Town council deadlocks in Sycamore Flats vote

Marda Johnson | Times SentinelHundreds of Zionsville residents packed Zionsville Town Hall Monday, May 6, to await the outcome of a Zionsville Town Council's vote on the Sycamore Flats PUD. After hours of testimony and discussion, the council was deadlocked, with three council members approving the PUD, and three opposing the plan. The seventh council member did not attend the meeting because of a death in his family.

Months of growing debate surrounding plans for a retail and apartment complex project proposed for a property near Sycamore and Main streets on the edge of Zionsville’s downtown culminated in a stalemate Monday, May 6.

After 3 1/2 hours of presentations, public input, questions and debate on the project at a meeting of the Zionsville Town Council, the vote to approve the project was tied three council members voted in favor of the proposed development called Sycamore Flats; three were opposed.

Hundreds of residents attended the meeting, packing the downstairs council chambers as well as an upstairs overflow area, with two large screens projecting the proceedings. Many wore red to illustrate opposition to the project. Families, retirees, and groups of teens and young adults were among the crowd, with some standing for hours, as others resorted to sitting on the floor or the windowsills.

Council President Josh Garrett asked for a role call vote after Susana Suarez made the motion to approve the Sycamore Flats PUD and Elizabeth Hopper seconded the motion.

Suarez and Hopper were joined by Tom Schuler with affirmative votes; Town Council president Josh Garrett, Bryan Traylor and Kevin Spees voted against the motion.

The seventh councilman, Jason Plunkett, was not present because of his father’s death.

The council will vote on the matter again next month in an effort to break the tie.

Prior to the vote, project spokesman Matt Price gave a 40 minute presentation outlining the project, and dozens of residents who had signed up to comment were each given 3 minutes to speak.

Sycamore Flats is a proposed mixed-use development that would be in the 200 block of W. Sycamore Street. Local investors, working with developer J.C. Hart Co., have petitioned the town to rezone about 4.3 acres from the Village Business designation to a planned unit development. Earlier this spring, plans for the PUD passed through the Zionsville Plan Commission, and were presented to the town council with a favorable recommendation after a 5-2 vote.

Sycamore Flats would include 184 upscale one- and two-bedroom apartments, as well as 5,000 square feet of retail space. The development would have amenities for residents that include a pool, green space, an exercise area and club house. A 255 resident-only parking structure, with 90 outdoor public/complex guest parking spaces are also included in the plan.

The proposed development would cost about $40 million.

Some 3,000 people have signed an online petition opposing the project citing concerns about traffic, an increased burden on the Zionsville Community Schools, and the aesthetics and size of the development on the edge of The Village.

But The Zionsville Chamber of Commerce, many Brick Street business owners, the property’s present owner, and other residents back the plan, saying it will support downtown merchants, bring about needed traffic flow upgrades, provide financial support to the school district, and encourage the town’s future entrepreneurs and business leaders, and retirees who want to remain in the community, a housing option that presently does not exist in the community.

In all, about 40 residents addressed the council Monday evening over the course of about two hours, with about two-thirds opposing the project.

Before the call for a vote, council members asked several questions of the developer, and Garrett thanked members of the public for their participation that evening and in the time leading up to the meeting.

“Your emails and comments have helped me ask better questions,” he said.

Garrett said that while he is comfortable with the facts related to the project, he has struggled with the more subjective issues, such as how such a development would affect the essence of The Village. He said that although he hoped the project would benefit the community, “hope is not a strategy.”

He said he would like to find a plan where the physical constraints of the property, the market support for a project, and the community desires all overlap.

“The community desire circle never overlaps,” he said. “It’s a pattern.”

As a result, each time a plan for the area has come forward, “it creates an air of hostility,” he said.

Garrett suggested bringing in a national firm to talk to all of the stakeholders and then create a framework for what would create overlap in all three areas. He acknowledged that taking time for that study might result in delaying development in the area, losing a quality developer, and delay road improvements.

Suarez didn’t support commissioning a new study.

“A lot of that has already been done,” she said, noting a study done in 2014. “I don’t know that anything would be different if we go through that lengthy process.” She also questioned if it would be a good use of town money.

The new vote will come at the June 3 meeting, which will be at 7 p.m. in the Zionsville Town Hall. The town’s attorney said that the council had no obligation for additional testimony on the PUD at that meeting.

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