Future of high-profile Zionsville property thrust into uncertainty

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The future of a high-profile property in Zionsville is uncertain now that the developer has backed out of the project.

Steve Pittman, of Pittman Partners LLC, had initially proposed a $90 million, mixed-use project known as The Farm near the southwest corner of U.S. 421 and Sycamore Street on property controlled by his family. But in an email to his siblings dated April 28 and made public Wednesday, Pittman said he no longer has an interest in developing The Farm.

The decision is related to an ongoing dispute between Pittman and his siblings—Mark, Chad, John and Anne Kelton—in the wake of the December 2014 death of their father, Dr. John Pittman, a well-known surgeon and real estate developer. The siblings have been fighting in court since September over how to handle the estimated $2.4 million estate.

With Pittman Partners walking away from the project, Mark Pittman, a Los Angeles attorney, is seeking proposals from other developers.

The 62-acre property is specially zoned as a planned unit development, a designation Steve and Chad Pittman secured in 2013 after working on the proposal for more than a year and having numerous meetings with residents and town officials to tweak the details.

At the time it was approved, Steve Pittman called it “a very rigorous review process.”

According to court documents, Pittman Investors LLC, which the estate controls and Steve Pittman manages, has been funding The Farm project to date, with loans from the estate and the family possibly totaling $725,000.

Kelton has argued that the family requested a detailed budget for the development from Steve but never received one. She claims the family only wanted to transfer money as needed, instead of in lump sums as it has, and that Pittman Investors does not have the funds to pay back its debt.

In a prepared statement issued Wednesday, Mark Pittman said there is no financing for The Farm project.

“Accordingly, we decided that it was in the best interests of our family and the community to discuss the project with more experienced developers,” Mark Pittman said. “We are excited about the quality of the development companies that have shown a strong interest in the project.”

Any developer that pursues a project on the land could stick to the already approved custom zoning regulations or could request different zoning for a completely different project. The existing zoning reflected an upscale commercial and residential hub with as much as 150,000 square feet of retail space and offices, plus 400 multi-family housing units and several high-end estate homes.

Uses like gas stations and large retailers with more than 60,000 square feet of space were prohibited.

Kroger Co. had signed a letter of intent to open a Fresh Fare grocery store within the development and told IBJ in January that the company was “in waiting mode.” Kroger spokesman John Elliott said Wednesday that the company’s real estate executive had recently spoken to the Pittmans and believed nothing had changed.

Zionsville is known for thoroughly vetting PUD requests before signing off. The property is seen as a gateway into the community, so any new zoning proposal likely wouldn’t receive quick approval.

Zionsville Town Council member and former mayor Jeff Papa said Pittman’s proposal “set the bar really high” for PUD requests.

“They had really extensive plans. It was pretty exhaustive what they had put together,” Papa said. “Losing that particular plan is not a good thing for the town and is unfortunate.”

Papa said he’s not sure what to expect with the zoning, but the town supported the Pittman’s vision, so similar proposals would likely be preferred.

“It’s eventually going to be something, so hopefully we get a high-quality product,” Papa said.

He said it’s possible other town officials were made aware of the news, but he didn’t know about Pittman’s plans until Wednesday morning.

“I knew there were concerns, and there had been major delays,” Papa said.

Zionsville Mayor Tim Haak and Zionsville Planning Director Wayne DeLong did not immediately respond Wednesday morning to IBJ’s request for comment.

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