Carmel mayor believes Home Place could be annexed this year

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After years of legal battles, Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard said it’s possible the city’s annexation of Home Place could be complete this year.

For more than a decade, the City of Carmel has attempted to annex the tiny Clay Township area, which is surrounded by Carmel proper. There are about 2,200 homes in the area and many are lower-cost homes, in the $100,000 to $300,000 range, as opposed to other parts of Carmel.

Home Place is only 1,017 square acres, and it’s centered at 106th Street and College Avenue.

In 2004 Carmel began annexation, but a majority of the approximately 2,200 residents  fought it in court, leading Hamilton County Superior Judge William Hughes to rule in favor of the property owners in 2005 because of questions whether Carmel could financially afford to annex Home Place.

In 2007, the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed that decision. The Indiana Supreme Court declined to hear the case, which meant it was sent it back to the trial court. The City of Carmel decided to hold off on another court trial until 2015 because it was working on annexing Southwest Clay and dealing with its associated costs.

In June 2016, Special Judge Matthew Kincaid decided Home Place residents did not prove all of the elements necessary to prevent Carmel’s annexation. As a result, it was appealed to the Indiana Supreme Court, but Brainard thinks the city will win.

“We went to trial and won, and now the Home Place remonstrators have appealed it to the Supreme Court, but we think it will be reaffirmed and it could become official in the first quarter of 2017,” he said.

Matt Milam, leader of the group Concerned Citizens for Home Place, expects the annexation will fail. He’s been working on the issue for more than a decade, and he said people didn’t think they’d get this far. He said Home Place is fine the way it is and doesn’t need to join Carmel. He said they get all of the services they need and there’s no interest in paying higher taxes for things like the Palladium, which Milam has said is too expensive. He said Home Place residents are concerned about Carmel’s debt level and don’t want to be on the hook for it.

“The city is like a college student with a credit card,” he said.

Brainard said a few things are in Carmel’s favor. First, the Appeals Court declined to hear the case previously. Second, the Appeals Court can’t question the facts of the case and can only decide if the law was applied accurately.

“They can only say the judge made the mistake applying the law,” Brainard said.

Kincaid wrote in his opinion that Home Place residents needed to prove that the majority of residents would be significantly affected financially by the annexation, and that at least 65 percent of property owners are opposed. They also needed to prove that they receive certain services, such as police, fire protection and street maintenance without the City of Carmel’s help.

Brainard argues that Home Place residents wouldn’t see their taxes go up much and that many who signed the petition weren’t really opposed to annexation. Also, some rent their homes and are not property owners. Kincaid said that residents proved that their property taxes would go up.

But Kincaid said the real sticking point is services. The Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office provides police protection, but the Carmel Fire Dept. provides fire services. Home Place residents argue that technically the township takes care of fire services, but they contract with the city, and all firefighters who respond to scenes are city employees.

“We pay for all of the services,” MIlam said. “We pay for trash and water and fire protection.”

Kincaid said Carmel didn’t need to state why Home Place should be annexed, but rather Home Place needed to argue why it should be prevented.

“Whether Home Place is better off because of Carmel has nothing to do with whether it will be better off as part of Carmel,” Kincaid wrote. “True though Carmel’s points may be, they just don’t lead to any meaningful conclusion about how the Home Place landowners are better off being annexed.”

Brainard said it’s unfair for Home Place to remain separate because it puts a cost on the Carmel taxpayers who end up providing services for this area.

“It’s very inefficient,” he said. “We provide planning and zoning, but we can’t enforce code enforcement. If someone leaves an abandoned car in their front yard or lets their roof fall in, there’s nothing we can do about it. It would be county government.”

Brainard said annexation is better for Home Place residents when it comes to police response time, and sometimes Carmel police are sent for that reason. He said it doesn’t make sense for the area to exist surrounded by Carmel property.

“To think on one side of the street is Carmel police but in this tiny pocket that is covered on four sides by Carmel, even in the south, you have to send law enforcement from Noblesville to patrol that area and a snow plow from Noblesville to plow that area,” he said. “It makes absolutely no sense. It’s expensive and inefficient.”

Milam said the services from the county sheriff work fine.

“The sheriff does a great job for us,” he said. “They are all over and they give us great service.”

Brainard said once Home Place is annexed, the city will begin to fix some infrastructure in the area, including roads. He said there are very nice parts but that some areas could use an upgrade, and he said some homes could be fixed up. He said the area can be improved without pricing people out of their homes.

Milam said Home Place residents don’t want their homes to be bought and torn down. He said he spoke with Brainard, and the mayor wouldn’t agree to sidewalks, lighting or other fixes, and since then residents haven’t been interested in striking deals with Carmel. He said many residents see the increased density in Carmel, and they don’t want to see that in Home Place.

“If I have a two-story ranch home, I don’t want a four- or five-story high-rise right next to me,” he said. “I don’t want to live in a condo above a restaurant. I want a yard and some space.”

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