The City-County Council on Monday evening voted 18-5 to approve rezoning for a mixed-use, affordable housing project set for Fall Creek Place, overturning a Metropolitan Development Commission denial and ending months of pushback from some residents.
Circle City Property Management and Development plans to build a 38-unit building at 2216 and 2228 N. College Ave., called Citizens Park, which would feature a parking garage and retail space on the first floor. The project could create affordability in a city that is short by thousands of units.
“Citizens Park will give the residents and their family a home with direct access to schools and colleges, parks, bike trails, churches and retail along our expanding transit lines,” principal Eric Armstrong told councilors.
But the project became a clash over affordability, traffic safety and quality of life.
Circle City began zoning work in February, developers said, initially outlining a 4-story, 68-unit apartment building with parking garage featuring access from a narrow alley. The surrounding area is largely single-family homes and small-scale apartments.
At residents’ behest, the firm scaled the building design down and moved garage access to College Avenue, but some still weren’t satisfied.
MDC members in August unanimously rejected the rezoning petition, citing inconsistencies in language because of last-minute changes in parking garage access, though some commissioners also noted the building’s scale as a concern. Council Vice President Zach Adamson, a Democrat whose district includes the proposed development, called the decision down to the full council for a vote.
Some residents at Monday’s meeting argued that green space and groceries are too far away, public transit options too limited and speeding on College Avenue too unsafe for a new influx of people.
“Put yourselves in the shoes of the people that will live there. Do you want to live in a place like this, where next door is a gas station and an old brownfield, your front yard is College Avenue [and] your backyard is an alley?” asked eight-year Fall Creek Place resident Samantha DeWester.
“It’s a public safety nightmare waiting to happen,” she added later in the meeting. “In fact, the building on the northwest corner of 22nd [Street] and College [Avenue] had to be demolished because a car ran through it.”
Residents also pushed for new home ownership options instead of rental units.
Princess Gamby, a 13-year Fall Creek Place resident, suggested the land be used for additional low-income homes. Gamby said she grew up in Section 8 housing, has continued to live in affordable housing projects and that homeownership through Habitat for Humanity was a game-changer.
“Giving them [prospective residents] a Habitat for Humanity home lets them keep going,” Gamby said. “It leaves them something for their kids, like I can leave for my children.”
The developers had previously argued that affordable rent was a path to financial stability.
“Despite this collaborative effort, ultimately, some people still feel that 38 units are too many for this location, or [that] because apartments are not traditional single-family homes, it somehow makes them inadequate housing,” Armstrong said. “We disagree wholeheartedly.”
To be eligible for a “workforce” unit, prospective renters would need to both be employed and make less than 60% of Marion County’s area median income—currently $34,000 for a one-person household and $40,000 for a household of two.
Those who qualify would pay around $650 a month for a one-bedroom apartment and $950 for a two-bedroom unit, in rent amounts stipulated by the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority. But if a resident’s income surpasses the cutoff, they would have a certain amount of time to leave. Some of the units will be at market rate, charging $975 for a one-bedroom unit and $1,400 for a two-bedroom one.
“We are creating a perpetual cycle for individuals to get stuck in,” Republican Michael-Paul Hart said. “… Say they get a raise at work or they get married, and now they happen to be above that. Now their rent just jumped up and they can’t afford that home. We just put an opportunity for someone to fail.”
Armstrong told councilors the hope would be for renters at that point to be able to afford a market-rate apartment or even a home.
“If you look at the actual prices going up on [houses] for sale, they’re in the $300,000s to $400,000s price range in that area, 24th and 23rd [Street] and College [Avenue],” Democrat Ethan Evans said. “Just on my opinion alone, I don’t think somebody making $34,000 to $40,000 a year can afford a $300,000, $400,000 house.”
But other residents spoke up for the development, recounting their own experiences growing up in designated affordable housing. The project also won the support of the neighborhood’s home owner association, after developers made the changes to the building’s scale and garage access.
Resident Jan Mensz said his mother emigrated from Poland in the 1980s and found work in the U.S. as a grocery clerk and driver. Thanks to her participation in a local affordable housing program, the family had stable housing despite continued financial struggles, he told councilors. He said he’s since gone to law school and has settled in Indianapolis with his wife and children.
“I wanted to tell you this story because I believe I owe much of my success in life to an affordable housing development, and the fact that it was intentionally placed in a great community where I could not have otherwise afforded to live,” Mensz said.
Councilors voted to approve the rezoning 18-5, more than the 15 votes required. Democrat Monroe Gray, as well as Republicans Hart, Paul Annee, Michael Dilk and Brian Mowery voted against overturning the decision.
“To the neighbors here this evening who are still against this project, I want you to know that I hear your concerns,” Adamson said before the vote. “But overall, I believe the benefits of expanding affordable housing to our working-class neighbors in our city are too important to not move forward.”