Pittman siblings battle over proposed Carmel office project

UPDATE: The proposal was approved by the Carmel City Council on Nov. 19.

Developer Steve Pittman’s proposal to build an office building at a busy intersection in Carmel is moving forward through the approval process, despite contentious pleas from two of his siblings that the project be reworked.

Earlier this year, Pittman filed plans to build a three-story office building at the southwest corner of Illinois and 106th streets on land previously owned by his father, Dr. John Pittman. He has requested the 5-acre property be rezoned from its current single-family residential designation to allow for light commercial and office uses.

The request has already been given a favorable recommendation by the Carmel Plan Commission and now awaits final approval from the Carmel City Council.

Although no tenants have been signed for the development, which would be no larger than 83,000 square feet, Pittman believes the land is well-suited for an office or medical building—and undesirable for residential development.

Monday night, the rezoning request was discussed by the Carmel City Council. It voted to send the application to its land use committee for further discussion after hearing from a lawyer representing Pittman’s siblings, as well as neighbors opposed to the project. 

Introducing the project to the council, Pittman said he’d been meeting with neighbors and had agreed to several conditions to make them more comfortable with the development. The conditions included building an 8-foot wall to separate the office and its parking lot from nearby homes. He also agreed to construct the building along Illinois Street with the parking lot west of the building.

Attorney Murray Clark, who represents three residents living in Rosado Hills, a group of estate homes on Spring Mill Road near Pittman’s land, said the commitments are meaningful and the building’s design is beautiful. As a result of the commitments Pittman has agreed to, Rosado Hill residents are comfortable with the rezone, Clark said.

But three others spoke against the project, including an attorney representing Pittman’s siblings, Mark Pittman and Anne Kelton. The Pittman siblings—there are five—have been engaged in an ongoing battle over aspects of their father’s estate since 2015.

Tom Perkins, an attorney for Paganelli Law Group who represents Mark Pittman and Anne Kelton, said it’s inappropriate for the property to be rezoned to commercial.

He pointed to a deal Carmel made with the Pittman family in 2014 when the city purchased estate land from the family to build a roundabout at 106th and Illinois streets. Carmel had agreed to build the estate a new driveway onto Illinois Street as part of the purchase. At the time, the Pittman family did not want the estate to be accessible from Illinois Street, which resulted in the city building a driveway onto 106th Street and a screening wall along Illinois Street to maintain the estate’s residential feel, which cost the city about $400,000, Mark Pittman and Anne Kelton said in a letter submitted to the city in September.

Steve Pittman’s plan, which includes creating access to the same property from Illinois Street, contradicts the city and the Pittmans’ previous agreement to maintain the land as residential, Perkins said.

But Council President Kevin Rider, who said he was a good friend of John Pittman’s, said the Pittman patriarch wasn’t considering future uses of the land when he requested the city build the driveway on 106th Street.

“We were going to put it on Illinois, and he didn’t like that,” Rider said. “It had nothing to do with land or the future of the land or what would happen with the land.”

Steve Pittman responded to Perkins’ testimony by saying he’s never dealt with remonstrators who live close to 2,000 miles away, referring to his siblings, who do not reside in Carmel.

“I’m speechless about that, really,” he said.

Rider scolded Perkins’ clients, saying they might own property in Carmel through the family’s trust, but they don’t own the property in question.

“I’m not in a habit as an elected official of being in on family counseling,” he told Perkins. “They’re using this to escalate a family argument. … I don’t want to hear from them again.”

Other attendees with concerns about the project included Ron Houck, a resident of the nearby Spring Mill Place subdivision and the vice president of its home-owners association.

Houck said many neighbors felt they were only presented with two options for redeveloping the property: multi-family residential or commercial. They’d be more supportive of a single-family residential project, which they believe the land can support.

The rezone request will go back to the city council for a final vote at a later date. Councilor Bruce Kimball commended Steve Pittman for working with neighbors to present a project that is acceptable to most.

In a statement provided to the IBJ Tuesday afternoon, Mark Pittman and Anne Kelton said their opposition to the rezone request has nothing to do with a family argument, as Rider stated.

Steve Pittman has had several properties come up for rezoning for projects over the past three-plus years, and they haven’t taken a position on those projects, they said.

They said they're opposed to the current project because they want to honor their father’s vision and to help neighbors they said felt “vexed, harassed and intimidated by Steve.”

“These neighbors informed us that they opposed the rezone but were either intimidated by Steve or too inexperienced to push back,” they wrote in a two-page statement.

The family owns about 20 acres of commercial property near The Bridges project, a short distance away from the property being rezoned.

“As a result, we are as much stakeholders in the proposed rezone as any other local property owner,” they said.

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