Developers come out of the shadows in Westfield

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Developers of a proposed business park called NorthPoint II resubmitted their planned unit development request to the city this month. They had withdrawn a similar request in 2022. (IBJ photo/Eric Learned)

With a new mayor and a completely new city council in Westfield, developers have resumed submitting projects to a city they say they’ve avoided the past four years.

Yes, Westfield is the sixth-fastest-growing city in the United States. The city’s population has increased from 21,000 in 2008 to more than 54,000. And it has on its books enough housing approved for construction to grow to 70,000 residents.

Scott Willis

During the past decade, the city opened the 400-acre Grand Park Sports Campus and the $39 million Grand Junction Plaza, a public park downtown.

But the number of new projects stalled recently, as city-government infighting brought growth to a screeching halt.

From 2016-2019, the Westfield City Council approved 66 planned unit developments. Over the next four years, it approved 27. And that includes a one-year jump of 15 in 2021—a COVID-based aberration, according to new Mayor Scott Willis.

Justin Moffett, CEO of Carmel-based Old Town Cos., said that in “the last four years, there was quite a bit of misalignment between the mayoral administration and the council, and that made it really just uncertain for the development community.”

Justin Moffett

“Building align-ment between parties that don’t see eye-to-eye on most topics, that was quite a challenge, Moffett said.

In fact, he said gaining approval in 2021 and 2022 for expanded plans for his company’s Union Square at Grand Junction, a major development in downtown Westfield, was “one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my career.”

Union Square, planned for the city block south of State Road 32 between South Union and Mill streets, is expected to have 196 apartments, a 300-car parking garage, 17,000 square feet of retail space, a 15,000-square-foot food and beverage hall, and a 40,000-square-foot office and retail building. It was originally approved in 2019.

With new leadership in charge, developers interviewed by IBJ described Jan. 1, 2024, as a “restart moment” for Westfield. Evidence of that moment can be seen on the council’s agendas for the first few meetings of the new year.

While the City Council reviewed and approved just two planned unit development requests in all of 2023, developers filed four such requests with the city in the first six weeks of this year; the proposals have already appeared on council agendas.

A PUD is a zoning tool that defines and regulates proposed development and guides developers on permitted uses and design standards. Developers submit PUD requests for projects such as housing developments and commercial districts.

The four PUD requests so far are NorthPoint II, a 169-acre business park by South Bend-based Holladay Properties on the city’s rural northeast side; two housing developments by Indianapolis-based Platinum Properties Management Co. consisting of nearly 600 new houses; and a 13,000- to 15,000-square-foot special events venue by operators of The Sixpence, an event and wedding venue in Whitestown, that would be built near the southeast corner of West 186th Street and Spring Mill Road.

Paul Rioux

Platinum Properties CEO Paul Rioux said he expects development in Westfield to take off, especially after the city completes its comprehensive plan, which has not been updated since 2005.

“They want the growth, they want the development, they want new things, but it’s not going to be, ‘Come on in and you’re approved,’” Rioux said. “It’s going to have to be the right things in the right places, and I think that’s some of the thoughtful stuff they’re working on now.”

City Councilor Victor McCarty, who previously served on the Westfield Advisory Plan Commission, said council members will do their due diligence to ensure projects are the right fit and not “approve all willy-nilly.” But he said councilors agree unanimously that Westfield needs development to compete regionally.

“If you’re not growing, you’re dying, so we really need to capitalize on the opportunities that we have around us,” he said. “We’ve seen successes around Hamilton County about what Carmel and Fishers have been able to do over the last four years … and we don’t want to be left out of the club. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Looking for a mulligan

Chris Wilkes

Chris Wilkes, senior vice president with Holladay Properties, said the consensus within the development community was that Westfield has been “mired in stagnation” in recent years.

Holladay Properties reintroduced NorthPoint II this month. The company had dropped the proposal in 2022 before the City Council could vote following two years of resistance from neighbors.

The project had received an unfavorable recommendation from the advisory plan commission and did not have support from a majority of city councilors.

Bastian Solutions, a Carmel-based subsidiary of Japan-based Toyota Industries Corp., had planned to build a corporate campus at NorthPoint II. Instead, the company announced last year it would move its corporate headquarters and build a huge manufacturing plant at a $130 million campus in Noblesville.

“When the new leadership turned over on Jan. 1, we were chomping at the bit to get in,” Wilkes said. “You sort of had pent-up demand to bring things forward into the development realm.”

Before he took office in January, Willis said one of his first objectives as mayor was to bring NorthPoint II back to the drawing board because Westfield needs the project in order to be competitive.

He pointed to Noblesville’s Innovation Mile and the Indiana Economic Development Corp.’s LEAP Research and Innovation District in Lebanon as examples of what Westfield needs to work toward: having land ready with infrastructure, utilities and water so companies can build quickly.

NorthPoint II is a necessity in Willis’ mind for two additional reasons. One is because welcoming more companies to Westfield would help relieve property tax pressure on homeowners.

A state constitutional amendment that voters approved in 2010 caps property tax bills at 1% of assessed value for owner-occupied homes. Property taxes on commercial development, however, are generally capped at 3% of assessed value.

The other reason is NorthPoint II’s location along State Road 38. Willis said Westfield needs to use its proximity to U.S. 31 and State Roads 32 and 38 to entice companies to move to the city.

“Those are our arteries, and that’s where commercial development is going to happen,” he said.

Willis has held community meetings since late last year between residents and representatives from Holladay to work through differences, he said. He described the process in 2022 as “contentious” and “hostile,” and he wanted to ensure discussions were productive this time around.

Among the changes to the original plan is a 10-acre tree preservation area on the west side of the property that would serve as a buffer between NorthPoint II and residents’ homes.

“We tried to tamp that [hostility] down and just have open dialogue around the table and just listen and try to do the best we can to make this project a success from all sides,” Willis said.

The city needs to have a vision and be committed to that vision and find ways to soften areas of disagreement on major projects, he said. When a handful of residents has a concern about a project that could “positively impact the 60,000 residents of Westfield, you have to strike a balance,” he said.

More commercial growth

City Councilor Jon Dartt said his fellow councilors are aligned in their belief that Westfield needs to attract companies in the health care and life sciences industries.

“The goal would be to bring in those types of companies with the high-paying jobs where it encourages [people] to move to Westfield for those types of job opportunities,” Dartt said.

One such project is already underway.

Isotopia USA, a newly formed U.S. subsidiary of Israel-based Isotopia Molecular Imaging Ltd., announced last year it would build a facility with 28,000 square feet of clean rooms, analytical and microbiological laboratories near U.S. 31 at 17075 Oak Ridge Road.

Chip Barnes

The company will produce Lu-177 n.c.a., a radioactive medical isotope used in pharmaceuticals for targeted cancer treatment.

Chip Barnes, a founder of Indianapolis-based I3 Investors Inc., said his company plans to build a four-building development called Trailside Business Center along S.R. 32. The business center would provide midsize industrial warehouse facilities for growing companies.

“They’re going to need to get some other development in there [along S.R. 32 other than retail], and they need to work with the business community and say, ‘We want jobs in Westfield, and we want different kinds of development,’” Barnes said. “I think that’s the next stage for them, and that’s what the challenge is going to be.”

Grand Park, downtown

Willis, who served on the Westfield City Council from 2020 to 2023 as a pro-development voice, said city councilors will soon learn about more project proposals.

He met with developers in a roundtable meeting late last year and urged them to be patient and not overwhelm the seven first-term councilors early in the year.

Willis said he plans to be strategic and overcommunicate with developers and residents about what projects he thinks are the right fit for which location and when they should happen.

“That is a lot better message than some of the things that were happening in the last four years where it was obvious it was just an anti-development sentiment in how they were treated and the way the city would communicate with them on what [the city] would and would not accept,” he said.

City Council President Patrick Tamm said the new council has members who are interested in making sure Westfield grows “the proper way.” Tamm said he is looking forward to figuring out how to develop and attract businesses near Grand Park, along U.S. 31 and in the city’s downtown while not overburdening infrastructure.

“We have a big asset there with Grand Park, so how do we develop and attract businesses and diversify our tax base, particularly while utilizing Grand Park?” Tamm said.

In December, former Mayor Andy Cook announced that the city selected a consortium of firms led by Indianapolis-based Keystone Group and Westfield-based Bullpen Ventures to manage and further develop Grand Park.

Under terms of the deal, Grand Park Sports & Entertainment will pay the city $300 million over 40 years. In turn, the group will reap revenue from operating and developing the campus.

Downtown Westfield will be another focus for Willis. He wants to get to work on downtown soon because it will experience upheaval beginning in 2026 when the Indiana Department of Transportation starts an $80 million federally funded project to widen and add roundabouts along five miles of S.R. 32 from Westfield to Noblesville.

“We’re trying to coordinate that in a way that makes sense,” Willis said. “I think in the next 12 to 18 months, you’re going to see proposals before this council that are going to transform our downtown.”

Moffett, the CEO of Old Town, said he has weekly meetings with Westfield’s new administration to discuss the company’s ongoing projects in Westfield.

“We’re heavily invested in the emerging downtown area, and we’re actively looking at a few opportunities that aren’t announced yet, but we think that there’s quite an opportunity to do some more neighborhood-type office spaces that would create daytime business residents in the downtown,” Moffett said.•

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2 thoughts on “Developers come out of the shadows in Westfield

  1. It woud be nice and fully transparent if the Mayor would acknowledge his wife works for Justin Moffett and Old Town Development in a management position. Its very condescending of the Mayor to state that development will take precedent over homeowners’ concerns.

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