms of access and considering the tremendous investment that has been made in the IMA, we felt that it would be valuable to secure at least their initial approval to move forward with retail," Norwalk said.

Mann Properties is already talking with neighbors. The company isn't releasing design details yet because it fears neighbors will believe plans are already set, said Director of Development Tim Stevens.

Norwalk said the shops would be just to the east of the intersection of 42nd Street and Michigan Road, with access from Michigan Road at the stoplight at IMA's new entrance.

IMA released a noncommittal statement from its new director, Maxwell Anderson, saying the museum wants to be "included in the dialogue" on the development.

"We will support what is best for our surrounding neighborhood and our greater community," Anderson said. "We haven't had time to really flesh out these issues with the community."

Stevens said his company hopes to win over museum leaders.

"IMA has expressed a concern about how we'll affect the character of Michigan Road," Stevens said. "I think we'll be an asset to them, but we've got a little way to go to convince them of that."

While the neighbors' approval would be helpful for rezoning, it's not required in the purchase agreement, Norwalk said. But the agreement does restrict the size of a retail project to about 40,000 square feet and bars about 20 types of stores from locating in it. Cemetery officials also limited the number of drive-throughs and the hours of business for any potential restaurants.

"We want it to be a comfortable, positive addition to the neighborhood," Norwalk said.

Stevens said Mann probably will file a rezoning request with the city within three months. He said he hopes to release more design details in about a month.

Callie Sanders, president of the Butler Tarkington Neighborhood Association, recently met with Mann and said the discussion went well. She's encouraged that Mann is emphasizing community input.

"We talked more about quality of life than we did development," Sanders said. Mann officials told her the company wants to do a neighborhood survey about the development, and the association will be going door to door to get feedback, Sanders said.

She said her main concern was that the development fit with the neighborhood and that new homes be part of the community, not a separate enclave.

Others active in neighborhood and preservationist groups say they've already weighed in with IMA advocating that museum officials oppose the development altogether.

"IMA needs to start acting more like a public and civic, cultural institution that it professes to be … instead of like a proprietary business," said Clarke Kahlo of the Hoosier Environmental Council and Crown Hill Advocates, a local preservation group.

He said IMA declined to host a town hall meeting the advocates sponsored and hasn't responded to the group's letters.

Gretchen Neubauer, chairwoman of the land use committee of the Butler Tarkington Neighborhood Association, said the neighborhood backed a plan by the Central Indiana Land Trust Inc. to preserve most of the land and set up educational and research facilities.

The group failed to gather funding for its proposal by Crown Hill's deadline to submit proposals to buy the property.

"We are grieved about the development [Mann Properties] wants to put in there," Neubauer said, adding it will keep "a close eye on" rezoning filings.

Mann Properties has one year to line up zoning and close on the sale, Norwalk said.

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