Ameriplex development OK’d after ‘soap opera’ meeting

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Travelers using Indianapolis International Airport will soon have another parking option.

Over objections from Mayor Greg Ballard, the Indianapolis Airport Authority and Indy Park Ride & Fly, the city’s Metropolitan Development Commission on Wednesday approved an amendment to a land-use map that will allow Chavez Properties to develop a 31-acre, 3,700-spot parking lot at 8550 Stansted Road in the Ameriplex development on the city’s west side.

Manuel Chavez, the Cincinnati-based company’s president, said work on the development will begin soon with 2,000 covered spots available later this year.

Airport officials are fearful the new parking facility could have a negative impact on their parking operation—which is a primary revenue source—and lead to a diminished number of flights coming in and out of Indiana’s busiest airport.

City-County Councilman Robert Lutz, a Republican who represents District 13, compared the three-hour-plus hour hearing to a “soap opera.”

“You’ve got it all here; money, politics and conflict,” Lutz said. “I don’t come down here often to speak for or against projects, but I do come down when there’s a public-policy issue at stake.”

He warned against governmental and quasi-governmental agencies unnecessarily interfering with and competing against private business developments, adding that the Airport Authority’s opposition to this project was “dead wrong.”

Lutz supported the change allowing the parking-lot development, and the MDC agreed, voting 6-2 in favor of allowing the development after an emotionally charged meeting that included the testimony from lawyers on both sides, a representative of Mayor Ballard, three city-county councilors and several area residents.

More than 75 residents on both sides of the debate attended the meeting at the City County Building. MDC members Tim Ping and Diana Hamilton voted against allowing the parking lot, but exited the meeting without citing reasons for their votes.

Representatives of the new development submitted a petition signed by 130 project supporters, many of which they said were from neighboring residents. Opponents for the project submitted a petition with 88 signatures.

“This is not a sweeping change,” said Murray Clark, an Indianapolis attorney representing Chavez Properties, which does business as Fast Park and Relax.

About one-third of the area was zoned in 1995 in a way that allowed for a parking lot or other commercial development, while two-thirds of the parcel was zoned light industrial.

“This proposed development is of the highest quality,” Murray said. “We think it’s completely consistent with other developments within Ameriplex.”

The only major opposition, Murray said, came from two entities that feared they would suffer financially. He said business competition should not be a zoning issue.

Indianapolis International Airport officials said there’s good reason for protecting the airport’s parking operation.

The airport’s parking lots and garage bring in more than $40 million annually, constituting one of the airport’s biggest revenue streams. The money is needed to cover $200 million in annual debt service, explained Bob Duncan, an attorney representing the Indianapolis Airport Authority.

If that revenue stream declines, Duncan said, airport officials might be forced to raise fees to airlines that use the facility. And that, in turn, could cause the cost of local air travel to increase for passengers and/or cause airlines using the facility to consider reducing the number of daily flights coming and going from the airport.

Daily average occupancy for the airport’s 18,000-space parking space operation is about 60 percent, airport officials told the DMC on Wednesday.

Duncan also argued that the proposed parking lot wasn’t consistent with the blueprint for Ameriplex and wouldn’t create as many jobs called for by the area’s development plan.

Officials for Fast Park and Relax said they would employ 45 full-time staffers initially, including a general manager, two assistant general managers, dispatchers, shuttle drivers, cashiers, maintenance personnel and a mechanic. That number would grow, company officials said, in about seven years as its business matures and the lot is expanded on the site.

Officials for the Indianapolis Airport Authority and Indy Park Ride & Fly in Plainfield argued that the new parking lot would lead to traffic congestion and noise in the area while over-saturating the parking market in the area.

Ballard sided with the airport authority, but Deputy Mayor Michael Huber said it was not an attempt to stifle competition.

“We agree that competition is good,” Huber said. “We think competition is healthy, but we would suggest off-airport parking be put somewhere outside Ameriplex.

Huber added that “there are too many outstanding questions on this project for the mayor to support,” and said the mayor would like to see the site used for a more commercial or light industrial use.

Three City-County Councilors, including Democrat Zach Adamson, spoke in favor of the project.

“I think this development will lead to other economic development for the city and in Decatur Township,” said Adamson, an at-large councilor. “They’re asking for no tax abatements, it’s a green development and I think this goes well with other developments in the area.”

Adamson also chastised airport officials for their opposition.

“I’m concerned about the Airport Authority trying to quash the development of a private business,” Adamson said.

In the end, the Metropolitan Development Commission sided against the mayor and Airport Authority.

“In review of the proposal we thought the development was perfectly appropriate,” said David Hittle, a senior planner of the Division of Metropolitan Development.

“It’s consistent with other developments in that area and with the development plan there,” added Hittle, a city staffer who recommended the MDC approve the parking lot.



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