Kessler Mansion neighbors balk at business uses

May 15, 2013

Plans for an entrepreneurship camp set to start in June in the Kessler Mansion have sparked concerns over whether the lavish north-side property can be used for business purposes.

Indianapolis officials and a neighborhood association are looking into whether using the mansion for commercial purposes violates zoning rules. The estate is located at 4923 Kessler Blvd. East Drive, in the Millersville at Fall Creek Valley neighborhood.

Kessler Mansion owner Chad Folkening is the co-founder of VentureCamp, an eight-week entrepreneurship training program set to launch at the mansion on June 2. Organizers plan to capture the experience on video as part of a documentary series that will air on the program’s website.

But the plans raise a red flag for some of the neighborhood’s residents, who have complained in the past about parties and noise at the property.

“[The parties] were out of control,” said City-County Councilor Christine Scales, who represents the neighborhood's district. “They were loud, and many people could not sleep. There were all sorts of characters walking around.”

Scales said she is looking into whether VentureCamp has a legal right to operate at Kessler Mansion.

A spokesman for the Indianapolis Department of Code Enforcement, which oversees zoning law matters, could not be immediately reached for comment Wednesday morning.

Plans for VentureCamp have spurred neighbors to investigate action against the property.

Catharine Diehr, chairwoman of neighborhood association Millersville at Fall Creek Valley Inc., said her organization's objection is “simply the fact that [Folkening’s] got a commercial establishment in a residential neighborhood."

Folkening, a Westfield native turned Internet domain tycoon, offers the estate for event rentals. The mansion’s website advertises a total 26,000 square feet spanning three main buildings, a pool house and an apartment.  Property records list the assessed value as $1.4 million.

Jennifer Chikes, a spokeswoman for VentureCamp, said she was surprised about the complaints. The feedback the program has received so far has been positive, she said.

“We’d be happy to discuss any of these concerns,” Chikes said.

The program will involve 12 aspiring entrepreneurs who live and work alongside established business executives as they launch their own enterprises. The program is free to participants.

Not all the neighbors take issue with the camp. Kate Miller, who lives directly west of Kessler Mansion, said she has never had any noise issues with the estate in the nine months she’s lived there.

The camp should be a positive for Indianapolis, she added, because it will draw in entrepreneurs.

“Personally, I think it’s a neat project,” Miller said. “We’ve not really ever heard of anything like this happening here.”



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