City to consider forcing sale of parcels for new east-side library

Residents in Indianapolis’ Martindale-Brightwood neighborhood are poised to receive a new library, and some property owners might be forced to sell their land to make it happen.

The Indianapolis Public Library is looking for a space big enough to accommodate a 15,000-square foot building with parking that is close to bus lines and has easy, safe access for children. Library officials believe they found the right site on four acres at the corner of 25th Street and North Sherman Drive, across from the library system's current leased site in the Brightwood Shopping Center.

The library says a new building, scheduled to open in early 2019, “would offer improved access to library services, new spaces for children and teens and enhanced study and program space, while eliminating rental costs.” It also believes it would serve as an anchor for more community development.

“The sole reason for us to go down this path is to be able to provide the community with the services that the library has to offer,” said library board president David Wantz. “That’s not just books. It’s access to electronic media, tutoring, research, access to job-seeking, … and access to the internet."

But some property owners in the east-side neighborhood are not thrilled with what the library has offered them in exchange for the parcels they desire. Negotiations appear to be stalled over three of nine parcels the library wants. So City-County Council members this week will discuss exercising eminent domain to acquire the land.

Under eminent domain, a government entity can decide to appropriate private property for public use, such as the construction of a new library. According to a 2015 Purdue University extension report on eminent domain in Indiana, the state constitution says governments may do this only after the landowners are justly compensated for the land.

That amount depends on fair market value, accord to the report, and is determined by conducting appraisals on the property. That results in an offer, negotiation and possible settlement. If the government and land owner can’t agree, the matter may end up in court.

Lum Woodard is the pastor of Greater King Solomon Missionary Baptist Church, which is located in one of the library’s desired parcels. Woodard said the church is “not opposed to selling” but wants to be able to afford to restart somewhere else. He said the library offered them $60,000, which is not enough to start over.

“If they want it, then it’s got to be worth what it costs us to go somewhere else,” Woodard said. “That’s as reasonable as it gets. The property belongs to us. We didn’t steal it. We got it honestly. If you want it, you’ve got to get it it in an honest way. If you can’t, then you can’t afford it.”

Wantz said the library wants to make sure everyone’s needs are met.

"If we are being asked to pay much more than a reasonable offer on a piece of property, that may not be in the interest of the taxpayers' money,” Wantz said. "We’ve got to be able to look our neighbors in the eye and say this is the reasonable thing to do. The goal is to make sure we provide a safe, wholesome environment for our patrons and to do so in a frugal way."

The City-County Council will debate the issue this week at two council committee meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday. Then the full council will vote on it on Aug. 15. City-County Councilman Zach Adamson is sponsoring the proposal, which he said he agreed to do after a community organization, One Voice Martindale-Brightwood, expressed its support of the proposal.

Adamson said the council will consider whether the positives of eminent domain outweigh the negatives, and that the council is taking the matter seriously. He encouraged community members to come to the meetings to share their thoughts.

“None of this is a foregone conclusion,” Adamson said. “It’s not being rushed through or taken lightly at all.”

Building a freestanding Martindale-Brightwood library is one of several capital projects approved by the library under a series of bonds totaling about $58 million issued by the City-County Council. The current ongoing renovations at the East Washington Street, Southport and Warren branches are also part of the library’s overall capital projects plan. The projects will be completed without increasing the library’s current debt service tax rate.

Adamson said he is primed to support the proposal, barring any “eureka” moments. He said the area deserves a nice, new library that every other area of town has.

“[The current library] doesn’t really meet the need of the community at all, much less have the amenities that every other library in town has,” Adamson said. “Their need to move is pretty obvious."

Amy Harwell, president of One Voice Martindale-Brightwood, said community members in general support building a new library.

“It will benefit the seniors and the young people and it will be safer,” Harwell said. “It’s time we start looking like the community we used to be."

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