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The City Beat

Bent Rail Requiem

Posted 4:35 PM by


A few days ago the Metropolitan Development Commission approved the rezoning of a former fitness center, currently zoned so that it could be used as a metal stamping plant, in the 5300 block of Winthrop Avenue to eventually house a coffee shop and brewpub with an outdoor beer garden that will have indoor seating for around 300, outdoor seating for another 150, and presumably, if you packed in a standing-room only crowd, an additional 100 people.   The site plan that was eventually approved, with the support of MDC Staff, substantially shrunk what was proposed initially, and both eliminated outdoor amplified music and added more parking than will be available at the Broad Ripple Parking Garage.


The plan, in all its iterations, had both support and opposition, none of which is either unusual or unexpected, since there will always be those who are either wildly supportive, or wildly terrified of any form of change.  What does bother me, however, is the reaction of those, following the Commission’s decision, since it seems to represent a microcosm of all that’s wrong with any form of political discourse in America these days.  Not only was it widely decried amongst those in opposition that the decision was the result of graft and corruption, but was also the result of actions taken by a neighborhood association that had somehow come to represent all that’s evil in the world.  A local Association Zone Representative who had spent endless hours distributing hundreds of flyers in the area surrounding the proposed development announcing public meetings regarding the proposal was essentially told that she ought to move away.  And, it was further suggested that there ought to be a new neighborhood association formed that would somehow be more supportive of the needs of those in opposition.


We’ve had winners, and losers, in political discourse for as long as we’ve allowed free and open political discourse in America, which by the way coincides with as long as we’ve had America.   Winners are happy, although perhaps not for long, and losers are unhappy, and on the whole, life goes on.   What seems to be a relatively new manifestation, however, is the need not only to vilify the other side of whatever argument that’s happening, but also to maintain that vilification for a seemingly endless period thereafter.  OK, I’m ignoring such things as my father’s lifelong dislike of dimes once Roosevelt’s picture appeared thereon.  Still, there seems to be an ever lessening distinction between having lost a political argument and having your entrails ripped from your body, to the point that both require generations of jihad.


You can find enough information about the Bent Rail operation elsewhere in this website that it’s not worth discussing further, although I admit I’ll miss the on-site fish farming operation that was eliminated to provide additional parking.  What is worth discussing, however, is the process by which MKNA  makes a decision on whether or not to support a Land Use variance.


First, it’s worth noting that neighborhood associations don’t control land use decisions within their respective boundaries  -  that’s reserved for the Metropolitan Development Commission.  Still, good associations usually have an interest in what’s proposed within their areas, and MKNA does that.


Neighborhood Associations can register with MDC to receive notifications of zoning variance requests within their boundaries.  There is, in fact, such a minimal threshold for so filing that there’s a guy in MK who has formed, literally, hundreds of them, city-wide, and receives so many pieces of mail that the US Postal Service sends him thank-you notes.  It’s such a low threshold that two guys and a truck can qualify, thus explaining how we got burdened with MKNHN, but that’s another subject.  For your purposes, if you want a lot of mail, pretend you’re a real association and sign up.


OK, so MKNA gets its piece of mail saying that Fred wants a variance to build something.  Contemporaneously, MDC requires Fred to both put up a sign on his property telling folks that there will be a zoning hearing downtown and also requires Fred to give MDC the addresses of surrounding landowners  (usually only very, very close landowners) but all that really doesn’t relate to MKNA.  MKNA gives the notice to its Land Use Committee, which now consists of a fairly large group and is populated by folks ranging from attorneys, to architects, to land use planners, etc.


If there’s a remonstrance filed with MDC  (a remonstrance is basically something filed with MDC from one of the folks MDC notified stating that the subject of the variance sucks) or, if the variance is thought to be something of a fair amount of significance to the area, the Land Use Committee will schedule its own meeting  (completely separate from what’s going to happen before the MDC).  The Land Use Committee will provide its own notice of its meeting, probably by distributing flyers, over an area that’s always a whole lot larger than what MDC requires for its hearings.  That involves getting people who aren’t getting paid to walk around dropping off flyers at people’s homes, even in February, and none of those folks tend to get thank you notes from the Postal Service.


So, MKNA hosts a meeting.  The folks who want to get a variance to build something get to talk about what they want to do.  The folks who filed the remonstrance get to talk.  Everyone who shows up gets to talk, to ask questions, and basically to interact.  Sometimes the matter gets resolved, everyone gathers in a circle and sings folk songs.  Other times, it doesn’t get resolved and the Land Use Committee has to get together and decide what it thinks.  It makes its decision, and lets the MKNA Board know it, at which point the MKNA Board has to ratify or reject the decision.  Sometimes there are follow up meetings, more flyers distributed, more negotiations between all involved, and so on straight until morning, second star to the right.  In the perfect world, you still get to the folk singing part, but the world isn’t always perfect.  Still, all involved are getting more face time, and more touchy-feely than they’ll ever get from MDC.  All of this gets posted on the MKNA website.


Eventually, if there wasn’t folk singing, the MDC decides the matter.  Sometimes MKNA Land Use shows up to explain how it feels.  Sometimes MDC agrees with MKNA Land Use, and other times it doesn’t.  Either way, the sun comes up the next day and the world moves on (except when Illinois beats IU, but so it goes).  


Now if you lost your argument, you can, certainly, go out and find a new neighborhood association.  You might want to note that the one that’s currently lurking in the shadows of Meridian Kessler doesn’t hold any public meetings, consists of a few folks who aren’t known to the public, decides what they’re going to gripe about without public input, and whose biggest, self-announced claim to fame is opposing two extra seats outside an ice cream shop.  Then, if even those guys ever disagree with you, you can file something with MDC and become another neighborhood association, and so on, straight until morning, second star to the right.  More power to you  (or maybe less?).   But telling someone who just spent a huge hunk of the past month trying to let you know about meetings about things you would never have heard about otherwise, for free and on her own time, that she ought to move away?  Give me a break.

Comments (4)
Elizabeth Hannan wrote
I don't know what was said after I left but I would like it to be known what your Zone Delegate said to me. I approached her as we were all leaving and let her know that she did not represent me. She told me that I would be pleasantly surprised by the new venture. I live very close to the proposed business (53rd and Carrollton), she said that she lives very close too -- I asked where, and what she told me was 6 blocks to the south. I told her that I was disgusted and that MKNA did not represent me. As she walked away she said "Well, maybe the people you sell your house to will enjoy Bent Rail". I had never spoken to this woman before, I have no intention to sell the house I have lived in for nearly twenty years. I have changed this neighborhood -- I have made improvements to my house -- I stayed here raising children who attend IPS schools instead of moving to the suburbs. The whole attitude of MKNA and Bent Rail is that this project will fix our neighborhood. Our neighborhood does not need fixing.
Posted Feb 8 2013 5:27 PM
Matt Martin wrote
Glad to see progress finally being made. We live in a city, things should be happening in a city, with lots to do and cool neighborhood places to go. Suburbs are where you go for peace, quiet, and plenty of space for parking. The Indy "local" culture is booming lately, and I welcome another establishment who embraces that. To those who may not have the pleasure of looking upon a dilapidated, graffiti'ed-up old building anymore, I hope you can come to terms with having a hip establishment move in, which will likely have a positive effect on the surrounding property values. Locally Grown Gardens, Zest!, N.T.'s Pasta Market, Posh Pedals, and Vibes music are all awesome places that are making this neighborhood worth mentioning. Welcome Bent Rail!
Posted Feb 8 2013 6:33 PM
Grant wrote
So this MKNA member says you'll be pleasantly surprised by the new business, and you reply by saying you are disgusted? Disgusted with what, exactly? I guess I'm not sure what problem anyone could have with the Bent Rail project at this point, aside from how butchered the plan has become. There will be plenty of parking, no outdoor music, no late hours, and no more empty decaying building. Parts of this neighborhood do need fixing. Street lighting, the College Ave streetscape, residential/commerical development to replace the empty lots at 46th & 49th on College, a number of crumbling streets and sidewalks, just to name a few. Failure to support businesses and invite investment into the area leads to neighborhoods looking more like 30th and Central does today than 52nd and College, and nobody who's invested so much into a home in the area wants to see that happen. Can't wait for the project to get started.
Posted Feb 8 2013 6:41 PM
City Beat Blogger wrote
Actually, the point of the post wasn't to praise, or damn, the Bent Rail, but rather to note that MKNA provides a process, and a darned good and fair one, for the neighborhood to provide input, and to have discussions with, those who seek variances in the neighborhood, but heck, I got pretty lousy grades in reading comprehension too.
Posted Feb 8 2013 6:50 PM
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