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Flood of traffic latest twist in RiverPlace battle: Indianapolis planners find traffic impact study for Fishers project leaky

May 7, 2007

Environmentalists who lost a court battle to stop RiverPlace on grounds it will cause flooding upstream along the White River have been buoyed by concerns raised by Indianapolis officials that the 69-acre development could create a torrent of traffic trouble.

Last month, in a letter sent to Fishers' public works director, the Department of Metropolitan Development cited numerous shortcomings with a traffic impact study commissioned by RiverPlace developer Centre Properties.

Indianapolis-based Centre has asked Fishers to rezone the property, just northwest of East 96th Street and Allisonville Road, for a mix of commercial and residential development.

Fishers' town council could hold a second reading on that request as early as this month.

But the DMD said the traffic study failed to take into account the impact on several intersections such as 96th Street and Hazel Dell Road, Allisonville and 91st, and Allisonville and Eller Road.

The study includes recommendations for improvements along Allisonville and 96th "that would be the responsibility of the city of Indianapolis," which "did not have an opportunity to provide input into the study with respect to impacts and feasible mitigation measures," principal Indianapolis planner Steve Cunningham wrote to Fishers officials.

He urged that Indianapolis and Carmel officials should have an opportunity to meet with Fishers' traffic engineer.

"This is no longer just a Fishers issue," said Clarke Kahlo, the Hoosier Environmental Council's director of regional advancement and education.

"There's a civic engagement issue here," added Kahlo, who contends Fishers leaders are most interested in tax revenue the project could generate. Centre estimates the project could produce $5 million annually in income for the fastgrowing Hamilton County town.

Fishers officials say Centre stated in filings that the project is expected to have an assessed valuation of $364 million.

But Fishers Town Manager Gary Huff said town officials have a number of issues with RiverPlace, with its own consulting firm reviewing traffic numbers as well. Site access and the amount of traffic were among top issues raised by the council last September.

Centre asked for a continuance to give it more time to work out traffic details.

A company executive said he did not view Indianapolis' request to be more involved in the traffic studies as a setback. He also noted that Centre could always fall back on uses that conform with the existing commercial zoning status, although the developer was trying to do something other than more big-box stores and car dealerships common to the area.

RiverPlace would be one of the most ambitious mixed-use developments in Fishers history. Plans call for condominiums, town homes, at least one hotel, retail shops and office buildings.

Centre also wants to build a large public park along the river bottom.

But environmentalists have been fighting the development of the land on the east bank of the White River for nearly a decade, primarily over flooding concerns.

One issue involves Centre's addition of 15 acres of fill closer to the river, and construction of an overflow channel closer to the river bottom.

The Hoosier Environmental Council had asked Marion Superior Court to overturn a permit Centre won in 2005 from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management. It cited evidence from the University of Louisville Stream Institute that the modifications would cause a rise in river levels upstream during floods.

Centre argued that the Louisville data were flawed, that its carefully engineered modifications would actually improve flow, and that the river fill was at least 500 feet from the river. In December, the court ruled in Centre's favor. The HEC declined to appeal it, saying it lacked funding.

But the environmental group continues to raise flood concerns. It cites a letter sent to Fishers leaders from the Hamilton County Drainage Board saying the plan does not conform with "sound storm water management or flood plain management practices."
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