A Carmel-based development firm struck an 11th-hour deal on Monday with neighbors of an event venue just north of Broad Ripple to allow for the advancement of a proposed $61 million apartment project.
The agreement between J.C. Hart Co. and residents of the Oxbow Estates and Spirit Lake condominiums cleared the way for the City-County Council to unanimously approve a rezoning of the former Willows Event Center property at 6729 Westfield Blvd.
Under terms of the deal, the Elements project will include 168 apartments—a reduction from the proposal of 192 apartments and 16 town houses that was approved in December by the Indianapolis Metropolitan Development Commission. The project no longer includes condos or town houses, with a park now set to occupy two acres of the eight-acre property.
The four apartment buildings proposed for the development will retain largely the same design, but two of them will have an unspecified reduced height. Several ancillary buildings, including a clubhouse, will be eliminated from the plan.
The commitments from J.C. Hart Co. also require the company to include an affordable housing component as part of any request for tax-increment financing bonds—with up to 10% of the units set aside for those making up to 50% of the area’s median income—rather than paying a lump sum to the city’s affordable housing fund to skirt the requirement.
“We feel that this agreement, this compromise, is the right step forward,” said John Kautzman, an attorney who represents several neighborhood associations in the Marott Island area, north of Broad Ripple. “Obviously, no one gets everything that they want in a compromise, but we’re very pleased that this project includes several things that we fought so hard for. And that’s why we think it was the right thing to do.”
Kautzman said J.C. Hart also agreed not to develop any additional property under its control around Spirit Lake for a minimum of five years after occupancy begins on the Elements project.
The parties met to discuss the deal Sunday morning, but a final agreement wasn’t reached until about 20 minutes into Monday’s City-County Council meeting.
“‘It’s fair to say it’s an 11th hour deal—one that took two years of steady progress to obtain,” Kautzman said.
Hart first said in late 2021 said it planned to develop the Willows property on the western and southern edge of the man-made Spirit Lake into 256 apartments, along with 18 town houses from Indianapolis-based Chase Development.
Multiple changes were made to the proposal to appease neighbors, but Hart and Chase ultimately withdrew the plan in mid-2022 amid opposition from nearby residents. They came back to the table in 2023 with a modified plan that reduced apartment unit counts to just fewer than 200 units.
Opposition to the project from first-term City-County Council member Brienne Delaney, D-District 2, was a shift from the supportive position of now-former council member Keith Potts. Neighborhood opposition also carried weight in the positions taken against the project by Councilor John Barth, D-District 7, whose district includes a small portion of the neighborhood, as well as State Rep. Carey Hamilton, D-District 87, and State Sen. Fady Qaddoura, D-District 30.
Despite that pushback, the project was approved unanimously by the MDC in December, triggering a time-sensitive lawsuit on Jan. 22—a last-ditch effort to stop the development from winning approval by the council, although Delaney said she was trying to drum up opposition to the project.
At the heart of the lawsuit for neighbors, among numerous concerns, has been density of the project. In the lawsuit, the group tied development maximums to the construction of the Spirit Lake condos in the early 2000s, which limited future projects to no more than 1.94 units per acre.
Both the developer and the neighbors have made concessions in recent weeks to find a resolution.
Neighbors believed the appropriate density would be closer to 40 to 45 total apartment units. They said they were willing to compromise on unit counts, but only if there was a reduced height to the apartment buildings and better traffic management along Westfield Boulevard.
An updated traffic study that was commissioned by the development team before it refiled the project determined the project would not adversely affect traffic flow along Westfield Boulevard.
J.C. Hart Co. offered the removal of the condo element and the inclusion of additional greenspace as part of its efforts, along with the removal of vehicular access to the site from a neighboring private roadway for Oxbow Estates.
The lawsuit is expected to be dismissed with prejudice on Tuesday by Marion County Superior Court.
“We are grateful that we have been able to work effectively with our neighbors to make the Elements project a reality,” John Hart, chairman of J.C. Hart Co., said in a written statement. “This 168-unit project will bring a major investment and much needed housing, including workforce housing, to Broad Ripple. We want to thank the residents’ steering group, President Osili, Majority Leader Lewis and Councilor Delaney for their commitment and efforts to bring the parties together on the final important details. We look forward to a great relationship with our community and will continue to work together as we develop an environmentally sensitive project with state of the art architecture, top flight amenities and upscale finishes.”
The City-County Council voted 24-0 to approve the rezoning of the property to allow for the project to move ahead. Councilor Dan Boots, D-District 3, abstained from the vote.
“We are very proud that we were able to achieve so many positive gains for our coalition of neighborhoods,” Kautzman said. “But the only way we were able to do it was with the passionate, tireless work of the whole coalition of neighborhoods and all the volunteers, as well as the unwavering and steadfast support of counselors, Brienne Delaney and John Barth. At the end of the day, we’re very pleased with what we were able to achieve.”