A dispute between unlikely parties is playing out in Hamilton County Superior Court over how Carmel should fund parks and other public greenspaces.
In a complaint filed on Dec. 5, Carmel Clay Board of Parks and Recreation officials argue that the city has improperly diverted about $12.8 million to the Carmel Redevelopment Commission to be used in smaller park spaces in the city’s urban core—to the detriment of larger, traditional parks throughout the city.
Michael Klitzing, the parks board director, said that has resulted in construction delays at the future Bear Creek Park in northwest Carmel near West 146th Street and Shelborne Road, and in creating places for canoeing and kayaking on the White River.
“It definitely is preventing us from constructing these new parks,” Klitzing said.
Carmel Clay Parks and Recreation receives some funding from the city, but it is a separate entity that does not answer to the Mayor’s Office. The parks board is a distinct legal entity from the city, according to the complaint.
The funding source in question is called a park impact fee. In Carmel, such fees are charged to developers to support park construction and offset the impact of population increases that result from residential construction. Carmel charges developers $4,882 per dwelling unit in impact fees.
Prior to 2010, the parks board was the only entity that could grant impact fee waivers. The Carmel City Council that year expanded the right to the Carmel Board of Public Works.
The complaint says the Board of Public Works has in some cases waived impact fees and instead directed developers to pay an equal amount into a Carmel Redevelopment Commission account, which is used to fund new downtown plazas and greenspaces.
According to the complaint, the diversions violate the city ordinance establishing that the impact fees are to be used solely by the parks board for the purposes of building and supporting parks.
The parks board has asked the court to stop the city from diverting the impact fee funds. On Dec. 6, Judge David Najjar denied a request for a temporary injunction, but the parks board is still seeking a permanent injunction to stop the fund transfers.
Klitzing said the city began diverting funds from the impact fee fund to the Carmel Redevelopment Commission in 2018. He said the practice escalated this year with $8.1 million provided to the CRC. That number does not include as-of-yet undetermined impact fees the Board of Public Works waived earlier this month, he said.
Mayor Jim Brainard, who heads the Board of Public Works, said in an interview with IBJ on Thursday that the practice is not improper or illegal. He said the Carmel Redevelopment Commission has spent $50 million on downtown parks, and a fraction of that has come from impact fees.
“I was very disappointed in the park board’s action as it’s not going to solve the problem we have,” Brainard said. “The problem is very different, and that is we need a continuing annual source of revenue to maintain our parks.”
The city’s downtown parks include Midtown Plaza, Carter Green, Monon Boulevard and Monon Greenway, the Kawachinagano Japanese Garden and Freedom Circle Veterans Memorial. Many new developments include small pocket parks and plazas.
Brainard argued that money coming from downtown development and public-private partnerships should be spent where it is generated and not be taken away and spent in suburban areas of Carmel. He said it is important for residents of downtown Carmel to have greenspaces.
“Urban parks are very important,” Brainard said. “They’re different than the big suburban parks. Big cities talk all the time about urban parks and pocket parks and how important they are.”
Carmel’s parkland has increased from 41 acres when Brainard took office in 1996 to more than 1,000 today.
Carmel Clay Parks and Recreation is represented in the lawsuit by attorney Brian Bosma with the Indianapolis-based law firm of Kroger Gardis & Regis.