At Monday night’s meeting of the Carmel City Council, it appears the issue of preserving the look and feel of the homes in Johnson Addition neighborhood – whether it be through a conservation district or changes to city zoning – is dead for the time being.
The issue started back in 2014, with the first article running in Current back in October. The idea of a conservation district – controlled by a small board, not the government – was proposed to put restrictions on new homes built, homes demolished and major home remodels. It passed the City Council 4-3 in November. The three votes against the proposal were: Sue Finkam, Ron Carter and Kevin “Woody” Rider.
Those that voted for the proposal painted the issue as one of “protecting older neighborhoods” and Rick Sharp, who ran for mayor in May, pointed to Johnson Addition and other similar neighborhoods when he claimed the mayor seemed more enamored with flashy, shiny new developments – such as Carmel City Center – than Carmel’s more modest history.
Those who voted against the proposal framed it as another attempt to tell people what they can do with their homes. Carter alleged that the petitions were conducted improperly and Carmel Mayor Brainard expressed concern about that as well, which he said could open the city up to lawsuits.
For that reason, Brainard vetoed the ordinance and there wasn’t the five votes needed to overturn the veto.
Brainard also added that as Republicans he thought his fellow elected officials should want less government not more and believed this created another unnecessary board for people to answer to.
In essence, if this neighborhood wanted to create these rules then they should create a Home Owners Association, something some of the Johnson Addition neighbors seemed opposed to.
The issue appeared to be dead for a while until Brainard contacted those who supported the conservation district and offered a new idea. He offered to have city planners come up with an overlay zone that could accomplish some of the same goals as the conservation district.
Brainard said it was a better idea because allowing the city to control the zoning would get rid of almost any concern about improper notice.
He said using an existing government structure would ensure fairness and transparency and since it’s already used in other places it wouldn’t add any extra boards or committees.
Supporters of the conservation district seemed thrilled with the new idea and Current in Carmel even did a cover story about the issue in March. But the original opponents were still skeptical. Some thought it was just the old idea in new packaging. Some seemed concerned about limitations such as height restrictions in case they wanted to add a second story to their existing house. That restriction was loosened.
Once the issue was discussed, one opponent brought up an interesting idea. Jana Souers, a neighbor in the area, was told that the new rules weren’t restrictive and that if you wanted to do something outside of the zoning you could go before the Board of Zoning Appeals and get a variance. That led her to ask the question: If it’s very similar to the old zoning, then why is it needed?
“The Overlay didn’t offer much beyond the current zoning restrictions, so there was no need for redundancy,” she said.
That idea seemed to strike a chord with most city councilors.
Councilor Eric Seidensticker said, ““There wasn’t any protection. They would have better off with the Conservation District instead.”
City Councilor Kevin “Woody” Rider, who also serves on the plan commission, said he heard that neighborhood feedback was about 50-50 for and against. He said it wasn’t government’s role to get involved.
“I’m not a fan of legislating property values,” Rider said.
Several councilors told me that this bill became “watered down” by loosening restrictions and allowing for variances. In essence, it tried to make everyone happy and you can’t really do that in politics sometimes.