Public access counselor: Carmel BZA violated transparency laws during review of The GOAT

The Greatest of All Taverns, or The GOAT, was denied a use variance to continue its operations at 220 2nd St. SW. (IBJ Photo | Kurt Christian)

Indiana’s public access counselor found the Carmel Board of Zoning Appeals violated state law when its members formalized a ruling to close The GOAT restaurant and bar outside of a public meeting.

Citing the opinion, the owners of the restaurant have renewed their motion with the Hamilton Superior Court for a stay of the BZA’s decision and to allow the venue to reopen.

The Carmel Board of Zoning Appeals held a meeting on April 26 where it denied The Greatest of All Taverns’ request to rezone the property at 220 2nd St. SW to allow the bar to continue operating as a business on a residential property. The board members publicly discussed community concerns about patrons’ impropriety, and a majority voted to deny the permit.

The GOAT Owner Kevin Paul filed a complaint with Indiana Public Access Counselor Luke Britt on June 10 accusing the board of lacking transparency.

Britt issued his opinion July 2 and ultimately found the Carmel Board of Zoning Appeals violated state Open Door Laws by adopting the written findings of fact outside of a public meeting.

“Even though the BZA is not required to adopt written findings of fact at the hearing when it makes the zoning decision, the Open Door Law requires adoption of the findings at a public meeting because it constitutes final action for purposes of the [Open Door Law],” Britt wrote in his opinion.

The Greatest of All Taverns, or The GOAT, was denied a use variance to continue its operations at 220 2nd St. SW. (IBJ Photo | Kurt Christian)

Paul—through his companies Tomahawk Holdings LLC, The Greatest of All Taverns, LLC d/b/a The GOAT and Danny Boy Beer Works, LLC—filed a petition with the Hamilton County Superior Court on May 4 for judicial review of the BZA’s ruling and to reverse the decision.

During those proceedings, Paul claims the attorney representing the Carmel Board of Zoning Appeals provided written findings of fact explaining the denial of the use variance petition. He said the board neither adopted those findings at the April 26 meeting or any public meetings after.

Krieg DeVault Attorney Paul Reis, on behalf of the Carmel Board of Zoning Appeals, wrote in an email to Britt that the board’s approval of the written findings of fact by email and individual communication does not qualify as a meeting.

“Since this approval does not constitute a meeting, the approval of the findings of fact do not constitute a secret ballot,” Reis wrote.

Although the public access counselor’s office agreed with the idea that emails and individual lines of communication do not constitute a meeting, Britt wrote in his opinion “…[t]hat analysis changes when the communication exchanged rises to the level of final action…”

He added, because the zoning code requires both a majority vote and a majority approval for the written findings, action on either requires a public meeting.

“The best practice going forward, from a public access perspective, is for the BZA to adopt its written findings of fact at a public meeting either at the time of the zoning decision— which is not required by law—or at a later public meeting,” Britt wrote in his opinion. “This approach avoids any potential tension with the Open Door Law while still adhering to the zoning code and the BZA’s rules of procedure.”

Although the public access counselor’s opinion can impact a petitioner’s court fees in some cases, a judge has final authority when it comes to making factual determinations regarding complaints filed before the court and whether the business can reopen.

“At the end of the day, we just want to operate under the same rules as our neighboring businesses,” Paul said in a written statement. “I hope this stay will allow us to open very soon and bring the hardworking employees of The GOAT Tavern back to work.”

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6 thoughts on “Public access counselor: Carmel BZA violated transparency laws during review of The GOAT

  1. Good to see a report on public access issues every once in a while. Indeed, there are many opportunities to publicly report and reinforce the importance of the public’s right of access to public records and to attend open public meetings. Unfortunately, most of the time it seems that average citizens, rather than corporations, are the parties most often on the receiving end of agency mis- or mal-feasance in failing to comply with the two primary public access statutes. But these circumstances are rarely reported.

  2. Whats news? Carmel has no transparency under the Brainard Regime. If they did Brainard would have been voted out a long time ago. However, one day the truth will come out about all his shaenanigans.

  3. Shenanigans???? You might want to drive around Carmel and see what he has done over the years. What used to be closed factories, a closed lumber yard, etc. is now the Monon center with apartments, restaurants, beautiful trails, etc. PS He’s duly elected every 4 years….that’s the voters’ choice NOT a regime.

  4. We moved here 40 years ago next month. Downtown was the Hardware store, a dollar movie theater, and of course Old town Tavern. Look at pictures from 1981 and look around now. Carmel residents are fortunate that we’ve had good partnerships with the city officials and business interests. We live in a beautiful city!

  5. Great. Now get on the Carmel school board that is restricting meetings to 10 “chosen ones” and keeping the public and more importantly the parents out. Too much in Carmel goes down as in a tin pot dictatorship.

  6. Carmel is a great place to live, no question. At least there is a mayor that has interest in the city, unlike the city to the south. If one actuly pays attention to the goings on of the Carmel city government, one might start raising eyebrows. The GOAT debacle is a microcosm. This town has lost a lot of original character and the city owns WAY too much “private sector” property. I happen to like lumber yards and the old theatre was likely more profitable than the performing arts center? Cool town, but lots of “stuff” behind closed doors – time for changes.
    GO GOAT!

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