St. Vincent to buy 30 acres in Carmel—site of earlier controversy with neighbors

St. Vincent Health plans to buy 30 acres of land at the intersection of West 96th Street and Spring Mill Road in Carmel but says it has not made any decisions on how to develop the site.

The Indianapolis-based health system announced the purchase plans on Friday morning, less than four months after dropping an earlier proposal to rezone the same site after running into huge opposition from neighbors.

Dr. Joel Feldman, regional president of St. Vincent Indianapolis, said the health system is studying various options for the land. He said St. Vincent officials are considering how best to provide health care as payers push for low-cost settings outside of traditional hospitals and patients demand more convenience and access.

He declined to say whether the health system might erect a large hospital complex on the site. “We’re not ruling anything in or out,” Feldman said.

Feldman said the Carmel site is attractive for future development because it is just west of one of the busiest intersections in the region, Interstate 465 and U.S. 31, near the busy Meridian Corridor, which he said would make it convenient for patients.

But a final decision on how to develop that site has not been reached, Feldman said. “We truly do not have a specific plan for that property,” he said.

The site would give St. Vincent another large footprint in Hamilton County, the most affluent county in Indiana. It boasts a high proportion of patients with commercial insurance, which reimburses for services at a higher rate than do Medicare and Medicaid.

“This keeps our options open,” Feldman said. “As you know, land is not very available on the north side of town. If we decide we don’t need it, which is a possibility, it will be easy to sell.”

St. Vincent said any plans would not affect its primary hospital at 2001 W. 86th St., which is only about three miles west of the 96th Street location. The 86th Street hospital, which opened in 1974, has more than 800 beds.

He declined to say how much St. Vincent was paying for the land, which is largely undeveloped. About half of the land—known as the Parkwood West property—is on the northeast corner of the intersection. St. Vincent leases space in a large office building on that part of the site for its Indianapolis administrative offices, but much of the land is open fields.

The remaining land is on the northwest corner of the intersection, owned by Sexton Development LLC. It, too, is undeveloped.

Neighbors fought an earlier proposal by St. Vincent to develop the site. The health system’s real estate partners—Ambrose Property Group and Bremmer Real Estate—filed an application in February to rezone the land from either residential zoning or the Parkwood West planned unit development to a designation called Meridian Corridor zoning.

At the time, St. Vincent was not named as the health system behind the development.

Just to the west of the Sexton land is a 10-acre residential subdivision called Lacoma Estates. St. Vincent said it is still interested in buying parcels in that area, but said it has until the end of the year to exercise options on those properties with the landowners. Many but not all of the homeowners have agreed to sell their land, Feldman said.

The earlier zoning request rankled many neighbors. Drawings and plans submitted with the rezoning request showed the development would feature nine buildings and four parking garages, with a walking bridge that would connect buildings across Spring Mill Road.

Many neighbors said that project would increase noise, traffic and water runoff in a fairly quiet area, much of which is now filled with open fields and woods and bordered in several places by residential subdivisions.

They also said they were frustrated because they were not getting clear answers about what was being proposed.

In April, St. Vincent finally acknowledged that it had options to buy the property but declined to reveal its development plans. Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard told St. Vincent and its partners the city would reject plans unless they laid out their proposal. In June, St. Vincent pulled its rezoning application.

Feldman said the health system will not seek another rezoning without first meeting with neighbors and other interested parties to discuss plans in full.

"We will meet with people in the community, all the various stakeholders, and discuss it with them and get their input," he said. "Absolutely."

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