Westfield hears landowner group’s conservation proposal

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The city of Westfield is debating whether to allow more density and development or to protect its southwest corner for larger residential lots and farms.

A group of residents in the area from 146th Street to State Road 32 and from Shelborne to Ditch roads formed the Conservancy Task Force about a year ago to explore further protections for the designated area of roughly 3,100 acres.

The task force is suggesting an amendment to the city’s existing comprehensive plan from 2007 that would designate the area as "The Conservancy" and limit future development. The Westfield Plan Commission considered the proposal at its meeting Monday night but did not make an immediate decision on whether to recommend the plan.

Nearly 30 people spoke at the public hearing, with a majority of residents voicing opposition to it.

Families with large farm estates poised for future development argued against establishing The Conservancy, while residents with single-family lots stressed the need to preserve the remaining green space.

“The efforts in this are not anti-development,” said task force member Bruce VanNatta, who owns a large residential and farm property in the area. “This is about responsible development.”

The amendment suggests that new residential subdivisions aren’t appropriate for the area and new housing should be limited to low-density single-family homes. Unlike most comprehensive plan amendments, the city administration and planning department were not involved in drafting the proposal.

“It is our ethical, moral obligation to entertain their amendment,” Westfield Mayor Andy Cook said before Monday’s meeting. “But this administration—at this time—does not support the amendment.”

The task force included three city council members—Steve Hoover, Chuck Lehman and Cindy Spoljaric—but Cook reiterated that his staff was not involved.

According to the comprehensive plan, the area is designated as a buffer between rural land to the west and higher density subdivisions to the east.

Most of the residences include at least 3 acres of land and only 15 landowners control two-thirds of the proposed Conservancy district.

The area includes 19 equestrian farms, eight livestock farms, an artisan farm, the Wood Wind Golf Club and Raymond Worth Park.

Cook called the suggested changes an "exclamation mark" on what is already outlined in the existing comprehensive plan.

“It’s changing it from medium- to low-density to low-density,” Cook said.

It recommends limiting density to one dwelling unit per 3 acres and establishing a 100-foot buffer between new developments and existing housing. Zoning classifications would not be changed.

Kate Collins, director government affairs for the Builders Association of Greater Indianapolis, spoke against the proposal on behalf of the organization and said if the city adopted the low-density guideline, land values could significantly decrease—possibly from $36,000 to $40,000 per acre to as little as $8,000 per acre. 

Cook said it’s an interesting debate to have—should the city be allowed to prevent development on properties that families had been expecting to sell to investors? Or should continued growth and density in that area be expected and allowed?

“I see nothing wrong with debating it,” Cook said. “We don’t support it yet because we don’t really know the effects of it.”

The controversy started in March when developer George Sweet proposed turning Wood Wind Golf Club into a 315-unit subdivision on 210 acres along Towne Road between 161st and 156th streets. Hundreds of residents opposed the project, which has since stalled.

Sweet, CEO of Brenwick Development Co., wrote a letter opposing the new district, saying it would cause “considerable loss in both revenues and economic circumstances” to the city.

Mark Thompson, whose family developed the city’s only non-exclusive golf course in 1990 and still owns the property today, and David Compton, vice president of land acquisition for Pulte Homes, announced at Monday’s meeting that Pulte has a contract in place to buy Wood Wind.

Compton said the company wants to revive the struggling golf course and surround it with a residential community.

Thompson and Compton both said the conservancy guidelines would be detrimental to this plan.

Doc O’Neal, of Cohoat and O’Neal Management Corp. which operates the golf course, also spoke Monday night, and agreed that Compton’s plan needed to move forward in order to keep the golf course running.

“For the last year, the viability of Wood Wind has been in question,” O’Neal said. “We are extremely pleased with [Compton’s] plans.”

None of the plan commission members commented on the proposal during Monday’s meeting, but suggested that city staff work with the residents to address some of the concerns.

There is no timeline for when the commission could make a recommendation to the city council.

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