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EDITORIAL: Party war in Carmel is not over yet

September 30, 2017

The first major battle over the Lucas party venue in Carmel is over, but the war between wealthy neighbors surely is not. Not unless those on both sides come together to strike a compromise.

That’s what they should do following a Carmel Board of Zoning Appeals vote Sept. 25 that would seem to shut down lavish parties that have become commonplace at the Lucas Estate. The 70-acre property on West 116th Street has become a popular venue for not-for-profit benefits, political fundraisers, wedding receptions and other parties since it was purchased in 2010 by Forrest and Charlotte Lucas, owners of Lucas Oil Products Inc.

The Lucases expanded the property in 2016 by purchasing the adjacent home and 100,000-square-foot party pavilion formerly owned by the Irsay family, owners of the Indianapolis Colts. Representatives of the Lucas family say the estate hosts 30 to 50 events a year drawing crowds of up to 400 people. But up to now the parties have taken place without the special permitting required by Carmel zoning regulations.

City officials stopped looking the other way last year after a former neighbor of the Lucases, tech entrepreneur Scott Jones, asked the city for permission to hold special events at his property. Jones dropped his petition after it encountered resistance from the Board of Zoning Appeals. But the controversy shone a light on the issue of unauthorized use of residentially zoned properties as party venues, causing the city to ask the Lucases to request the variances needed to bring their parties into compliance.

The Lucases asked, and almost 30 neighbors came out against them, citing frustrations with traffic, noise and lighting caused by events at the property. A long list of conditions offered by the Lucases to address neighbors’ concerns was not enough to dissuade the opposition, leading to the BZA’s denial of the variances.

But the neighbors’ victory likely isn’t the last word. Legal counsel for the Lucases say Carmel zoning laws don’t restrict their use of the property for outdoor parties. If they test that theory, the dispute will surely escalate. Neighbors—and neighborhood peace—will suffer even more than they already have.

We’re sympathetic to the concerns of the neighbors, but the generosity the Lucases show by holding fundraisers for not-for-profits is worth preserving. The Lucases and their neighbors, all of whom are successful enough to occupy some of the most expensive real estate in Indiana, should be able to find a way forward that preserves quality of life in the neighborhood without shutting down an event space that benefits central Indiana not-for-profits.

Lucas estate parties should be reserved for not-for-profits only. The number of events should be capped, and attendance and hours should be limited.

Surely there will be some neighbors for whom even a limited number of controlled parties is unacceptable, but they shouldn’t prevail. Disputes with reasonable arguments on both sides, such as this one, call for compromise. And in compromise no one gets everything they want.•

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