Star of ‘Good Bones’ show says city officials hampered her work

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When Mina Starsiak Hawk recently announced the “Good Bones” HGTV show she co-hosts would not continue after its current season, she told listeners of her “Mina AF” podcast that her next steps were unknown.

But one thing seems likely: She won’t be redeveloping or building houses regularly in Indianapolis anymore.

Starsiak Hawk blames that decision in part on frustrations with the city’s Department of Metropolitan Development and the Department of Business and Neighborhood Services.

City officials defend their process and say no one receives preferential treatment—even if the work they’re doing ends up on TV.

Starsiak Hawk and her mother, Karen E Laine, renovated and built dozens of houses—many in the Bates-Hendricks and Fountain Square neighborhoods—for episodes of “Good Bones.” The first episode of the show’s eighth and final season aired on Aug. 15.

Mina Starsiak Hawk, left, and her mother, Karen E Laine, have been renovating and building houses—many in the Bates-Hendricks and Fountain Square neighborhoods—since 2016 for HGTV’s “Good Bones” series. (Photo courtesy of HGTV)

On her podcast, Starsiak Hawk described the decision to bring “Good Bones” to an end as something mutually agreed upon by herself and Colorado-based production company High Noon Entertainment.

Phasing out home renovation work in Marion County is a Two Chicks and a Hammer decision, and Starsiak Hawk said she doesn’t take that lightly. In recent years, the company established offices and opened a home furnishings retail shop in Bates-Hendricks.

But with “Good Bones” winding down, Starsiak Hawk said her Two Chicks and a Hammer renovation company increasingly “butted heads” with city planners who OK construction permits.

Starring on a TV show elevates Starsiak Hawk’s visibility, but she said she doesn’t seek special treatment when submitting plans for details such as building heights, setback distances to property lines and material used on the exteriors of homes.

“I have done everything I could possibly do to try to work within the system,” she said. “It’s tricky because, in local government, very few people are in charge of a lot of big decisions. It seems for a long time this plan for the city to have urban density, growth and development was not actually being enacted by the people making those decisions.”

Property owners make variance requests when their plans don’t match the standards of applicable zoning ordinances. Starsiak Hawk said she believes decision-makers apply personal architectural preferences when rejecting proposals not intended to be dictated by cosmetic guidelines.

“They’ll take one thing they’re allowed to do and then bend you over a barrel for 10 other things,” she said. “I have to go back to my architect eight or 10 or 12 times to try to meet this moving target.”

Representatives of the Department of Metropolitan Development and the Department of Business and Neighborhood Services declined to discuss specific grievances made by Starsiak Hawk.

A spokesperson for the city provided a statement to IBJ indicating that permitting decisions are made without bias:

“We understand the benefit of showcasing the diversity of Indianapolis’ neighborhoods, housing and people, and we appreciate Two Chicks and a Hammer’s commitment to our community over the last eight years. In that time, city agencies, recognizing the significance of the show for Indianapolis, often engaged with the team to guide them through the requirements and rules of our planning and permitting processes. These requirements are derived from state laws and local ordinances, and we must equitably enforce them for all Indianapolis residents and businesses.”

But Jason Blankenship, owner of Blankenship Custom Homes, said Two Chicks and a Hammer isn’t the only company perplexed by rulings made by the Department of Metropolitan Development and the Department of Business and Neighborhood Services. Blankenship, who has renovated and built houses in Indianapolis for 20 years, said there’s a rising trend in rejected plans.

“It’s as if everything we submit is getting so much pushback,” Blankenship said. “We’re asking for the standard, ‘Oh, hey, can we put the garage three feet from the property line instead of five?’ It’s stuff that’s been approved 1,000 times.”

Similar to Starsiak Hawk, Blankenship said he believes personal architectural preferences are factoring into decisions. Modern designs that reach three stories high and feature flat roofs are not in favor, he said.

“One thing that should never fall into a zoning hearing is architectural guidelines,” Blankenship said. “Architecture has nothing to do with zoning, which should be no more than a box on a site plan.”

Starsiak Hawk said Two Chicks’ decision to branch out to work in The Valley neighborhood, which includes the future headquarters of Elanco Animal Health Inc. south of the Indianapolis Zoo, proved to be especially challenging.

Unlike Bates-Hendricks and Fountain Square, The Valley neighborhood is part of the city’s Regional Center, a term synonymous with downtown and an area where a specific set of urban-design guidelines apply.

Starsiak Hawk said plans for street-facing garages were rejected in the neighborhood, and proposed porches were nixed for being too small to facilitate interaction with neighbors.

Jay Napoleon, president of The Valley Neighborhood Association, told IBJ the neighborhood, the Department of Metropolitan Development and Two Chicks and a Hammer managed to resolve variance requests made by Starsiak Hawk’s company.

“This process happens hundreds of times a year in every neighborhood,” Napoleon said.

His neighborhood is wary of development that creates investor opportunities for short-term rentals through platforms such as Airbnb and VRBO, he said.

“The Valley is not alone in this worry, but we are also aware that right now we are ‘white hot’ for that kind of development,” he said. “Sometimes that means pushing back against development plans that encourage that result.”

Starsiak Hawk said she can’t guarantee that a buyer of one of her properties will never rent the house.

But her struggles weren’t isolated to The Valley.

In the Old Southside neighborhood—also in the Regional Center—Starsiak Hawk said it was frustrating to learn one property’s zoning classification changed decades after a duplex was built on the site. Zoning shifted from residential to commercial, but the duplex could stand in perpetuity with no consequences.

If the building is razed, however, only a commercial building can replace it. Two Chicks and a Hammer wanted to take down the duplex, give attention to a crumbling foundation and build a duplex similar to the original. The plan wasn’t approved, Starsiak Hawk said.

Reflecting on past work in Indianapolis, Starsiak Hawk said Two Chicks and a Hammer strived to maintain a neighborhood’s aesthetic.

“I’m not trying to build crazy stuff,” she said. “I’m trying to build stuff so people will want to live here. … I’m not sure how I have kept 13 houses for eight seasons. Logistically, to get anything done in a reasonable amount of time is just not possible—particularly if you’re not someone [city planners] care for.”

The 13-houses-per-TV-season format ultimately proved unsustainable, Starsiak Hawk said.

“For the last two years, I’ve known,” she said. “It was, ‘Y’all, I’m losing it. I can’t keep doing what we’re doing, in terms of the pace and the finances of it. We need to start making a plan.’ We’ve been talking about what works for [production company High Noon] and what works for us for a long time.”

Post-“Good Bones” renovations on the company’s schedule will happen in Zionsville and Martinsville. Working outside of Marion County wasn’t unprecedented on “Good Bones,” which traveled to Mooresville for a first-season renovation.

Indianapolis showcase

“Good Bones” attracted more than 22.6 million viewers across 14 episodes that aired in 2020, according to Nielsen data.

Chris Gahl

Visit Indy Vice President Chris Gahl said Indianapolis images that appear in the show boost the city’s stature.

“We hear from visitors nearly weekly, through email and through calls, that they have an interest in going to see the homes featured on the show,” Gahl said. “We hear nearly weekly from meeting and event professionals who are thinking about Indianapolis, intrigued with the fact that ‘Good Bones’ is filmed here. Meeting planners are traditionally female, 28 to 42. And that aligns with a lot of the viewership demographics of ‘Good Bones.’”

Gahl said “Good Bones” also played a role in the city’s securing visits by NBC series “American Ninja Warrior” on Monument Circle in 2016 and 2018.

Since an initiative titled Film Indy launched in 2014 to attract film and video projects, the city has found the most success with reality TV shows.

“‘Good Bones’ is an established mechanism to showcase that you can do production here in Indianapolis and be successful,” Gahl said. “We were able to warm ‘American Ninja Warrior’ up to that idea, in large part because we pointed to an existing show that has credibility.”

Gahl described Starsiak Hawk as a team player in hospitality efforts.

“Through the years, we’ve had Mina visit VIPs who have an interest in Indianapolis and also are fans of the show,” he said. “She’s helped us direct conventions and land conventions in Indianapolis.”

Carolina calling

Although Laine continues to co-star on “Good Bones,” she retired from Two Chicks and a Hammer in 2019. Starsiak Hawk bought out Laine’s financial interest in the company.

Laine, a former defense attorney, said she never participated in applying for construction permits for Two Chicks and a Hammer and had no firsthand knowledge of the company’s relationship with the Department of Metropolitan Development and the Department of Business and Neighborhood Services.

“I think it’s sometimes easy, and this has happened to me in other situations, to get off on the wrong foot with a government employee,” Laine said. “And then it’s just an uphill battle to heal that relationship.”

Laine is currently renovating a 585-square-foot cottage in Wilmington, North Carolina. Wilmington-based newspaper Port City Daily reported that High Noon Entertainment obtained film permits to document work at the cottage.

Laine told IBJ she doesn’t know if filming related to the North Carolina renovation will result in a TV show.

“After eight years of doing ‘Good Bones,’ I love our production company,” she said. “They are amazingly talented people. They have taught me so much. I don’t want to stop working with them. I would like to work with them until I die because they’re wonderful. HGTV has been wonderful to us. If I could create content for HGTV until I die, that would be a dream come true.”

The 60-year-old said she’s also visited the West Coast this summer to investigate an outdoor opportunity.

“I went to Thousand Oaks, California, to look at a landscaping job I think I would like to do, which is crazy,” Laine said. “But that’s what TV has done: It got me an interview for a landscaping job in California.”

According to a report by entertainment website Deadline, HGTV hasn’t closed the door on future on-camera work for Starsiak Hawk and Laine.

“While this is the end of ‘Good Bones’ as we know it, we’re currently in talks with Mina and Karen about other projects,” HGTV said in a statement.

Two Chicks District Co. opened in 2020 at 1531 S. East St. Mina Starsiak Hawk says 85% of the home-furnishings store’s customers are tourists. (IBJ photo/Dave Lindquist)

Thinking smaller

Starsiak Hawk, 38, said she’s downsized the Two Chicks and a Hammer staff because she’s no longer planning projects for “Good Bones.”

“It doesn’t require 12 people,” she said on her podcast. “I threw everything against the wall to see what would stick to try to keep the team together. … It’s my responsibility to move to the next chapter in a responsible and respectful way, a caring way. I’ve done that. I feel good about that, but it’s still just really hard.”

In 2020, Starsiak Hawk opened Two Chicks District Co., a home furnishings store at 1531 S. East St.

She said 85% of the store’s customers are tourists, a statistic that makes it reasonable to speculate the store will be in peril with the show coming to an end.

“I wanted that to be a cool spot for local people to come, and they just don’t,” Starsiak Hawk said.

Meanwhile, the offices of Two Chicks and a Hammer have exited the company’s headquarters a block south of Two Chicks District Co. and relocated to Starsiak Hawk’s home in Fountain Square.

She’s attempting to sell the headquarters, a building renovated and featured on a 2022 episode of “Good Bones.”

​​“I’m an investor, and I’m a developer, but I’m not nearly as big as most [companies],” she said. “But I live here. I pay taxes in Marion County. I don’t do it from California. I don’t do it from Noblesville. I put my headquarters and store here because those things all matter to me.”

While Two Chicks and a Hammer has work in The Valley that has yet to be completed, a carriage house associated with one of the houses will be spotlighted during the final season of “Good Bones.”

Starsiak Hawk said she was surprised to see a house pop up in the neighborhood with a street-facing garage after her proposal for a similar design was rejected.

“Those are the things where you think, ‘How can it not feel personal when it’s applied so randomly?’” she said. “Let’s make it not personal. Say, ‘This is the rule, this is how you do it and it’s easy.’”

Fellow developer Blankenship said challenges in the permitting process are affecting his bottom line.

“I don’t have the money to spend $5,500 getting new sets of plans designed, only to send it in and have it rejected for some arbitrary reason we don’t even understand,” he said. “I don’t ever recoup that $5,500. It’s gone.”

Meanwhile, Blankenship said neighborhoods such as Fountain Square and Bates-Hendricks would benefit from accelerated development instead of a slowdown.

“In other places, I build homes, and they fly off the market,” he said. “In Hamilton County, you can’t even finish a house before it’s sold. In downtown, the market has slowed down. There’s way less residential development than there was. That being said, the process became twice as hard.”

As an HGTV celebrity, Starsiak Hawk has experience with naysayers. For much of the run of “Good Bones,” critics have assailed the show for contributing to elevated property values in neighborhoods and increasing the odds that lower-income residents would be displaced.

Recently, online comments have decried the layoffs at Two Chicks and a Hammer.

Former restaurant server Starsiak Hawk said she values advice shared by an HGTV executive who visited Indianapolis during the making of an early “Good Bones” episode.

“She said, ‘TV’s weird, and it will mess with you and mess with your life. And what you have to remember is, the people who love you don’t love you. They love the version of you that we’ve created. And the people who hate you and troll you and say nasty stuff? They don’t hate you. They hate the version of you that we’ve created. So if you can remember that none of this has anything to do with you, you’ll come out unscathed. And not a lot of people can do that.’”•

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39 thoughts on “Star of ‘Good Bones’ show says city officials hampered her work

  1. Starsiak-Hawk’s complaints about Indianapolis zoning and building regulations are legitimate. As someone who has renovated older homes and built new homes both here and on the east coast, I can attest to the fact that Indianapolis is a strange duck.

    For starters, the city’s building code – known as the “muni code” – is both confusing and outdated when it comes to many building practices. It is poorly written, subject to different interpretations from one building inspector to the next, and is not easily searchable (something that would help both novices and pros when looking for code specifications).

    While most cities and states use the International Residential Code (IRC), which is updated every three years to reflect new technology, materials, and practices, the “muni code” is the classic example of what appears to be a camel but is actually a cow designed by a committee of amateurs.

    Even worse is that too many code enforcement officials lack the skills to read the blueprints, inspect the construction, or actually provide useful guidance to correct deficiencies during an inspection.

    The IRC would be a game-changer in Indianapolis in that the city would rely on construction experts from around the country for a code that is easy to understand, easily searchable, and updated every three years. In other words, the IRC would be both brainless and painless for the city to adopt.

    1. I’m pretty sure the residential building code is promulgated by the State of Indiana. Indianapolis contractors have to comply with it and the city must enforce it. Additionally even the zoning ordinances in Indianapolis have to be approved by the state Fire and Building Services Commission. Perhaps this is a bigger story than just an urban Indianapolis story.

    2. I own a real estate investment company here in the Indy metro area and I haven’t had any issues conducting business with flips, renovations or new construction built. Not sure what exactly the issues are with Good Bones but it’s not as difficult as they’re claiming it to be. At least from my perspective.

    3. Brent B, why don’t you research how much these city employees are paid. It’s public information and it’s shameful. Perhaps if they were paid better, had more training, and were seen as partners in the process things would be better.

  2. Sounds like our city regulators are to bureaucratic. More concerned with
    bureaucracy than getting efficiencies and productive results.

    It’s no wonder developers are avoiding Marion County.

  3. I think many in the Old Southside are okay with slowing the development down to get it right and make sure it’s something positive for those who live here once the White hot trend has moved on. Sure a short-term rental here and there, but not the overwhelming amount there is now. Seems like half the people staying in the neighborhood over the weekend are new each and every weekend. We never know who our children are walking past. We ask for housing design for families to put down roots. We are really thankful that the city listens to the residents. And oftentimes the residents are pushing back against the developers. Because once all the money is made we still live here.

  4. Typical Indianapolis. And Hogsett will not lift a finger to address this issue. He needs to go already. And not just back to rehab. The job has been beyond his capabilities since his first term.

    1. I get it. You don’t like the mayor, but putting the building code on Hogsett is kind of a stretch.

    2. The same muni code existed under GOP administrations and these remained unchanged. And many residents fled the city under said administrations.

      Citizens and developers should indeed challenge the current system and address the City County Council to make changes that benefit the city. After all, Indiana is hardly an icon or progressiveness and Good Bones certainly put a positive spin on the city, despite negative policy stances taken in the Statehouse.

    3. So I guess you also blame the weather on the Mayor? He is in his third term so enough people like him. This isn’t a political issue stop trying to make it one. Sounds like you are accusing him of needing Rehab of some type, that’s bold with no receipts of him needing rehab.

  5. Most cities use the ‘IRC’ code. Therein lies another symptom of backasswards Indy. I loved the show, I loved what they were doing. These weren’t people doing rental ‘flips’ but many pre contracted homes for clients in neighborhoods that have been left to rot. Considering the local photographer’s positive videos on each segment, the city or state, instead of slowing down Mina’s progress should have provided a stipend for: 1. Renovating at no cost to the city falling down properties while creating new neighborhoods and taxes. 2. Generating positive free, positive national exposure that was seen positively by millions. YOU CAN’T BUY THAT KIND OF MEDIA EXPOSURE. Instead, the over officious bean counters at some nebulous office cubicle have run mom to North Carolina, while Mina, a young mother and major influencer is faced with shutting down. Unbelievably stupid, short sighted and self destructive lack of cooperation. This is another classic example of why Indianapolis has never been able to elevate itself from being a ‘minor league city’ regardless of hotels, conventions or population. It’s a provincial abyss. Way to go!

    1. Completely agree. We used to have strong leadership. Not any more. Indianapolis peaked a while ago. Its best years are long past.

  6. Point of fact: many here are conflating zoning ordinance (local) and building code (state). The building codes referenced by commenters is set by the State of Indiana. The current 2020 InRC adopts by reference the 2018 IRC with few amendments.

    1. @FSQ R – Exactly, this article has nothing to do with the IRC…it’s a point of contention with the planning & zoning department – a confusing at best unified development ordinance, overlayed/trumped by a “recent” addendum called “Walkable Neighborhood Design Standards” and steered by an unofficially official “Infill Housing Guidelines” which require neighborhood alignment on all proposals.

      There’s are reasons why society is experiencing a housing shortage…and this kind of bureaucracy is a large piece of the problem pie.

  7. What she really means is that the City held them to the same standards as everyone else and she is aghast that the rules weren’t circumvented for her. Good riddance to their substandard work and rape of neighborhoods.

    1. Apparently after a decade of not paying contractors they finally ran out of fools who were willing to work with them.

      Her entire family left and went to work for a competitor… that should tell people something

    2. I find most of this to be bogus. As an employee of Two Chicks for 5 years and essentially the in house GC- hiring subs, troubleshooting, order material, handling schedule, etc. I saw a lot. To Mina’s credit, doing 13 houses in a small time span is very tough. Two Chicks never got into the swing of being ahead of time and was always a reactive company. Getting permits or variances were always made tougher because instead of getting ahead of the 8 ball and applying for plans 6 months ago…they would get applied for when we should have already been building. Also publicly criticizing the permit office on social media isn’t going to make you any friends.

      Since I’ve started my own company, I’ve had very little issues with permits and inspectors. It’s my purview that their aim is to treat everyone equitably.

  8. Honestly, it’s terrible that things like state building codes, local zoning ordinances and even federal lead paint abatement laws should stand in the way of these ladies progress. For Gods sake they are tv stars. America loves them. Perhaps they should both run for public office.

  9. Everyone has to play by the same rules. That being said, can Indy do better about zoning and permitting? Absolutely. But rather than complaining perhaps just having a conversation with city planning staff ahead of time would go a long way, rather than assuming just because something was approved in the past means you’re entitled to the same treatment. Each project is unique especially if you’re asking for variances.

  10. It seems Mina did not take the producer’s advice set out in the last paragraph of the article; she’s taking it personally. Personally that she’s not treated as the star she aspires to be.

    1. Agreed. Also, my daughter owned a smalled house built by them – not well built, they removed things that were supposed to come with the home and their show is totally scripted.

  11. Good to see further discussion started about this sad state of affairs. We’re still running on 2014 (with amendment) codes in Indiana. These ought to be updated. More consistency would be beneficial, too.

    1. Indianapolis did a major revamp in 2016, with updates all the way to 2023. This was a major change since I think the previous revamp was in 1963. I don’t think Indy Zoning is behind the times.

  12. The process is not hard to navigate. The sob story about the duplex- all of that information would have been readily available before purchase, sounds like they didn’t do their due diligence. Filing for permits and following the rules that apply to everyone isn’t a hardship. Clearly she expected special treatment due to being on TV, which the city was never going to give her- because being on TV doesn’t entitle you to get around the rules.

  13. The city zoning guidelines are pretty clear. The city also has infill housing guidelines for construction that have been in place since Fall Creek Place came out the of the ground in 2000. I think it is totally legitimate that the city has some restrictions in place. In an Urban neighborhood, porches big enough to use, YES, garages in the front NO. There is a really good reason that people are attracted to downtown neighborhoods and it is not because they look like suburban development. Judging from the number of flat rood structures I see all over the near east side, DMD does not have a problem with them. Maybe they have a problem with buildings that exceed the maximum height, after all nobody wants a mini high-rise next door.

    This also seems funny having heard second hand via word of mouth that these guys just go and do something and get hit with a stop work order. These guys might have created this antagonistic relationship.

    From my past experience it might take ten revisions from the architect before things are approved, but the time to do it are when things are on paper and it’s easy to change. Poor planning is not a reason for crying about sour grapes.

  14. It’s not even the building codes that is a problem, it’s the length of time to get a building permit. Waiting 6-8 month for a simple renovation is way to long. Then there is the hidden code that the inspector imposes on your building. City needs to address the shortage of inspectors and shorten the process.

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