Neighbors who live near an oil tycoon's sprawling suburban Indianapolis estate say he continues hosting extravagant events even though officials told him the parties must end.
Some neighbors thought they had put an end to Forrest Lucas' parties in September when Carmel officials told the Lucas Oil Products founder he could no longer host events at his "party barn" because he was essentially operating a commercial venue in a residential area.
But Lucas told IBJ in October that he and his wife, Charlotte, planned to continue hosting events on their property at 1143 W. 116th St. because they didn't think they were doing anything wrong. “As far as we’re concerned, everything we’re doing is perfectly legal,” Lucas told IBJ. “We’re not breaking any laws.”
The Indianapolis Star reported this week that Lucas has been true to his word. Events are still taking place on the property, which can accommodate up to 400 people.
"Evidently the law only applies to the lowly, to those of us who go to work and pay our taxes, but a big wig gets to do whatever he wants," said Kristie Blankenhorn, who lives near the estate. "You think Mayor (Jim) Brainard is going to go up against a guy like Forrest Lucas?"
Zoning officials plan to meet July 23 to discuss the issue, but it may be delayed as the city continues to talk to Lucas' representatives. Carmel spokeswoman Nancy Heck said the city is striving to balance private property rights with zoning laws.
"In this case, we are continuing to work with the Lucas estate, while listening to concerns of neighbors of the estate affected by the activity there," Heck said.
The Lucases acquired their 33-acre property, which was formerly home to Conseco Inc. CEO Stephen Hilbert, in 2010. And, in May 2016, they purchased the adjacent estate of Nancy Irsay, which brought their total property to more than 70 acres.
The Irsay tract included an 8,600-square-foot home and a 10,000-square-foot pole barn known as the Robert Irsay Pavilion, which the Lucases have been using for events.
The party barn has been significant to Carmel social life since Nancy Irsay opened it more than 30 years ago. The second wife of late Indianapolis Colts owner Robert Irsay, Nancy helped raise millions of dollars annually for charities while hosting an array of celebrities. She died in 2015.
Lucas bought the party barn with the intention of carrying on what Nancy Irsay began, according to his representatives. But neighbors said Irsay held a limited number of low-key events for charity, while Lucas transformed the estate into an organized event center.
"I've hosted fundraisers," said Sima Sciopu, who lives just south of Lucas' property. "I shell out the burgers and drinks and then people donate to the nonprofit. That's not what's happening over there."
City officials last year asked the Lucases to request a variance to allow them to hold semi-public events—including soirees benefiting not-for-profits, anniversary parties, birthday celebrations, political fundraisers and weddings. But the Carmel Board of Zoning Appeals denied the family's request in September after nearly 30 nearby residents spoke publicly, wrote a letter or signed a petition opposing the request.
Neighbors complained about the noise from events, lights from traffic and the frequency of the parties.