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Carmel to take legal action against Lucas Estate in party controversy

May 22, 2019
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Carmel plans to take legal action to stop Charlotte and Forrest Lucas from hosting events at their massive estate, the city announced in a press release Wednesday afternoon.

The city said it plans to file requests for preliminary and permanent injunctions against the estate to prohibit the family from conducting a business at its private residential property. It did not say when the filings would take place.

Michael Wukmer, a partner at Ice Miller LLP who represents the Lucases, told IBJ that neither he nor his clients have heard from Carmel about any legal action. But he said if the city does file the requests with the court, he'll oppose them because they’re based upon “inaccuracies."

For nearly two years, the city and the Lucases have fought over soirees and other events the estate hosts. The estate lies within an R-1 zoning district, which prohibits special events or party halls.

The Lucases—the owners of Lucas Oil Products Inc., the naming-rights sponsor of Lucas Oil Stadium—have hosted sophisticated gatherings, many benefiting not-for-profits, at their West 116th Street estate since 2011 with no special permitting or the commercial zoning that is required for traditional event centers.

The Lucases came into Carmel’s crosshairs in 2017, when neighbors complained to the city about the noise and traffic those events create.

Forrest Lucas has argued the events the estate hosts are not commercial in nature and don’t violate the zoning ordinance. Lucas also said he and his wife have allowed the property to be used to raise millions of dollars for local charities. 

Still, the estate went on to file a zoning variance—at the city's request—that would have allowed it to host those parties, a request that was eventually denied by the Carmel Board of Zoning Appeals in September 2017.

But the Lucases continued to plan parties and other events while trying to negotiate some sort of deal with Carmel. Those efforts were unsuccessful, and last August, the city announced it would begin enforcing its zoning ordinance. The Lucases pledged to continue hosting events.

The city said it has now decided to take legal action against the Lucases because Carmel “believes that the Lucases have not shown a good faith effort to comply” with the zoning ordinance, saying the estate has repeatedly violated the rules. 

Wukmer said he recently spoke with city officials about scheduling another meeting to discuss the issues surrounding the estate and the events the Lucases host. The city indicated another meeting would be scheduled, he said.

The estate appears to be the venue for a concert series, called Concerts for a Cause Indianapolis. On April 27, the Concerts for a Cause Indianapolis Facebook page posted about a packed house at the Lucas Estate for a concert benefiting Brooke’s Place. The estate has also been rated a Best of 2019 winner by WeddingSpot.com, where it’s advertised as an indoor and outdoor wedding venue that starts at about $40,000 for 100 guests.  

Carmel cited that award as proof the estate is operating as a for-profit business.

“The fact that the Lucases claim they are donating the event space for non-profit events does not hide the fact that the Lucases are making a profit from the catering for these events,” the city said in a news release. “Other for-profit event venues often donate or reduce room charges when the cost of the food and beverage service reaches a certain level.”

But Wukmer denied those claims. He said the Lucas Estate does not advertise with Wedding Spot because it doesn’t host weddings for the public.

“The city of Carmel knows that,” he said. “There’s no business being operated there.”

Wukmer said the only weddings held at the estate have been private events for family and friends of the Lucases. 

The city also cited concerns on Wednesday about guest safety, given the Lucas Estate is not required to install the same safety features as other event venues, saying that poses an unfair advantage in the marketplace.

“It doesn’t matter who you are, we owe it to the residential neighbors in the community to require compliance from the Lucases,” Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard said in written comments. “The neighbors rely on the city to enforce the zoning ordinances in place, which helps protect their property values.”

But Wukmer said the statements made by the city "are just based upon lies and falsehoods told to the city of Carmel by somebody else, not by the Lucases. They have bad facts.”

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