Saturday, August 19, 2006

Holladay Blames Wrong Person for Whole Foods

Former columnist and now blogger Ruth Holladay has some behind the scene details on the zoning and lawsuit saga for the Kite development at 86th and Haverstick and Whole Foods. Today, she has a post blaming Metropolitan Development Commission hearing officer Judy Conley for the lack of a Whole Foods grocery store in Indianapolis. Whoa, there, Nellie. I think there's a little more to the story than that.

While Conley's decision to rezone the area for development is certainly the reason NORA residents have filed suit against the city and developer Tom Kite, Conley hasn't been -- nor will she ever be -- the only road block this project has had. Remember, this store is part of a residential-mixed use development. Plus, there has never been a firm commitment from Whole Foods corporate. Kite's office has offered some assurance, but, let's face it, no lease has been signed. Kite's entire development may never happen in the face of land problems and community objections. In the interest of making sure foodies have a broader picture, here's a little more to the story.

1) It all started with Kite wanting to develop a mixed use residential-retail development at 86th and Haverstick road -- on the northwest corner of the intersection of 86th and Keystone. The NORA residents association came out against it and in response to their objections, Kite revised the plans for the project multiple times, scaling it back to only 30 condos with space for a large retail outlet. He said it would be perfect for someone "like Whole Foods."

2) Despite his responses to their objections, the NORA group still opposed the development feeling it would create traffic problems in the areas. (No one seemed to feel it would increase property values for many home owners in the somewhat older surrounding neighborhoods, but when has common sense gotten in the way of righteous indignation against real estate developers.)

3) In January, Kite's plans cleared all needed hurdles with the city including passage by the Metropolitan Development Commission (guided by hearing officer Judy Conley) as well approval by the City-County Council. It was noted at the time that NORA's big objection was that rezoning the land for the development violated the area's master plan. However, the committee and the city-county council approved it as they have many of the developments along the 86th street corridor that also violate the city's master plan for one reason or another.

4) In June, Kite announced they were having a problem putting together the land for the deal. In the same article, the Star reported Whole Foods was looking at other locations -- 86th St across from Target in NORA and 71st and Binford. WF corporate clearly stressed they had made no decisions on coming to Indy and, in fact, still had some concerns about the demographics.

This isn't really about a Whole Foods -- and it's certainly not about the personal axe Holladay has to grind with Judith Conley, her husband, and any other number of members of the black, Democrat Center Township cabal This also isn't about Kite wanting to develop a Whole Foods. This is about the space in play at 86th and Haverstick and whether or not it has a residential and retail component. There are numerous other locations for the store to consider. (It's not Kite's responsibility to develop or move the offering for Whole Foods, as Holladay implies.) If Whole Foods doesn't come to Indy, it won't be Judith Conley's fault, or Tom Kite's, or the City-County Council's. Nor will it be because the supposedly community friendly store is put off by our contentious wrangling. (Whole Foods happily located its Upper West Side location in the bottom floor the NYC's Columbus Circle Time Warner building amid much gnashing of teeth.)

It will be because we just may not yet be big or affluent enough yet for the high-end organic grocery. The NORA group can sue all they want over the land at 86th and Haverstick -- and if WF wants to come to Indy, they have all kinds of other options -- no matter what the Metropolitan Development Commission or a judge in a lawsuit has to say. If and when there's a final decision on their location, or they decide to skip an Indianapolis location, spread the blame around if you want to, but don't target one person for a corporate decision out of our control.


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Sorry you had to endure the vulgar comment, Braingirl. It's my first read of your blog, and as a newcomer to blogs, I'm intrigued.

But here's why you're dead wrong on this case.

There are statutory requirements for rezonings to be granted. One of those requirements is a hardship on the part of the property owner. No such hardship was proven.

And, the Comp Plan, devised by township committees across the county, had just been re-approved for Washington Township five months earlier. It can be altered, and often is, with thoughtful interaction between petitioners and neighbors.

The Comp Plan calls this area critical. Remonstrators were working with Kite for over a year to try to fit condos into the site, and they had reduced the debate to a discussion about density of homes. Then, Kite introduced the Whole Foods plan. It was dead on arrival. And rightfully so.

You didn't attend the MDC hearing, I'm guessing. In addition to ignoring the Comp Plan, Ms. Conley was indignant toward remonstrators, and showed complete lack of knowledge regarding procedure and the Comp Plan. Regretably, it wasn't the first time.

The MDC adopted the revised Comp Plan only months before this hearing. Remonstrators would've accepted more-dense homesites with some commitments and covenants. The Whole Foods site plan showed a complete disregard for the Comp Plan. The MDC endorsed Ms. Conley's decision. When the decision was appealed to the full Council, remonstrators lost, I believe, by one vote.

To make matters more insulting, Ms. Conley's Councilman husband voted on the measure, and reportedly lobbied his colleagues in caucus to support his wife's decision.

That is what has riled neighbors and members of McANA county-wide. The sheer arrogance of the Conleys and their ilk.

The Comp Plan is a valued tool, and has been in use in this county for a long time. The volunteer committees who review it spend countless hours coming to terms with multiple and competing interests. If it is going to be altered, it should be with thoughtful and complete, coherent consideration.

Which was completely absent in the Whole Foods decision.

WF has been looking a multiple sites all over the northside for over 18 months. Kite could not produce evidence that it has a signed lease with WF. This was speculative development, and Kite won the first round. Whether he'll prevail in court remains to be seen.

But it's a crying shame that remonstrators had to resort to litigation in this bureaucratic nightmare. They have limited financial resources, unlike the developer.

And shame on you, RiShawn, for reducing this argument to a simplistic rehash of northside zoning issues over which you obviously have little or no institutional knowledge. This neighborhood is a well-preserved buffer between commercial clusters, and, left to its own devices, is perfectly capable of remaining so.

Braingirl and RiShawn, pick up a Comp Plan, read it, study it, get to know the process by which it was developed.

And then we'll see if you're so eager to pass this kind of judgment so quickly.

Anonymous said...

Man, would you Nora NIMBYs give it up? The neighborhood next to the site isn't even that nice anyways...

braingirl said...

Thanks for the comments. I don't disagree with the comp plan, nor do I disagree that zoning areas are there for a reason. I think we actually see eye-to-eye on most of the land use issues. However, the point I may not have effectively made is that while the MDC has certainly been driving these changes, I'm not sure blaming one person -- and one person alone -- for a lack of WF is accurate. The city-county council approved it. Kite proposed it. And Holladay's contention that WF might skip Indy because of a "community-friendly" focus is also off the mark. My point was only that there are many folks to blame here if WF takes a pass on Indy -- and ultimately, it may have nothing to do with any o them. It's strictly a business and demographic issue.

That said, it's great to have so many knowledgable folks sharing their perspectives here in Indianapolis -- make sure you keep Feed Me/Drink Me on your list!

Brian D. said...

I would disagree with developement on that corner solely on the increase in traffic. 86th and Keystone isn't fun during rush hour, many weekends, and I'm sure at other periods of time there as well. I'm up there at odd times because my gym is there so I see traffic at different periods of the day/week.

I would love to see Whole Foods come to town. How about the redevelope the Eastgate Mall. Oh wait the demographics there wouldn't support it and the Northside/Camel/Fishers people wouldn't dare drive that far south.