Zionsville Town Council member questions rezoning denial for senior living facility

A rezoning request for a senior living facility on the south side of West Oak Street near Cooper Road in Zionsville was denied Monday night, but the discussion had little to do with the actual project.

The Zionsville Town Council sided with the advisory plan commission’s unfavorable recommendation regarding the petition from Bloomington-based CarDon & Associates Inc., but the debate focused on the influence a letter from Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel, had on the process.

Hamilton Trace Fishers

Delph, who is general counsel for CarDon, claims several Zionsville officials tried to ruin his chances of re-election. The message is unrelated to the senior living community proposal, but it upset town officials as they considered the CarDon project.

In the five-page letter sent to Indiana Senate majority caucus members at the end of December, Delph discusses his role in the same-sex marriage debate the Legislature battled last year. Zionsville gets dragged into the issue because several council members are linked to other Republican leaders, and Delph believed council member Susana Suarez was being prepped to run against him in the 2014 election.

Suarez didn’t challenge him, but Delph continued to accuse Zionsville officials of working against him during the election season. He goes as far as saying it “was an election battle against an enemy like the Viet Cong.”

Council member Candace Ulmer said she voted against the plan commission’s recommendation because she believed the process was “grossly derailed” due to Delph’s letter, which upset town officials, including herself.

Ulmer went on to say the $35 million project would have brought more than $6 million in revenue to the town during a 10-year period, which she believes is better than any other proposal the town will receive for that property. The project received a positive recommendation from town staff.

“I will not let this one gentleman and his ignorant remarks take over this process,” Ulmer said.

Suarez, who also acknowledged being angered by the letter, disagreed with Ulmer’s accusations.

“I do not think this vote was done based on this letter,” Suarez said.

Council member Tim Haak also refuted the argument that Delph’s letter influenced the plan commission’s decision making process, and noted that while the council values staff input, it’s not meant to be the only factor.

CarDon was seeking approval to rezone more than 25 acres of land to construct the Emerald Trace senior living center with possible meal service, medication assistance, housekeeping, transportation services, a beauty shop, activity rooms, a therapy gym and occupational and speech therapy.

Throughout the process, nearby residents voiced concerns about the project causing traffic issues and being too large for the area. Enclave and Russell Lake neighborhoods border the proposed site to the south and east, respectively.

In an effort to compromise with those in opposition, CarDon reduced the size of an assisted living building from three to two stories and reduced the number of units from 330 to 274, which would have included 46 cottages and 40 assisted living, 84 independent living and 104 skilled nursing units.

After the council voted 4-1 to accept the plan commission’s negative recommendation on the rezoning request, council president Steve Mundy read a letter from CarDon that had been sent to the council in anticipation of the denial.

The note said while the company disagrees on with the town on the merits of the proposal, officials respected the civility throughout the process.

The nearly full meeting room cleared out after the council’s vote.

CarDon, which specializes in senior living communities, has a facility, Hamilton Trace, on Cumberland Road in Fishers and is building Copper Trace in Westfield at 146th Street and Ditch Road. “This issue now comes to an end,” Mundy said. “We wish all of you the very best.”

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