Zionsville Town Council deadlocks on controversial apartment project

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The Zionsville Town Council on Monday night finished in a deadlock on a controversial project to build an 184-unit apartment project just south of Zionsville's quaint downtown village.

The 3-3 vote to approve a rezoning request for the proposed Sycamore Flats development came 3-1/2 hours into a meeting in which 43 residents signed up to speak either in favor or against the project.

Councilor Jason Plunkett was absent from the meeting because of a death in his family. The council will have a chance to vote again June 3, when Plunkett would be able to break the tie.

Councilors voting in favor of the rezoning were Susana Suarez, Elizabeth Hopper and Tom Schuler. Those voting against were President Josh Garrett, Bryan Traylor and Kevin Spees.

Carmel-based JC Hart Co. Inc. has requested the town rezone 4.3 acres of land from the village business district designation to a planned unit development to facilitate the $40 million project, which would include apartments, retail space and a parking garage.

Residents packed the town council chambers and an overflow room, where people sat on the floor. A Facebook page opposing the project encouraged those opposed to the project to wear red, resulting in a sea of red T-shirts in both rooms.

A majority of the speakers expressed opposition to the project, which would be built at the southwest corner of Sycamore and Second streets, a property that formerly housed the Calico Corners store.

Neighbors opposed to the project take issue with its high density (46 units per acre), the burden it would place on town resources and its potential to create traffic issues in the town’s downtown.

But those in favor of the project say it will create an economic engine for area businesses, while creating new living options for millennials and empty nesters.

Matt Price, an attorney for Bingham Greenebaum Doll representing developer JC Hart, spoke about the project for about 45 minutes. Price lives on Sycamore Street and previously served on the town council.

He said the project could kick-start redevelopment of other nearby parcels, and 184 new living units would increase foot traffic to businesses within the downtown village.

At least three other projects have been proposed for the site. Two included multifamily residential development and the other was solely commercial. Price said JC Hart’s proposal strikes the right balance, Price said.

A project with less density isn’t economically feasible, he said.

“We think this is the next chapter of Zionsville,” Price said. “We think it’s the right use, the right time and the right team.”

Kent Esra, who owns Cobblestone at 160 S. Main St., read a letter on behalf of 20 downtown merchants in favor of the project.

He said a multifamily project will help sustain the village long term.

“To bolster and preserve the village, we need more foot traffic and an increased population base.”

Others contended that the village needs more renter options that are being demanded by millennials and empty nesters looking to downsize.

Zionsville resident and veteran apartment broker George Tikijian said the site is the perfect location for an apartment community, which is desperately needed in the village area.

Zionsville needs more housing options for younger people because not everyone can afford homes in the village or outside of it, he said. His three children are in their 20s, and they want to live in walkable communities. Sycamore Flats would provide that in Zionsville, he said.

But others say the project is too dense and doesn’t fit in with the rest of the village.

As of Wednesday night, more than 3,000 people had signed a petition opposed to the development.

Bob Royalty, whose home is across Third Street from the site, said town residents are angry about the way the project has been handled. For more than a year, the developer worked with the town to shape the project, but neither party brought residents in on those decisions, he said.

He said the project would destroy the character of the village, and he encouraged council members to vote no and find a project “that doesn’t tear this town apart.”

“A no vote does not mean no development here,” he said. “It means no to this project.”

Mark Walters said the project would increase the risks of losing the character that sets Zionsville apart from other communities, which he said is happening in communities all over the United States.

That loss usually begins with projects like Sycamore Flats, he said.

“It simply doesn’t fit,” he said.

After hearing about two hours of public testimony, the council asked questions about a potential tax increment financing deal for the project (which has yet to be presented), parking, traffic and the town process for moving the project forward.

Garrett came to the meeting with 13 pages of notes, he said, saying he had done his research and had gone so far as to call development experts and urban developers for insight.

The key question he was weighing, he said, was whether the project would change the charm and authenticity of Zionsville.  He said he feels the project will evolve Main Street but worries about whether he’s wrong.

He recommended the town take time to study the area to identify the type of development that would be accepted by residents, would fit within the project’s boundaries and that the market could support.

But other councilors said the town has already taken time to consider those factors.

Suarez argued that no other project previously proposed for the site matches the caliber of JC Hart’s proposal.

Schuler followed up saying it will be difficult to find a project that would make everyone happy.

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