"The posts in this blog are not the opinion of the MKNA Board, any given member of the MKNA Board, any employee of MKNA, or any volunteer from MKNA."

2015 Wish List

Posted 1:46 PM by

Rather than New Year’s resolutions for Meridian Kessler, I have a wish list for what I’d like to see happen here in 2015.


First up is our new and improved web site, which has been in development since I had hair.  Our two Facebook pages are both receiving considerable traffic, but the Association’s web page needs to be reimagined to provide more neighborhood information, including increased support for local businesses.  I’m also a little nervous that about the time I agreed to supply a picture for the site, development slowed down.


Second is the development at 49th & College, which has been  proposed for even longer than the website.  The urgent owners are, finally, on the verge of unveiling a proposal for the long vacant site, and, unlike pervious owners, apparently have the financial chops to make it succeed.  After that, I suppose it would be nice to actually have a beer at Bent Rail.


Third is public transit improvements.  Indianapolis has been proposing public transit improvement for a long time, and College Avenue remains a central corridor for an express bus line.  Funding for the proposal is due to show up on the November ballot, and with 2015 being a Mayoral and City-County Council election year, there’s a good chance we’ll see substantial voter turnout.  A decent public transit system has long separated Indianapolis from other major urban areas, and this election will provide an opportunity for residents to show their support.


Fourth is the emergence of one more new popular public schools in the area.  The number of local public schools that are popular with current and potential new families has long been a limiting factor in Meridian Kessler’s population growth in families.  School 84, the Butler University Laboratory School, and the School 91 Montessori School have become very popular with local residents as free public school alternatives in our area.  The School 70 Performing Arts Magnet still lags behind in that regard.  I’m well past having kids, but I’m guessing local parents have a hard time enrolling kids of 1st Grade age with the expectation they’ll be performers.  Still, we all showed up for our kid’s school shows, and we all shelled out for some sort of lessons.  Mostly, grade schools teach what grade schools teach, and a given school’s performance is generally enhanced by having some students with advantages…    It’s pretty clear that families in MK, and those considering moving back to the area, really desire local public schools, and it’s time to increase our supply of desirable local schools.


Fifth, as MKNA celebrates it’s 50th Anniversary, put the Association on a firm and stable financial footing.  At the end of every year, MKNA still struggles to meet its budget.  After half a century in existence, it’s time for us to get on solid financial ground.  Your neighborhood association does man, many things for this area, but with resources, could do even more.


Sixth, wouldn’t it be nice to get rid of the MKNHN vigilantes? 


Lastly, I’d like to see more of you involved in our neighborhood association, financially of course, but more important, by becoming active.  We’ve become more walkable, more bike able, and certainly more interactive with our surrounding neighborhoods.  Still, a neighborhood always needs a collaborative effort to become what its residents desire, and that’s best accomplished within the framework of an active, vital, neighborhood association.


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Posted 1:09 PM by

In a previous installment, I talked about crime, and police, but also a little about money.  If you remember,or can scroll back a little, Indianapolis, is looking at pretty flat tax collections, both for property and income taxes, for the foreseeable future.  Since inflation is a given, that likely means a higher and higher percentage of revenue is going to be spent on public safety, and correspondingly, less and less on everything else.  It’s also driving the instinct to privatize services, particularly for large up-front payments that can be used for non-public safety purposes.


The past couple of administrations have had similar thoughts on this problem, which is mostly that we need to boost government income in Marion County.  That, however, is a problem, since our highest income earners have tended to leave Indianapolis for the surrounding counties, leaving us with more people who require services, and less who pay for them.  The solution, for Indianapolis, and for almost every urban area in the country is the millennials, the 20 to 34 year olds who are assumed be the job creators of the future.  Indianapolis wants them to come here, see here, and settle here, and it’s building a city primarily to attract them.


Millennials don’t particularly like, or want, cars.  They’d prefer to walk, bike, or use public transportation.  They want smaller living spaces  (but nicer ones).  They prefer urban over suburban.  They expect their shopping, and their entertainment, to be close by.  They want jobs that are collaborative.  They prefer neighborhood businesses to the big box.


So, Indianapolis is perfectly happy to turn downtown into millennial  park.  It uses events  (sporting events, conventions, festivals, etc.) to get them to come see the City.  (Why do we fund the Pacers, Colts, race track, Natatorium, etc?  It gets people from elsewhere here, and it gets our image of Indianapolis on television.)  It uses tax dollars to fund apartments.   It’s going to, somehow, fund a public transportation system for them.  And, it’s all done to create the flypaper that will make some of them stick here, create jobs here, and pay taxes here.


OK, hooray for downtown, but what does that have to do with Midtown?  Well, millennials also like neighborhoods  -  walkable, bike-able neighborhoods with nearby shopping and entertainment and served by public transportation.    Simply, they like the Midtown that, thank goodness, was once serviced by the interurban and created a grid of small business nodes, almost all of which are within walking distance of our homes.   They mostly like our homes, because they were built on smaller lots. They’d prefer to have a lot more apartments, which are plentiful south of here, but those are areas that currently don’t have the other things millennials want.  Try finding a restaurant, or a grocery, or a hardware store between Maple Road and 16th St.


The City currently assists developers to do what they want done through TIF Districts.  Originally downtown was funded through tax credits, a mechanism wherein the Federal Government allowed the states to sell what amounted to tax payments to folks who owed taxes  (if they’d build low income housing) and the states doled out the proceeds to the cities.  Most of Mass. Ave was built that way.  That means of financing somewhat dried up as other mechanisms for tax avoidance appeared, so cities turned to TIF Districts, wherein the property taxes developers pay go to fund the next development, sometimes in part, sometimes in whole.  After some period of time, mostly 25 years from when the first bond in the district is issued, the property taxes come back to the City’s general fund, though downtown had been allowed to operate differently.


Whether that’s good, or bad, depends a lot on whether you believe things would get built the way the City wants them built anyway.    In other words, if you think everything that’s been built downtown would be there without the assistance of TIF money, than the City just wasted about 25 years of tax proceeds from what was built.  I’ll leave that to the reader, but would also note that the City was doing it under both Ballard and Peterson, and will be doing it under future administrations until a new development tool is invented.  Both administrations, and probably the next one, see it as a way to grow property taxes over time, since, in 25 years, the revenue from taxes that was going to pay off the bonds that helped build downtown will start flowing back to the City.


It’s possible to believe that only “friends”  (read “contributors’) to a given administration receive TIF funding for their projects, but it’s also pretty hard to find a developer who didn’t contribute something to both campaigns in a given municipal election, so “friendship” ends up as a fairly broad term.


Our job, as neighborhood associations, is to convince whatever administration that’s in place, that what we want for our area overlaps with what the City as a whole needs in that it will make people who will pay taxes want to live here, and people who are paying taxes want to stay here.  That, in turn, means paying attention to what current residents desire, but with an eye towards what the next generation of residents are going to want.  Demographics show that we’re headed in the right direction, since we’re already a young neighborhood, and getting still younger.  We have room for future development along College Ave,, along Maple Road, and along the Monon Trail, and all three areas are places that our heroes' the Millennial’s, are already finding attractive.


Neighborhood Associations, particularly collective groups of neighborhood associations, are uniquely suited to deal with local government, especially in our area, where government officials tend to live already.  It’s a perfect reason for you, especially our younger residents to get involved with MKNA.


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Floodwall Redux, Redonedumb

Posted 1:03 PM by

Start here for a much better explanation of what happened so far.


Now on at least the surface, things don’t seem altogether awful.  Admittedly, the Corps. has chosen the two alternatives that no one really wants, but at least the City has nixed both, and at least says it prefers the west of the canal alternative that everyone seems to like.


The problem, of course, is that unless the Corps. can be persuaded to change its mind, the City would have to pay for the west bank alternative by itself, and the City likely doesn’t have the money to accomplish that.  Even that is a way, way best case scenario, since just what the Corps. might pay for, even assuming it’s persuaded that the West Bank scenario actually works, is also going to be a matter of getting the Corps. also persuaded to pay for all or part of it.  Further strengthening the City’s “woe is us” position, the City seems to have commissioned a study that somehow concludes that the west bank alternative would, contrary to what even the Corps. thinks, have to extend all the way to 38th Street, and therefore cost something over twice even the Corps.’ lousy alternatives.  Left at that, you have to figure either noting ever gets done, or the City eventually claims it was forced into accepting one of the Corps.lousy alternatives.


Now, there seems to be a better way to handle this, as noted in the much better written article I’ve referred you to above, but it’s apparently not simple for more than a few reasons.


First, for the Corps. to actually change its mind, it needs to be persuaded to change its mind, and whatever you might think about federal bureaucracies, it’s generally true that their conclusions start out etched in stone and get changed either by politics at the federal level, or by proving to the bureaucracy though the intervention of someone it concedes understands the bureaucracy’s stuff as well as it does that perhaps the stone the decision happens to have been etched in might have been sedimentary and not igneous.  Refer to your high school geology if that’s confusing.  In a late development, the City is apparently trying to hire the Corps. to perform a study that will somehow change the Corps.’ mind about the West Bank Option.   Even thinking that makes sense ought to scare the other players.  


The City does not generally build flood walls, and its consultants, at least the ones they tend to use, really don’t either, so their persuasive powers from the perspective of the Corps. are at best cute.  There are, fortunately, a number of well placed and well thought of engineering firms out there who have worked directly with the Corps. in the past, and which, in the past, have in fact persuaded the Corps. to change their mind.  Getting to that point ought to simply involve hiring one of them, and clearly defining what it is you want them to study, with the goal, assuming they agree, of changing the Corps. mind.  That’s the part that hasn’t been done, and doesn’t seem to be getting done.


Why?  Well first, it’s not unconscionably expensive.  Rough estimates seem to be in the $50,000 range, which, given the actually expense of building the darned flood wall, it essentially chump change, and it’s still chump change at twice that price.  The City, or either of a couple of players most effected by allowing one of the Corps. “bad” ideas to ever get built, could easily afford it.


So, again, why isn’t that being done? Well it’s possible I suppose to argue that the City really doesn’t want to get on the hook for building anything, or that the City just doesn’t like the idea of working with firms it doesn’t know well and can’t control, or even that the City’s own bureaucracy is getting in the way.  Who really knows?  But surely Citizen’s Energy, which really, really, really doesn’t like the idea of the proposed mechanical gates shutting off it’s supply of water  (OK, 60% thereof) might have an interest in being absolutely sure that the gates are, as the Corps. seems to believe, the only real alternative, and doing it for a lot less that it’s costing to beautify a mile of the canal’s banks before it throws in the towel.  Maybe their Board, having recently gotten a pretty good deal from the City while buying the City’s water company is a bit squeamish about  staking out a logical position, or just offending the City by doing that, but gees, it’s got a huge interest in the outcome.  Perhaps even Butler University, which if it allows either of the two alternatives proposed by the Corps. to be built will never, ever be able to protect the northwest corner of its campus from flooding, might have an interest.  But, maybe Butler is a bit edgy about offending the City, which picked up a good chunk of its Sunset Ave. improvements recently. and coincidentally has one of the Council’s Republican leadership on staff?  Still, Butler would seem to have a huge interest in knowing where it might, or might not, be able to build as it plans its future.      


Maybe it’s just to slippery a slope for any one of these entities to take on the study as “it’s” thing.  But, “it’s” not just their thing.   Warfleigh has a clear interest in all this, and so do Broad Ripple, Butler Tarkington, Meridian Kessler and Midtown.  All of those entities have homes in the floodplain that are subject to the vagaries of whatever crude beat the Biggert Waters Flood Insurance bills morph into in this and future congress’.  Even Rocky Ripple, which isn’t specifically protected under any of these plans, risks losing any opportunity to ever be protected under either of the Corps. plans.  (Rocky Ripple stiff holds out hope that the wall will go around Rocky Ripple and the City will pay for it.    In this go around, their best bet is probably still the West Bank Option, but with some assurance that its design would allow a future Rocky Ripple Levy project to connect thereto.)  All have ongoing relationships with Butler, Citizen’s and the City, (and with each other)  and all, especially collectively, have a clear interest in the future of the flood wall.  Individually, there’s some risk that the discussion devolves into “me first”, or worse, that nothing at all happens.  Collectively, however, there’s a real opportunity for all to get on a path towards something positive. And, all of them, collectively, can comfortably stake.


The City seems to be in a process of telling whatever stakeholder who happens to be in front of them at a given moment what they want to hear.  Given that we’re about a year away from an election, that’s not wildly unusual behavior, but it is going to lead to some splintering of a potential coalition.  It appears for now that the 2016 election is going to be all about crime, and since neither Rocky Ripple, or Warfleigh (probably the two stakeholders with the most disparate views on what result could be termed a success) have much more than 300 homes, even a mass vote by either or both is likely to change the 2016 result.  There’s also no chance that this project gets built  (or finalized) within the coming year.


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Broad Ripple, Crime, Police

Posted 4:05 PM by



There’s been more than a little commentary, in the media, the blogs, and even at MKNA meetings about crime lately.  Most of it has been spurred by the shootings in Broad Ripple over the 4th weekend, as well as the disheartening death of a police officer over that same period.  As is often the case, we move rapidly beyond what it is that happened into the ever more common phase of “solutions” that usually end up as regurgitations of either political beliefs or sociological stereotypes, both with little concern for what actually happened, or keeps happening.


One item of note needs to be touched on briefly (and only briefly because I want to talk about it more in a future blog).  Indianapolis spends between 93% and 95% of its budget on public safety.  Most of its budget comes from property taxes  (which have been mostly flat for the past couple of years) and income taxes  (which have been declining for the past few years).   The rest, what there is of it, comes from fees collected.  Most of the conversation about diverting money to public safety from other areas of the budget is generally political.  


Now, about Broad Ripple.  To understand what’s been happening there, I’d first like to take you back to my hometown, which is about the size of Meridian Kessler and Broad Ripple combined.  It’s a racially diverse, high poverty area that by fate, sits directly on Lake Michigan.   It has a harbor (mostly occupied by Chicago boaters) and a park  (once a thriving amusement park, but now much closer to Canterbury Park).   Between the two is a large parking lot.  During the hot Indiana summers, those without air-conditioning  (read Urban Poor) tend to migrate to the parking lot from the late hours of the evening to the early part of the morning  -  breezes off the lake make it cooler there, and while watching the fenced off Chicago boaters and the meager park offer some amusement, mostly the activity is just hanging out.  Of course, there’s alcohol involved.  On a particularly to summer weekend night, the crowd will swell to 3 or 4 thousand, and in crowds that size, there’s always some level of trouble.


A similar demographic, for the past couple of years has chosen Broad Ripple Avenue as their lakefront parking lot.  They’re mostly young  -   so young in fact that almost none of them are able to enter Broad Ripple’s bars.  Mostly they hang out on the sidewalks, which is perfectly legal, though it certainly impedes pedestrian traffic.  Some, with cars, simply drive back and forth along the Avenue and socially interact with their friends on the sidewalk.  It was called cruising in past days, and I suppose it still is.  


Describing this as a “bar” problem simply omits the fact that this same general group has, and still does, use both downtown Indy and also 38th St. between Illinois and Arlington as a similar playground.  Broad Ripple is probably a more desirable destination because music does emanate from the bars, and, because the demographic that does enter the bars is closer to their own.  It’s also worth noting that Meridian Kessler has so far avoided their arrival, probably because our business nodes are much smaller, and those who frequent our bars are a pinch older.


Closing Broad Ripple Avenue for a few hours on late night weekends seems a reasonable experiment.   It should reduce late night cruising, and the interaction between the cars and the sidewalk gawkers is part of the problem.  Likewise, the addition of cameras at least gives the impression of being watched, which ought to deter some crime.   BR Ave. won’t be closed to all traffic  -  emergency vehicles, probably public transportation, etc. will still be allowed.   The Avenue also shouldn’t become a giant block party, because, being partially open, pedestrian won’t be allowed in the street.  You’ll still be able to park there, but need to do so before the street is closed, and you won’t be able to re-enter with your car.


As for the idea that the bars ought to close earlier, that’s not going to happen.  Bar revenues are already down  -  a victim to competition and to the present notoriety.    It’s not going to happen legally, because you simply can’t create a law that says establishments in X place are under different rules than those in Y place.


In the long run, the answer, or what there is of an answer, is to change Broad Ripple into a more residential area.  The more people who live in this area of Broad Ripple, the more other services, besides bars will be in demand.  Already, the new bars in Broad Ripple are a lot more expensive than the older ones.  New office buildings planned for the area will increase lunch traffic and encourage restaurants to open for that traffic.  As for the bigger picture, something needs to be done to provide amusement for this moveable feast of street gawkers, but that takes money, jobs, etc.  


Now, since all of this relates to police, please scroll back to the first paragraph.  There’s almost no available money in the City budget to drastically increase the size of our police department, particularly at $125,000 an officer.  I still promise to talk more in the future about why you just can’t eliminate all the TIF Districts and expect a windfall of future money, but, for now, you just can’t.  That means some form of dedicated revenue stream to police protection.  (Note that the Peterson tax increase was never dedicated, just promised, to that end, and when tax caps arrived, promises vanished).  Two proposals are being floated.  One is the elimination of the local (COIT) homestead credit  (not the big one you get from the state).  The other is an increase to the Public Safety income tax to .5% .  Both would be dedicated, and neither would be massive in their impact on you, though I suppose that depends on how close you live to the edge.  The elimination of the Homestead credit would cost about $35 per household  (unless you’re already at the cap, wherein it doesn’t apply to you).  The Public Safety income tax increase ought to fall in the $50-$60 range.  Interestingly both are opposed by the fringes of the political spectrum  -  the right because there should never, ever, ever, be any new tax, and the left, because lower income residents  (which includes the majority of Marion County residents) shouldn’t ever see any increase in taxes.  The proposals, made by a by-partisan group of the Council, were made because, honestly, this needs to be done, and, honestly, it needs a new revenue stream to get it done.  You can read the Commission’s entire report at  http://www.indy.gov/eGov/Council/Committees/Documents/IMPD%20STAFFING%20STUDY/April%2028%20Meeting/Final%20Report.pdf.


Will an increase in our police force eliminate all crime, or even the current “shoot first, introduce yourself later” problem?    Probably not, but it will allow IMPD more ability to station officers in areas from where crime emanates (aka Community Policing), and the more residents know at least a few police officers well, the more likely residents are to talk to the police.  That’s not happening now with the “Task Force” meetings held in various parts of the Districts that end up being attended by the same small group of people (aka The Choir).   Will it eliminate revolving door justice?  No.  If you want more people in jail for longer periods, increase jail capacity, and pay for it, which also involves taxes.



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Further Confessions of a Home Tour Junkie

Posted 3:36 PM by



We moved into Meridian Kessler a long time ago.  From what I remember, which is a bit blurred by time, I was looking for a relatively new house.  My experience in home mending consisted of calling the maintenance department of my apartment.  I’d come to Indianapolis from an area that had views of Lake Michigan, so had some vague idea of living near a body of water, which meant looking in the outer edges of the city and being a bit willing to compromise on just what constituted a body of water.


We contacted a realtor and set about touring the outer regions of Indianapolis, which meant trips that consisted of 75% driving and 25% touring homes.  We were determined to be picky, and probably wore down our realtor finding excuses not to make bids.  At the end of another long day of wandering, our agent was taking us home, when she mentioned that a house was about to be listed in Meridian Kessler, and since she’d like to see it, wondered if we’d go along.  We agreed and four ourselves at a 75 year old Tudor in the northeast corner of Meridian Kessler.  


Inside, we found a house completely different from anything we’d seen in the past month of wandering, filled with twists and turns, nooks and crannies, leaded windows, laundry chutes that might have fit one pair of underwear, hardwood floors and a roof made of stones.  After our tour, about the time we were leaving the front porch, my wife informed me that I had two choices.  The first was to keep looking for new homes on the outskirts, and the other was to have a continuing sex life.  I did some quick calculations as to the number of times I was going to contemplate a view of some drainage pond, and the number of times I was likely to follow other pursuits, and found I was filling out an offer sheet as we drove away.


We moved in a couple of months later, on a February day not seen again until our Super Bowl in that it was in the mid 70’s.  There was a bird flying around our living room, which we took as a positive omen, at least until we later discovered that birds and other woodland creatures could find their way into the house at their pleasure.  But, we were in the rapture of home ownership and still envisioned animals from Cinderella who would dress us in the morning and help with the cleaning chores.


Pinned to our fireplace mantel was a post-it note from the prior owners, announcing that we would be on the Meridian Kessler Home Tour in June, and would shortly be contacted by the Home Tour Committee.  We still assumed the birds would help with the Home Tour as well.  The owners also left behind a copy of Indianapolis Monthly, where we discovered, our living room, sans birds, was featured.


We’d moved, as noted, from an apartment, and not a big one.  We had sufficient furniture for about half the house, but none of it remotely resembled the layout in Indianapolis Monthly.  Naturally, we panicked.  Since post-it notes seemed to work well for the prior owners, we started by adding a post-it in the empty dining room announcing that it was now the Ballroom, and contemplated dancing there for two days of Home Tour  (music supplied by the birds) while the tour guests filed through.  My wife began shopping for glass slippers.


Fortunately in those days, Indianapolis was still filled with second hand (OK fourth hand) furniture shops, many of which were still in Meridian Kessler.  In todays world, those stores are called antique shops (and priced accordingly) but then, they were closer to junk shops, but also where, if you were willing to learn a bit of furniture repair and refinishing, you could find real bargains.  Our basement (then unfinished) became the woodworking shop where trash was returned into treasures.  Our indoor woodland creatures  (we assumed they were mice wearing bonnets) walked across newly stained woodwork leaving tiny footprints behind.   


We became frequenters of garage sales.  Early on, largely because the prior owners had left the drapes behind, that there seemed to be a lot of pink and blue in the house.  My wife, who was far more advanced in these areas, began slapping me in the side of the head every time I said that, and I quickly learned that “our colors” were rose and teal.  Equipped with that knowledge, I could make quick work of garage sales, offering to buy anything that seemed remotely pink or blue.  As I shopped, my wife decorated, and cleaned  (OK, the birds and mice were total failures in that regard).


As February turned to March, March to April, and so on, I discovered the true depth of Home Tour paranoia.  While I had the luxury of going off to work every day, my wife stayed home and contemplated our home with what she imagined was the discerning eye of a veteran home tour attendee.  She assumed the main pursuit of those people would be corners and baseboards, all of which needed to be cleaned with a toothbrush, and soon I was buying those with the regularity of one who has a dental cleaning coming up and needs to compensate for months of gum neglect.


Attendees other main concern, I was told, was underwear, since, left unattended for even a second, were sure to be inspected.  Most of our supply was now wedged in our laundry chute to nowhere, so between furniture refinishing and garage sales, I learned the mysteries of Victoria’s Secret.  (Apparently male underwear is of no interest to Home Tour folks despite my insistence that a few of my IU boxer shorts would surely be admired)  As it turned out, my wife looked pretty good in rose and teal  (remember, I was still reaping the benefits of buying the house) though occasionally she blended in with the draperies and I lost track of her.  My folding improved, since no self-respecting Home Tour guest was going to tolerate improperly folded scanties, even if they did match the drapes.  IU does not make rose and teal boxers, although that may have changed.


With the Tour about a week away, I determined that my wife was of insufficient mind to be left in our house to suffer the imagined indignities of underwear ogling, corner inspecting guests, so booked us a room at a downtown hotel for the tour date.  After all, our underwear had to remain home and perfectly folded, so it was bound to be a romantic weekend.  That failing, I was comforted that I was at least saving the life of the first guest who dared criticize anything in our house while in earshot of my wife.


We turned over our keys to the Home Tour folks and departed for our hotel, chosen because it was not decorated in rose and teal and we wouldn’t have to be reminded that our underwear didn’t match the decor.  For two days we ate, drank, and imagined the enthralled tour guests being whisked through our house by the birds and woodland creatures  (which had been secretly rehearsing their roles for months).


Our checkout was well before the tours end, so we took the opportunity to see the other homes on the tour  (none of which had birds and woodland creatures as docents).  We scarcely noticed a corner or a baseboard, but did notice one brave homeowner who’d stayed behind to guard her clearly non-conforming underwear.


We returned home just in time to be one of the final group treated to a tour of our own house, and were lead through by a docent who described in great detail all the miracles of our house, sadly omitting the corners and underwear.  As we passed by a guest bedroom, filled with 1960’s Sears furniture cleverly held together with concealed duct tape, the docent did mention that everything in the room was a priceless family heirloom  -  a line we reused  later when selling it at our garage sale.


All that was about a quarter century ago.  Our experience with the Home Tour led us to getting involved with the neighborhood association, and of course staying involved with the Home Tour.  Our house has changed  -  we’re raised a family, repaired what always needs repairing in old houses, redecorated, remodeled and repainted.  If anything, the house is more impressive than it was back then, but all of Meridian Kessler, thanks in no small part to the neighborhood association is a lot more impressive as well.


The Tour is always improving.  The Association now throws magnificent parties for those who volunteer their homes, and even insures the homeowners against disasters that never happen.


We hope you’ll attend this year’s Tour, and the marvelous Twilight Party.   Both celebrate our neighborhood, from where it’s been to where it’s headed.  We sincerely applaud the homeowners who allow us into their homes.  At least one of us understands the effort you’ve put into your corners and baseboards, and promises to only imagine how neatly folded and color coordinated your underwear must be.





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The Biggert-Waters Act

Posted 2:54 PM by

I spent a couple of hours last night at Congresswoman Brook’s office in Carmel with a group of realtors and neighborhood leaders discussing the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Act.  If you’ve never heard of it, you probably don’t live in an area designated as a flood plain.  Biggert-Waters was intended to stem the bleeding  (now around $650 billion) from disaster relief due to flooding by eliminating subsidies to older homes flood insurance premiums.


The effect of that Act, which is just starting to be felt locally, is to raise flood insurance premiums, sometimes, as was noted anecdotally last night, by as much as 500%.  Flood insurance is required by mortgage companies (in addition to regular insurance) , on properties in flood plains, assuming you have a mortgage, and, if you don’t have it, but do have a mortgage, the mortgage lender can purchase it, and bill you for it.


The Act, which became effective in October, is already effecting home sales in flood plain areas, not only locally, but state, and nationwide.  Realtors who attended last night’s meeting told us that so far there have been about nine sales of property that would be impacted by the bill.  Seven were cash sales (meaning there’s no mortgage, so no insurance required), one that’s in the process of fighting their designation of being in a flood plain, and one more, wherein the purchaser announced they so loved the house that they were willing to pay the additional $10,000 annual flood insurance premium.  It’s hard to estimate, because they won’t be recorded, how many potential home sales will simply fall though because potential buyers won’t love the house enough to pay an additional $10,000 annually.  


Some homeowners, who weren’t planning to sell, simply won’t be able to afford flood insurance.  We were told, again anecdotally, that right now, mortgage companies aren’t foreclosing on these homes, but most are adding the new premiums on to their escrow bills, which should mean, in fairly short order, that whatever equity the homeowner had in the home will disappear, and the mortgage company will end up owning the home anyway.


As previously noted, this is causing a national uproar, and there are Bills in congress proposing to do something about it, including, interestingly enough, one from the author of the original Act.  We were told that these Bills, which would send the program back for an ‘affordability’ review and delay implementation for at least four years, center around the fact that changing the Bill would be considered a ‘spending’ bill, thus requiring congress, under a self-imposed restriction, to come up with savings, elsewhere, equal to the costs of the changes, and it’s a pretty expensive bill.  We were also told that changes are going to require, to get passed, that a majority of both parties support the changes, and there’s little the two parties agree upon right now.


Locally, there’s some prospect that this will eventually  (and eventually could mean a decade) be resolved by the completion of the White River flood wall, which as noted in previous posts, exists, mostly, to just north of the Riviera Club.   There seems to be a congealing plan to extend the wall south along the existing towpath, to a point just south of Butler’s campus where it would tie in to higher ground and presumably eliminate the Washington Township portion of the flood plain.  I say probably because, as noted below, the Corps., which builds, and FEMA, which designates flood areas, really don’t communicate.  There’s still some argument about who  (the Corps. or the City) would pay for what, but it’s resolvable if cooler minds prevail.  That alternative, also noted previously, would eliminate the silly proposals to build mechanical walls across the City’s water supply.


What’s also interesting is that the northernmost areas within the floodplain, are probably already protected by what’s already been built (assuming there’s not another 1913 flood wherein we’d flood from Iowa to Pennsylvania, irrespective of our wall) but it has no effect on current insurance problems because, oddly, the Corps. and FEMA, the two Federal agencies which are always mentioned together in discussions of these issues, simply don’t ever work together.  Meanwhile, my basement, which isn’t in or near a floodplain, has flooded more recently than Warliegh.


Because it’s a national problem, I’d like to talk a little about this issue in a broader perspective.  Flood insurance probably ought to carry its own weight, but the larger problem is that American’s seem to continue to build where they shouldn’t be building.  Oceans are lovely, but that doesn’t mean you should need to live next to one.  Mosly, flood insurance ought to serve as a major deterrent to new construction in these areas where billions get spent on a regular basis repairing damage that was anticipated and predictable.  My grandparents had an uninsulated shack on the Jersey Shore in the early 1900’s that was expected to be damaged fairly often.  It’s now part of a community of permanent homes.  On the other side of my family, another set of grandparents had an equally disposable shack on the shore of Lake Michigan, also now a part of a permanent community of year round homes.  But, both are entirely different than areas of the Midwest which last flooded when the Cubs were in the World Series.


New Orleans, except to keep the Mississippi delta open, probably shouldn’t have been rebuilt in its original location.  Rocky Ripple shouldn’t have been allowed to develop beyond its original incarnation as prime farmland.  Our shorelines ought to be destinations, not residences.   Yet we protect our bad decisions of the past because they did develop, and the scale of injury, once they were developed, is such that, unless we can really protect the injuries from recurring over an over again, we ought to prevent.


Insurance companies have traditionally created risk pools based upon reasonable likelihood of occurrences.  Flood insurance programs ought, but aren’t, be made to operate the same way.


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The Explicated Floodwall

Posted 4:43 PM by

Reprinted, with permission from the premiere issue of Midtown Magazine courtesy of the author, Bill Beranek, and Midtown's editor and publisher, the esteemed Tom Healy of Apple Press.



White River Flood Risk Management — Final Stage

Where and how should the flood project along the left bank of the White River at Broad Ripple and downstream be completed? The answer will affect future vitality of Midtown neighborhoods.

How you feel about the project depends in part on where your property is situated. You may want to be freed from the federally mandated flood insurance and building code restrictions of the 100-year flood plain as soon as possible, or you may want reduced risk for flooding events. But all Midtown residents want to avoid any negative impacts that a permanent, intrusive structure could have on neighborhood vitality.

A flood wall now extends from the north side of Broad Ripple Village south to Kessler Boulevard. A new section is under construction along the river to the northern edge of the Riviera Club (see red line on map). If the barrier is not continued to high ground, flood waters could overtop the river banks near 56th Street and flow back into some low areas behind the wall. 

The US Army Corps of Engineers (the Corps) describes its position in a June 7, 2013, Final Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement. The public comment period ends September 6, 2013. The City of Indianapolis must then make a choice before the Corps completes its Record of Decision.

While the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is focused on 100-year flood protection, the Corps has determined that 300-year flood protection is feasible for this project and has identified two alternatives to accomplish the goal:

1.     Westfield Boulevard Flood Wall Alternative ($15.6 million)

A flood wall would continue south along the river bank on the west edge of the Riviera Club, cross the Central Canal public water supply with a flood gate, and continue south from Capitol Avenue with a 3,100-foot wall between Westfield Boulevard and the canal, until ending in the hill behind Holcomb Gardens at Butler University (see yellow line on map).

2.     Illinois Street Flood Wall Alternative ($13.8 million)

A flood wall would extend along the northern boundary of the Riviera Club, then south along the west side of Illinois Street, cross Illinois Street with a mechanical gate, extend south between Westfield Boulevard and the canal, cross Westfield Boulevard with a mechanical gate at the north edge of Chase Bank, and extend to the hill behind the bank parking lot (see turquoise line on map).

The Westfield Flood Wall Alternative protects the entire Warfleigh Flood Plain from Broad Ripple to Butler-Tarkington. This is the Corps’ first choice but due to public opposition, the City of Indianapolis last November told the Corps that it would not participate in that option. City participation is required for the Corps to proceed.

The City prefers the Illinois Street Alternative. Although this option provides no flood risk reduction for businesses and residences south of the Riviera Club that the Westfield Alternative would protect, the City administration considers this to be the quickest path to increased property values and tax revenues from development of structures on the properties in a substantial part of the Warfleigh and Broad Ripple neighborhoods.

The Corps has described three variations on these options that it could participate in if the City paid all of the excess costs. The preferred option has been the 56th Street Flood Wall, which places a wall along the Riviera Club river bank, turns north along the tow path, crosses the canal with a flood gate at 56th Street and bisects the 56th and Illinois streets commercial district with walls and gates (see pink line on map).

Two others options are variations of the Westfield Boulevard Flood Wall. One places a canal flood gate at Graceland Avenue instead of Capitol Avenue, using a flood wall to protect the canal along that section (see orange line on map). The other is the original Westfield Boulevard alignment but using removable panels for the top sections of the wall. The base would be built to the height necessary to remove Warfleigh from the 100-year floodplain, and the top panels could be added to capture a 300-year flood, which the Corps needs for its engagement. 

Concerns About the Proposals

Opponents have raised the following objections to these alternatives.

A.    Flood Gate Across the Canal

All alternatives include a large flood gate across the canal, which is a focus of opposition for three reasons.

1)    Recreational Use: Supporters of the canal as a key social and cultural amenity for nearby neighborhoods claim that the canal flood gate will physically split the canal greenway into two distinct pieces: one section north to Broad Ripple and another section south to the Indianapolis Museum of Art. The canal’s function as a unifying agent in Midtown will be lost.

2)    Canal Operations: A canal flood gate increases the difficulty of managing weeds, sediment, and water flow in the canal.

3)    Reliability: Maintenance of the flood gate would be the responsibility of the Indianapolis Department of Public Works or an outsourced contractor, rather than the canal owner. Any malfunctions during the coming decades of operation could shut down Indianapolis’ largest water source. Passive flood risk management (such as a wall or levee) is more dependable than flood control that requires ongoing funds for special maintenance, trained staff available to take action, and a steady source of electricity.

B.    Vulnerability of Flood Damage to the Canal

Neither of the Corps’ two alternative recommendations protects the physical integrity of the canal at the 56th Street river bend. The rushing current of the flooded river could weaken the canal berm by overtopping with a level as low as a 50-year flood. A prolonged overtop condition could cause erosion of the inside of the berm and collapse of a section of the canal. Depending on the damage, flow of water to the main downtown treatment plant could be halted, followed by a period of reduced flow to the system while the damaged portion of the canal is rebuilt.


C.    Westfield Boulevard Flood Wall

Opponents of the Westfield Flood Wall say the height and length of that wall would physically and visually isolate the Town of Rocky Ripple and the canal itself from the Butler-Tarkington neighborhood. They worry that the long wall could attract graffiti and create an unsafe environment for walkers and joggers. In this alternative, the road crossings at 52nd and 53rd streets will not use mechanical gates but instead rely on construction of a three-foot-high sand bag wall, blocking the roads well in advance of any predicted flood event. Emergency response officials are concerned about the danger to both the residents and the rescue workers in a situation where people are fighting to save their properties while vehicle entrances and exits are being sealed behind them.

Opponents note that the Westfield Flood Wall would divert 56th Street river bend flood waters in the direction of the canal. That water could spill over the dip in the towpath near 52nd Street, flooding Rocky Ripple from the east. Such a result would prevent Butler University and Rocky Ripple from realizing containment for the same 100-year flooding events coming directly from the lower elevations of the river.

D.    Illinois Street Flood Wall

Opponents note that the high Illinois Street flood walls create a significant visual barrier from Illinois Street north of the bridge, across the canal, and south along the canal on Westfield Boulevard opposite homes north of Chase Bank. This also visually separates the 56th and Illinois commercial center and the Riviera Club from areas northward. While Corps hydraulic studies show that flooding of the unprotected areas south of the wall will not increase because of the wall, opponents note that this configuration contains no components that could help future flood risk reduction for the Butler University/Rocky Ripple Flood Plain or for Butler-Tarkington.


A Different Alternative for Consideration

The Corps initially considered an alternative without a canal flood gate to protect the entire Warfleigh flood plain but thought it more problematic to construct than the Westfield Flood Wall. The City owned the canal at the time of this decision, and so agreed to a canal flood gate that it would own and operate. (Citizens Energy Group now owns the water company and the canal.) Therefore, an alternative without a flood gate never received the rigorous geotechnical and engineering study that might have shown it to be economically competitive with the alternatives that include a canal flood gate.


This 1996 alternative had a flood wall along the river bank at the Riviera Club and between the river and the canal to Canal Boulevard to close the river bend gap.  From this point south it used a reinforced right bank of the canal as the flood barrier. (See purple line on map.)


The towpath berm would likely need to be strengthened and widened in places. The top may need to be raised two feet at its dip around 52nd Street. An important question asked by those opposing the flood gate alternatives is what it would cost to transform the berm into a flood barrier suitable for both a 300-year flood plain and FEMA approval to eliminate Warfleigh from 100-year flood plain map. Could a plan be crafted to meet the needs of all the affected neighborhoods and institutions while harming none?


I.      Riviera Club

The Riviera Club is in the middle of all options. A flood barrier for the rest of the community works equally well with a wall along the club’s river bank property or a wall completely around its perimeter. Club members should indicate their preference, as there are consequences for either path and ways to reduce the impact of each one.


II.    Butler University/Rocky Ripple Flood Plain


The initial 1990s proposal by the Corps for flood risk management included a barrier protecting much of the Butler University/Rocky Ripple Flood Plain. The Rocky Ripple Town Council voted against the proposal because of the impact on some properties. Since that vote, Rocky Ripple residents have elected a new town council that has repeatedly requested inclusion in the flood project.  


The Corps process, meanwhile, has proceeded with protection of the Warfleigh 300-year flood plain alone as its focus. Expansion of that focus with a wall and levee around the low, sandy Rocky Ripple flood plain to contain a flood at 2.1 feet higher than the 300-year flood makes little sense hydraulically and financially. However, many Rocky Ripple residents believe that it does make sense to improve flood protection for the Butler University/Rocky Ripple flood plain with less intrusive means for floods of 100-year magnitude and smaller. Reasonable flood risk management plans for both flood plains should be coordinated by the City and committed to simultaneously.


III.  The Decision

The Corps and the City must agree on the design of the project. FEMA will make the decision whether to change the 100-year flood plain map. The Corps must be confident the structures meet its standards and that the City will be able to maintain them in perpetuity. FEMA must agree that the structures are appropriate (and maintained) and the Warfleigh trees removed in order to withdraw the area from the 100-year flood plain.

The City must be confident of a flood risk management strategy that will safeguard the vitality of and do no harm to each affected Midtown neighborhood.

William Beranek Jr., Ph.D., of Beranek Analysis LLC, has served in Indianapolis as an environmental mediator since 1975. 

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A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Flood Wall

Posted 3:43 PM by


If you’ve been hopelessly engrossed in the drama surrounding the Shell station development in Broad Ripple, you might have missed  DPW’s “announcement” that  they’d been “made aware” that the US Army Corps of Engineers was about to release their latest proposals regarding the White River Levee Project.  In fact, those plans have now been out for a few days, and if you’re a glutton for punishment, can be found at:  http://www.lrl.usace.army.mil/Missions/CivilWorks/ProjectPlanning/IndianapolisNorth.aspx.  


This time around, the Corps. is deciding between two proposals, supposedly.  One proposal is essentially the proposal from last year that would construct a removable (in part) wall along the canal that would separate Butler Tarkington folks from a view of the canal, while at the same time separating Rocky Ripple from, well, just about everything.


The alternate proposal would construct a flood wall north of the Riviera Club which would run east, cutting across the canal, until it connects with higher ground just past the Chase branch, while making Chase a specialist in waterproof safe deposit boxes.


You can pretty well ignore the first proposal.  It was so resoundingly lambasted in its prior incarnation that even with minor tinkering, the only reason it’s even mentioned is to  make the second proposal look good by comparison.


Truth be told, a couple of DPW engineers have been making the rounds of local neighborhood associations for the past few months, trying to sell the second proposal, so any shock & awe that it exists probably relates more to their amazement that they could convince the Corps to front the idea.


Before continuing, a bit of history, in case you’re new to all this.  Indianapolis and the Corps have been messing around with the concept of a White River Flood Wall in this area for at least two decades and probably more.  Two things messed up the concept.  One was the Town of Rocky Ripple, which at one point rejected the idea of a flood wall about a decade ago, and seems to have both the Corps and the City thinking that dealing with the Town is never going to be easy.  They’ve since reversed course under new management.  The second was Hurricane Katrina, which got the government talking about the specter of 300 year floods.That last part relates to the question of who has to buy flood insurance, but doesn’t relate to living on one of the coasts.  At least one of the City’s engineers has been dealing with this issue since he was hired and since he had hair.


That’s as much sympathy as I can offer.  The problem with the new wall configuration is that it only offers protection to areas north of Riviera and Chase, which means it does nothing for Rivi, most of Butler-Tarkington, all of Rocky Ripple, and Butler University.    It also leaves the canal, south of there, open to flooding, which Citizen’s may, or may not, mind.  The City engineers who met with the various players individually, not collectively, allowed as to that the City might, perhaps, someday be able to do something that would offer some protection to each of these areas.  They were unable to specify what they might do, when they might to it, or how it might be funded.  Since they were meeting with groups individually, they were happy to note that they hadn’t heard any opposition, or at least not vociferous opposition, from any of the other groups, all of which, including Warleigh  (which basically has requested something be done yesterday) are now opposed.


It may well be that there is no financially reasonable way to offer protection to areas south of the new proposal, or at least not protection up to the 300 year standard.  At the same time, there is apparently no clear cut agreement with Homeland Security, that building according to the proposal(s) would remove any area from the requirement to purchase flood insurance (and there’s a political element there that ought to be further explored).  It’s as if the necessity to do something immediately is taking precedence over formulating a master plan for the area, and selling it.  Perhaps the Tea Party is right, and we’ll be shutting down all forms of government in the near future.


Immediately after the reaction to the east-of-canal wall last year, the City started off on what seemed to be a reasonable path, which was to gather the constituent parties and attempt to reach some sort of agreement as to the next step.  An environmental mediator was even enlisted to help work the group through the process.  Dave Sherman, former DPW head, who famously announced the last time through that there were “lots of things the city could do to offer protection”  was even brought back into the discussion.


All this changed about six month ago with the engineer’s Rivi to Chase wall idea, which apparently coincides with approximately the current federal funding for the project, or at least the last proposed stage thereof.


It’s impossible for me, since I don’t build flood walls, to offer an opinion about whether the proposals work, or whether they could at some future point be tied into further protection for the unprotected areas.  But it’s not beyond me to suggest that without a specific plan for those unprotected areas, it’s probably equally hard for the people who actually do that stuff to answer the question either.


My advice to the City engineers was to let the mediation process play out,and to come back eventually with a plan that did at least something for all the area.  Maybe it wouldn’t be 300 year protection for everyone, but at least they’d have something that everyone could wrap their arms around as something that could and would be done along some sort of schedule.  I still think that approach makes the most sense, absent the pending collapse of the federal government.  The argument for getting this done tomorrow seems to be weak at best.


There are folks in the proposed unprotected area who are already floating the idea that this is the result of a City conspiracy to build more stuff in Broad Ripple, and to build it cheaper because it won’t require flood plain protection, and also tying it into having paid for the parking garage and perhaps the Browning proposed development.  Personally, I think that’s just political talk, but if political talk gets traction, elections get lost.  The administration would do itself a major favor by slowing this down and developing a comprehensive plan for the area.  It’s called leadership, and right now this idea is being led by mid-level City employees who shouldn’t be in that position.  Immediately, the City ought to hold a public meeting on this  -  it will give them a better picture of the level of opposition.  Secondly, the City needs to continue meeting with folks in the unprotected areas, as a group, and at a minimum, come up with a scheduled plan for the remainder of a project that seems to have left the house without putting on its pants.


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New Development In Broad Ripple

Posted 11:42 AM by


Browning Investments is proposing an 88 Unit Apartment Building, perched mostly on over 30,000 sq. ft. of retail, and a parking garage, on the former Shell Gas Station site just north of Westfield & College, and also encompassing the current apartments located along the canal and to the north.


The immediate issue up for consideration is whether to rezone the property.  That issue comes before the MDC in early June, and primarily involves the specific Shell Station area, which is currently zoned residential, but is also the subject of an enforceable agreement with IDEM which prohibits it from being used for residential.  If it doesn’t get rezoned, it will simply remain an underutilized  (apparently Shell, who owns it doesn’t like the word “abandoned.”) forever.  Despite all the noise surrounding the project, that’s the only issue currently at hand, and the only issue that the Broad Ripple Village Association is being asked to evaluate.


That said, most of the noise around the project seems to relate to the size (and look) of the buildings, the proposed retail tenant, and of course, how the project gets financed, which now that there’s a TIF District in place that includes the area of this development, becomes the 900 pound gorilla in the room and thus seems to be drawing the most conversation despite the fact that it’s not formally being decided by any entity that has the power to decide it right now.  I’ll talk about that part in a little more detail further down, but right now, I’ll start with the other two issues.


The project, as noted, is pretty tall, starting with something about the height of the Fresh Market closest to College, and rising to about five stories further to the east.  Over the past six years, Broad Ripple has been the subject of an extensive process which began as “Envision” Broad Ripple, and evolved into a neighborhood master plan.  There were at least 60 different public meetings held to let the public weigh in on how the Village should evolve architecturally, over the coming decades,  Since I attended most of those meetings  (they usually involved free pizza from Union Jack’s, and UJ makes fabulous pizza) I know they were very well attended, and equally well publicized.  If you weren’t there, you made a conscious effort not to be there.


The consensus opinion that came out of those meetings, was that, folks wanted more “density” along College Avenue.  (Density is mostly urban planning lingo for height packed with people.)  The reasons given for that conclusion were that College was likely to evolve into a transit corridor (assuming State government ever realizes that State legislators from  rural areas aren’t the true governing body of Marion County), and, that Broad Ripple was going to be a lot more sustainable if more people lived there, as opposed to just driving there to tie one on weekend nights.   Under those assumptions, the proposed project actually fits pretty well.


As for the proposed retail tenant, which is Whole Foods  (perhaps the most leaked bit of information in Indiana history) the furor seems to relate to its impact on the Good Earth Natural Food Co., which is a couple of blocks away and, which has a storied history in the Village (not to mention being part of a somewhat larger story that deserves to be made into a major motion picture, but not until after Evan Bayh’s batteries run down).  Still, most of that noise began with those who run Good Earth, and people who argue against what they see as competition don’t always make the best point men for arguments.   Having been to Good Earth, and to other Whole Food stores, I tend to think there’s a place for both in the Village and that competition is aways good for the market,  (Having just said that, I’m a bit worried about impact on Fresh Market, which is a Meridian Kessler business that’s done very well and would have made a lousy Walgreen’s, so my free market instincts are as easily swayed as the next guy’s.  I’m also partial to the argument in favor of ‘local’ businesses, but I’m not sure either that we’ll ever see a ‘local’ grocery again, or that everything needs to fit that mold.).  It’s worth noting that there seems to be an agreement that if the super-secret Whole Foods doesn’t make it there, no future tenant could be larger than a third of the proposed retail space.   I like that part, because buildings always seem to out live their tenants, so it’s always important to concentrate on the building first.  (I wish we’d gotten a concession like that on Fresh Market, since on days I forget to clean my glasses, I think it already looks a little like a Walgreens)


OK, on to the money.  Browning is going to ask for money from the TIF, but it’s asking in a slightly different way.  Without totally boring you with how a TIF works, newly create property taxes from new construction (also known as the ‘increment’) flow into the TIF.  If nothing is built, nothing flows.  The money that’s in the TIF is used to spur the creation of other bright and shiny things in the district, which in an ideal world, gets ever brighter and ever shinier.  The noblest dreams of this particular TIF are that the least bright and shiny areas of the District receive the bulk of the increment.


Browning is asking, essentially, to take 80% of it’s increment, and use it to finance what it proposes to build.  The theological underpinning of that, which is why I’m starting there, is that Browning says it wouldn’t build anything without that arrangement, so if you don’t believe that, everything that follows is rubbish, and, conversely, if you do believe that, you also understand that if nothing gets built, nothing new flows into the TIF and less gets done for the less bright and shiny areas of the District.  


While the numbers are still sketchy, Browning noted that this is a $25 million project, which ought to mean that it will, also roughly, throw off $750K in property taxes annually, assuming cost and AV are close.  If 80% goes back to the project, that’s around $600K annually, which, depending on interest rates, ought to support a bond of at least half the project costs.  The remaining 20% that flows into the TIF should increase the Districts ability to bond for other projects somewhere in the range of one to two million.


A couple of closing thoughts.  If you had the misfortune to attend the BRVA informational meeting on this project, you saw both the best of neighborhood associations, and the worst of public discourse.  BRVA’s efforts to provide information are more than commendable, while the behavior of a good portion of those who attended the meeting makes you a little afraid to walk the streets of Broad Ripple during daylight hours, let alone after the bars close.


The Star’s reporting on the meeting was ridiculous.  While their web version features a video interview with a competing developer, who has been floating a similar project with similar tax breaks for at least six years, all without ever mentioning that tidbit of information,.  their lead quote in the print  version dealt with someone who lives about 3 blocks away, who’s supposedly worried that residents of the proposed apartments will be peering into his backyard.  At least with the blog reporting, you begin wit the assumption the writer is crazy, and of course, I am.


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Posted 5:46 PM by


Once again, the IPS Board has caused a bit of local furor due to a proposal before that Board to relocate both the proposed International Baccalaureate program tentatively set to open next fall in Broad Ripple High School, and the current Gambold Prep program, currently located on west 38th St., to Shortridge High School.


The argument, if I understand it, in support of locating both these programs at Broad Ripple High School instead of at Shortridge, is that it would increase ‘community participation at the local high school.‘   Presumably that means that more students from the ‘community’ would attend BRHS if these programs were relocated there, than would atend Shortridge HS if the same programs were located there.  The basis for that argument is that the ‘feeder’ schools for those programs are located closer to BRHS than to Shortridge. That’s where the argument starts to fall apart.


There are, in fact, three pre-International Baccalaureate K-8 schools in Indianapolis.  One is located at 57th & Central, another at  725 N. New Jersey, and a third at 545 E. 19th St.  All are magnet schools, which means that in order to enroll, one must apply and be chosen in a random lottery.  If it were even a remotely valid argument that all students who graduate from those K-8 programs would choose to enter, and win, another lottery to attend a high school international baccalaureate program within IPS, it’s worth noting that only one of the three is in fact closer to BRHS than to Shortridge, and, that admission to the high school baccalaureate school is in no way preconditioned on attending one of those three K-8 schools.   More important, however, since it is entirely possible that some higher percentage of graduates of those three schools might choose to apply to high school IB programs, none of those three schools are in fact places where their students actually live.  All return home to parents who also do not live in those schools.  Taken as a whole, only a tiny percentage of the students of those three schools even live in the Washington Township portion of IPS.


Admittedly, the percentage of students at CFI 84 at 57th & Central from Washington Township is somewhat higher.  That’s true because when people who actually lived around School 84 noticed that the school at the time contained only 6 students from Washington Twp., and was about to be substantially enlarged, their initial suggestions that the school be burned down were resolved both by creating the pre-IB program there, and offering a preference in the lottery to local students.  Since the preference isn’t absolute, the majority of its students still don’t live in Washington Twp., and under the current system, never will.


Since the majority of students in pre-IB schools in fact live closer to Shortridge ann BHRS, and since it’s presumed that both they, and their parents, would prefer shorter bus rides, you have to assume most would prefer to attend Shortridge.  Even among Washington Twp. students, it’s worth noting that Shortridge is in fact closer to most of Washington Township than is Broad Ripple. 


Now, the schools that are supposed to be ‘feeder’ schools for the Gambold program (which could seemingly also include all of the pre-IB schools, include the IPS Montessori Schools, of which there are three.  School 356 is located at 2353 Columbia Ave.  School 367 is located at 653 Somerset Ave.  School 391 is located at 5111 Evanston Ave.  Only that last school is in fact closer to BRHS than to Shortridge.  All, as with the pre-IB schools are magnet schools, none have a majority of Washington Twp. students, and in fact all of my previous commentary relating to pre-IB schools applies here as well, except that none were able to negotiate a preference area.


The last ‘feeder’ is the Merle Sidner Gifted Academy, located at Kessler & Keystone.  It is very, very close to BRHS.  It’s roughly 300 students in 8 grades come from everywhere in IPS, and, unlike other magnet programs, carefully chooses its students.  As with BRHS, it sits on the outer edge of the IPS District, and if local news accounts are to be believed, there is some complaint among its parents that it is located too far from their homes.


Finally, it’s absolutely worth noting that very few Washington Township students attend Broad Ripple High School.  In sheer numbers, very few Washington Twp. students attend any IPS school.


OK, so what’s going on here?  My best guess is that, at least in the northern part of Washington Twp. IPS, there’s a decent sentiment in favor of neighborhood schools.  There are also, living within Meridian Kessler, more than a few people who attended schools here some time ago, back in the era of purely neighborhood schools, so there’s a strong instinct towards protecting places like School 84 and BRHS, especially from alumni.  There are also a lot of parents of younger children who want their kids attending school that are closer to their homes, and who would also rather bank some of the tuition they’d have to expend to achieve that goal without going the provate or parochial route.  All of that seems perfectly understandable.


My guess is that, in the poorer areas of IPS, there’s some equally strong instinct towards getting children out of their neighborhoods for school.  That would seem to explain the popularity of both magnet schools, and of charter schools, and also why there was substantial opposition to the only charter ever proposed in Meridian Kessler.  At a minimum, it’s safe to say that there are some really diverse constituencies within the IPS District, and that trying to please all of them makes being on the IPS Board a really difficult job.


There’s a raw materials aspect to public education that’s awfully difficult to discuss.  What IPS lost over the past few decades were families that could give their children tremendous advantages.  They went either to the suburbs or to local private and parochial schools.  Advantages are, after all, advantages, and you can still see those advantages playing out in the test score of the places those kids landed.


There’s also a need, in urban areas to attract families with advantages back again.  Advantaged people can pay more for their homes, and that means increased property taxes.  It also means jobs, since there are probably more advantaged job creators than there are disadvantaged job creators.  That’s a part of the IPS experiment with magnet schools, since pre-law, pre-med, and performing arts magnet schools  at least offer the fantasy that your child will become a doctor, lawyer, or famous performer.  (there are too darn many layers these days, but that’s another article altogether).  But magnet schools, inherently, run contrary to neighborhood schools, and there’s some truth to the fact that the further away from your child’s school you live, the less likely you are to be involved with the school..


It took a few decades to muck up public education, and, it will likely take a few decades, at least, to make it work well again.  One of the positives of having reached an advanced age is having children of a (somewhat less) advanced age.  That means I don’t have, or remotely claim to have, solutions, just a perspective on the problems.  It’s going to be an interesting, albeit bumpy, road.


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