Developers planning $61M residential project for Willows property, but Nora neighbors unswayed

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The apartments planned by J.C. Hart Co. Inc. would front Westfield Boulevard. (Conceptual rendering courtesy of J.C. Hart Co. Inc.)

A pair of local developers plans to spend at least $61 million to convert The Willows Event Center and adjacent land north of Broad Ripple into more than 250 apartments and townhouses, despite objections from nearby residents.

J.C. Hart Co. Inc. and Chase Development LLC are partnering on the redevelopment of about 8 acres in and near the 6700 block of Westfield Boulevard. The property also features a 13-acre pond.

The redevelopment project, located near the southern boundary of the Nora neighborhood, includes a $53 million apartment complex and more than a dozen townhouses.

However, the developers face pushback from neighbors, who say they are concerned the size and scope of the project don’t jibe with the rest of the neighborhood.

The apartment project, to be developed by J.C. Hart, would consist of three apartment buildings totaling 238 units and 303 parking spaces directly along Westfield Boulevard, just north of the oxbow in the White River. Apartments would range from about $1,200 to $2,100 per month.

Chase Development would spend no less than $8 million on the townhouses, which would range from three to four stories and run about $700,000 to $1 million. Those properties would run along North Dawson Lake Drive, on the southern half of the 13-acre pond.

The apartment portion of the development is expected to feature at least 23 apartments for those making up to 50% of the area’s median income, as part of an effort to secure tax-increment financing bonds from the city. An affordable housing element is a requirement for any multifamily projects receiving city funds.

The Willows opened in 1988 at 6719 Westfield Blvd., but is closing due to financial struggles since the start of the pandemic. The ownership group sought proposals from various developers to buy and recast the property, ultimately picking J.C. Hart and Chase.

John Hart, founder of J.C. Hart, said he believes the project is warranted for the neighborhood and would be beneficial in the long run for current and future residents.

He said the firm’s development team offered as many concessions as possible to appease neighbors. Among the changes, Hart shifted plans for the apartments from one building to three and shortened the height of parts of the structures from four stories down to three. 

“We thought [that] would be something that neighbors would think would be a positive gesture on our part, but so far, I don’t know that they’ve embraced that,” he said. “We’ve listened and we’ve tried to make changes that will be positive for the neighborhood.”

But property owners in the area, including many members of the Oxbow Estates Homeowners Association and Marott Island Community Association, remain opposed to the project on multiple fronts. Among their concerns are that the project will hamper traffic flow in the area, that it’s too dense for the neighborhood, and that such a development is in violation of the city’s comprehensive plan because of its size and uses.

Many have sent letters of remonstrance to the city’s Department of Metropolitan Development ahead of a scheduled April 20 hearing before the Metropolitan Development Commission.

That hearing will consider a rezoning application from the developers to convert the land to the DP (planned development) designation from its current commercial use designations. The land is under contract by the developers for an undisclosed price, pending city approvals.

“The density, height, and footprint of these proposed luxury apartments and condominiums violates the City’s Comprehensive Plan,” John Kautzman, a board member of the Oxbow Estates Homeowners Association, said in emailed comments to IBJ. “In fact, the proposed density is essentially double what is recommended by the Comprehensive Plan, potentially adding hundreds of cars and pedestrians and creating a serious traffic hazard adjacent to a dangerous blind curve on Westfield Boulevard.”

Kautzman said neighbors would prefer for the property to retain a neighborhood suburban classification—the same one it has in the city’s comprehensive plan—rather than be altered to a typically higher-density planned unit development designation. They also fear the project could negatively impact local ecology.

He added residents are also concerned with the potential use of tax-increment financing dollars for the project, which for 25 years would divert about 80% of the real property tax generated by the improvements to the site toward paying off bonds on the project. The other 20% would go to the city like other tax dollars do.

However, Hart said, even with tax-increment financing in place, the project is expected to add about $10 million to the neighborhood’s tax base over 25 years, compared to about $45,000 that would have come from The Willows.

Hart also pointed to a traffic study commissioned by the developers that shows the project would not adversely affect the neighborhood.

Despite neighbor objections, the development has support from City-County Councilor Keith Potts, D-District 2, who said he has sought to bridge the divide between the developers and the neighborhood residents.

“My role in the process is as a mediator; I take the concerns of the community to the developer, and it’s a back and forth, give and take,” he said. “At the end of the day, nobody’s fully happy with me, because I’m asking everybody to give a little bit.”

If the rezoning request is approved by the MDC, it would then go to the City-County Council for consideration.

Potts said he believes the developers have made as many concessions as possible to win support of the neighbors.

“The impression that I get from the neighbors … is they just don’t want it to happen, period,” he said. “The folks who own the property have the right to petition to redevelop it and they’re going through the process.

“I understand that folks don’t want it to happen. That point has been made loudly and clearly over and over. But at the end of the day, when it comes down to how I feel about the project, I feel the developers have thoughtfully made concessions to address the concerns and I feel they’ve done their due diligence.”

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37 thoughts on “Developers planning $61M residential project for Willows property, but Nora neighbors unswayed

    1. Nora is not a suburb. Nor is Castleton. Both are within the Indianapolis city limits. Suburbs adjacent to the northern city limits are Zionsville, Carmel, Westfield, and Fishers with a combined 2020 population of 275,747 (which is roughly one-fourth of Indianapolis’ 2020 population.

    2. I believe Robert is referring to “suburb” as in the low-density development pattern, not the geopolitical division.

    3. Brent knows what point was being made, but is being his usual self. These are are definitely far from urban – that’s for sure. Let’s face it, Indianapolis is an artificially large city geographically.

    4. Murray: Absolutely. Our extreme sprawl and weak tax base are the results of decades of policy choices. We have built a lot of roads and infrastructure over a large area for not a lot of people. Our old zoning codes kept things far apart. There’s just too much physical stuff and not enough revenue per acre being generated from property taxes or income taxes (due to our comparatively low wages and lack of tax-base sharing with adjacent counties) to sustain it.

  1. Perhaps the owners should just close the event center and do minimal upkeep on the property. Make good use of the property by inviting the area homeless to set up an encampment. Then area residents might realize there are worse things to look at other than upscale apartments.

  2. Glad to seem them moving forward despite the complaints. It’s a great use of the land available and will enhance the surrounding areas by adding much needed housing stock.

  3. Opponents of this development claim that the “island” on which the development would be built has approximately 400 residents in a low-density, suburban-like environment. That claim is false. Within a half mile of the site are some 270 high-density multi-family condominiums and apartments, which amounts to two-thirds of the island’s population. That density increases if you add the condominiums are the Reserve just west of the bridge over the White River.

    1. There are 4 story condos on the east side of the lake.
      I can see why the residents of Oxbow might object to it but it would seem to me that that development is the one “out of place” in that area.

    2. Eric H. – The Spirit Lake condo buildings seem like they would be a better fit in the old Soviet Union, as they lack any distinguishing or interesting aesthetics. In short, they are blah.

  4. This is at least the third large development in the last 5 months that Keith Potts has come out in favor of, despite many (if not most) of his constituents opposing. The most frustrating thing is his lack of response to queries. He must be voted out of office in the next election cycle.

    1. Mike K. – The majority of his constituents couldn’t care less, especially when these developments generate a major increase in the amount of property taxes collected for things like more police and fire protection, better schools, improved sewer and flood systems, and pothole-free streets. Don’t confuse the opposition of a vocal few as representative of what the majority thinks.

  5. I guess my question for everyone is, “What do you want the area to look like in ten, twenty years?” The idea of zoning the area was to guide a vision. Pockets of density where things were already more dense. More open/less-dense areas in others. I’m curious.

    1. GB L – Years ago there was a national movement to stop “sprawl” – in essence, the encroachment of civilization into rural parts of the country (think Carmel of 1970 vs Carmel of today, and the result was sprawl). The solution to that was to increase the density of housing inside the city limits. They only way to do that is to increase the use of vertical multi-family housing (apartments and condominiums). Just building more two- or three-story townhomes might slow the sprawl but is not nearly as effective as building mid-rise (5- to 10-story multi-unit buildings). Brad Ripple has not been a village since 1922 when it was annexed by Indianapolis, but even in its original form it was considered a dense neighborhood with block after block of small bungalows just feet away from their neighbors on small lots. Today, when the land is no longer available to build horizontally the only way to go is up. For long-time residents who remember the Indianapolis of 40 or 50 years ago, that’s a hard thing to swallow. I guess they’d rather see sprawl overtake the rural landscape.

  6. I love how the Oxbow Lake Community is complaining as if there isn’t a 5 other high rise apartments going up all over Broad Ripple. They should say “we don’t like traffic at our gated entrance”. haha

  7. ” They also fear the project could negatively impact local ecology.” Of course, that wasn’t negatively impacted when Oxbow was built I suppose…

    1. …Or when Dawson Lake was drained to put in the sewer and water infrastructure for their development…

  8. It certainly does appear to be massive NIMBYism. The project is neither to dense nor to urban and fits well and urban corridor. So what might be common ground that would appease most neighbors but allow for an improvement that can efficiently be designed, funded, and constructed.

    Cities have traffic. Three-story structures are not extreme nor atypical for urban and, for that matter, suburban development. Venture north of 96th Street and take a look at multi-unit development there. And by no means is traffic over capacity in the area. If one’s vision is a bucolic exurban or semi-rural existence, then on should reconsider living in any city.

    Attitudes such as this continue to make Indianapolis less competitive, attractive and inviting as compared to peer cities, such as Columbus OH, Louisville, Kansas City . . . and the list goes on.

  9. The developers are doing a terrific job of organizing comments.

    This project should not be compared to the apartment developments in Broad Ripple, each with walking access to necessities of life. It is outside that “walking footprint.” Everything north of the White River bridge has a low density, residential feel; this project doesn’t fit. It would no doubt be a boon to the developer, but it is a completely unnecessary divergence from the City Plan or zoning ordinance.

    …. which raises questions that should have occurred to the reporter and his editor:
    1) Who owns The Willows?
    2) Is the owner selling the property or does the owner have an economic stake in the development?

    The owner knew the economic profile of the property when it was acquired. Live with it.

    Right now the property is apparently losing money. Pick the best 3 years of the last 10, capitalize the average annual cash flow at a 10% cap rate, add a 10% premium and sell it to the Spirit Lake Condo owners and Ox Bow neighborhood. Matter resolved.

    1. Mark L. – With all due respect, everything north of the White River bridge does NOT have a “low density, residential feel.” Across Westfield Boulevard from the subject property are the Winston Island Woods condominiums, consisting of 16 buildings containing 101 3-story condominiums. Directly north of that development is the Shore Acres with 105 apartments in three large buildings; this summer the complex will expand to 153 units with the construction of a new 3-story building on land it acquired two years ago. And then to the east of the subject property (across the man-made lake) are the 8 five-story condominium buildings containing 60 units. So all told that’s 314 units in 28 buildings. With an average of 11 units per building it is laughable to say the area has a “low density, residential feel.”

  10. Pretty short fuse Micah.
    Hit a nerve?
    And is “you will be dead soon” a threat?

    You would be hard-pressed to argue that Indianapolis is making “progress.” And if you think that century-old urban planning ideas calling for population density and “mass” transit somehow represent “progress” you are very sadly mistaken.

    Bulldozing zoning maps so your pals can make money isn’t a “vision.” It’s abhorrent to community and might be criminal. (Of course that would require a County Prosecutor who cared about the public interest; put that on your Christmas list.)

    1. Mark L. – “Bulldozing zoning maps so your pals can make money isn’t a ‘vision.’ It’s abhorrent to community and might be criminal.” Whoa. What is zoned can legally be re-zoned for new uses. The laws allow for that. Chances are where your home sits was once used for something other than residential dwellings. As times changed, so did the uses of that land. You benefited from that. Now you don’t want others to enjoy such benefits?

  11. If there really is a need for a development that big, why is the developer asking for TIF funds? Should not be necessary if the market demand for more apartments is really there. And how many of you who are pushing for this development are at all familiar with this area? Westfield Boulevard is a single lane in each direction, north and south, and already backs up with significant traffic even before this massive development goes in. And no room to add more lanes.

  12. I have mixed feelings about all the apartments going up in such a short time. The density growth is good, but it just seems like in most cases little thought goes into how these buildings are integrated into the overall neighborhood. There’s usually just some “traffic study” then a cookie cutter building gets built and they call it a day. Also not a fan of the tax abatements, which shouldn’t be needed for apartments in a neighborhood like Broad Ripple.

  13. I have lived in Nora for 36 years. I thought the development at 85th and Westfield would make traffic unbearable. I was wrong. I am concerned about Westfield Boulevard and hope that there is a plan to match upkeep, design and repair to the heightened traffic load. Otherwise, I have no problems with the development.