Veto overrides fails; Conservation District dead for now


After Mayor Jim Brainard vetoed the controversial plan to create a Conservation District in a neighborhood near Carmel’s Old Town, the City Council couldn’t muster enough votes on Monday to override the veto.

The vote was 3-3 with City Councilor Eric Seidensticker absent. Five notes – equal to two thirds of the council – would have been needed to overturn the mayor’s veto. As a result, the ordinance is now dead unless the Conservation District petitioners decide to restart the process all over again.

This process originated over a year ago when neighbors in the Johnson Addition neighborhood – which is south of Main Street, west of 4th Avenue and east of Guilford Road – became worried about new development in the area. Neighbors heard about the plans to redevelop the Midtown area and saw a large expensive home built near the Main Street roundabout on 4th Avenue and were concerned that someone would tear down their vintage 1950s-style homes and built large “McMansions” in their place.

Petitioners collected signatures from more than half of the homeowners, but those who opposed the ordinances say they were bullied into signing or were given bad information. Some claim that meetings weren’t properly noticed which would have given opponents a chance to voice their opinion.

As a result, Brainard decided to veto the ordinance, citing the lack of open meetings as a concern.

The mayor said that the Carmel Historic Preservation Commission – who assisted in the efforts – did not post public notice of meetings on Feb. 13, March 13, April 17, June 12 and Aug. 14. An Oct. 2 meeting was posted though. As a result, if a neighbor didn’t like this law, that person could sue the city for passing a law that wasn’t properly noticed, he said.

“The Johnson Conservation District was discussed at multiple public meetings that were not noticed,” Brainard wrote. “This is a fatal flaw in the process that would put the city in a non-defensible position if it were sued. More importantly, transparent and open government is paramount; secret meetings cannot be countenanced.”

Some asked, “Who was responsible for making sure the meetings were noticed?” Well, the Mayor’s Office is putting that responsibility on City Councilors Luci Snyder and Carol Schleif, who sit on the board of the commission. The Mayor’s Office even e-mailed out past meeting minutes to prove that everyone agreed on that process.

City Councilor Carol Schleif, who was a big supporter of the Conservation District, read a lengthy speech at the Council meeting to defend the practices of the petitioners. She said there were plenty of meetings that were advertised and well attended. She said she’s disappointed because she believes this status would have protected a unique housing stock in Carmel.

“The Conservation District prevents neighbors from being pitted one against another as well as freeing the city from getting involved in neighborhood arguments,” Schleif said. “It’s a win-win situation. In reviewing the Conservation District petition, it is hard to fathom why anyone would object to a neighborhood spending over a year and a half to get neighborhood consensus on how they can stabilize their neighborhood property values and save the character of their neighborhood in this manner. The Johnson Addition came to us and the city rejected the wishes of the majority. I’m embarrassed by this sort of behavior.”

After the overturn failed, those that opposed the Conservation District also sponsored a newly introduced ordinance to mandate that the Carmel Historic Preservation Commission provide reports and meetings to the Carmel City Council. This is to help improve communication and prevent future issues such as those encountered during this situation.

During an extra- long “public comment” section of the Council meeting, many residents tried to sway the overturn vote their way.

Chuck Ford, one of the neighbors who supported creating the district, said there was plenty of incorrect information spread about what a Conservation District does. He said you don’t have to get approval to sell your home or paint your house. He said the district would have helped preserve the character of the 1950s style neighborhood.

“We need to preserve that caliber of home,” he said. “When we call it ‘Old Town’ but there’s nothing old there anymore, then we ought to change the name.”

One neighbor, James Russo, says keeping the one-level ranch-style houses – currently in the area – would appeal to the growing senior population in the area. He also brought up “visual continuity” which a Conservation District would protect.

Charles Demler, also in support, talked about how 54 percent for the petition is impressive considering voter turnout is much lower than that recently.

Penny Robbins, who opposed the ordinance and spoke at the meeting to prevent the veto from being overturned, said she went and talked to the names on the petition and heard some people just signed it to get the petitioners off their porches. She said she doesn’t mind if the process is started over again if people are properly informed and given a chance to give their opinions.

“Whatever it is, I’m going to make sure the truth is out there,” she said. “Let’s get it right and make sure everyone understands it.”

Mary Eckard, one of the leaders of the petition, said she was disappointed but they will start the process over again to try to establish the conservation district.

“I know there’s some work for us to do now that it’s been vetoed,” she said.