By Christine Fernando
City councilor Jeff Worrell joined Mayor Jim Brainard at a town hall meeting for residents of Carmel’s southeast district Aug. 9 at Woodbrook Elementary. Brainard addressed a variety of topics, including roundabout construction, plans for a new hotel in downtown Carmel and the purchase of an antique carousel.
City could buy Marsh site
One resident questioned what would happen to the empty Marsh near 116th Street and Keystone Parkway and O’Malia at 126th Street and Gray Road after both closed early this summer. She said she was concerned about the lack of development and believed the area had become a food desert.
Brainard said he hoped the vacancy would attract new grocery stores. He said he had met with O’Malia owners and coinsidered ideas for future development.
He said he also is in contact with Market District, which might be interested in the area. Other possibilities include Fresh Market and Earth Fare.
For the Marsh site, Brainard said a grocery store might not be best because of other competitors within walking distance. Instead, he said the city is looking at buying the land to try a redevelopment project.
“We really want to pump some life into there,” he said.
Future Monon Boulevard ‘a beautiful road’
Because of redevelopment plans for Midtown, Brainard said the city is planning a new street called Monon Boulevard between the Arts & Design District and City Center Drive.
The road would run north-south with five-story buildings along either side, which Brainard said is inspired by Western European streets.
It would also include brick streets with one-lane traffic and a median strip with separate pedestrian and bike lanes.
“So if you’re a walker, you won’t get run over by some guy on a bike,” he said.
Brainard also assured residents the boulevard would not create tax hikes.
“It’s going to be a beautiful road,” he said.
Tax rate expected to remain flat for a decade
Brainard began the meeting by telling residents he had submitted next year’s budget to the city council for review. He also said long-term fiscal plans indicate there should be no property tax increases during the next 10 years.
“We’re trying really hard to keep that rate the same,” he said.
Brainard said the average Carmel resident pays $400 less than Indianapolis residents and $380 less than Fishers residents for utilities.
Current roundabout construction
The roundabout under construction at Hazel Dell Road and 116th Street. will open Aug. 19, Brainard said. He said he hopes it will offset the accidents that regularly occur in that area.
Construction of the roundabout at 136th Street and Gray Road is expected to be complete by Aug. 26, although officials later said additional delays had occurred and did not give an expected opening date.
Construction of that roundabout has not been free of obstacles, Brainard said. During construction, an ancient artifact was found in the area. Brainard said the city notified the Dept. of Natural Resources, who identified it as a 40,000-year-old tool that might have been used for hunting.
Within 24 hours, the DNR said the artifact was an isolated find, and construction could continue.
“I had visions of the project being delayed for over a year,” Brainard said with a laugh.
Brainard said construction on a roundabout at 126th Street and Gray Road should begin this fall. The city would then continue to build roundabouts along Gray Road at other intersections.
The city also plans to landscape roundabouts with flowers and foliage, which was put on hold during the Recession.
“So hopefully, that’ll bring up property values and just make things look nice, make the community look good,” Brainard said.
One resident voiced concerns about construction pushing debris into the street.
Brainard said developers have agreed to clean the roads during construction, and the city will supplement by offering cleaning help.
“If it gets bad, just call me, and we’ll get someone out there,” he said.
Indianapolis lawsuit against Carmel
A roundabout also is planned on Haverstick Road to help keep residents safe while turning onto 96th Street, Brainard said.
Plans for several other roundabouts along 96th Street are what led Indianapolis to sue Carmel earlier this summer. The dispute began when Indianapolis city councilor Christine Scales refused to sign an agreement allowing Carmel to build the roundabout on the cities’ shared border because of concerns the area is not congested enough to warrant a roundabout and that construction would cause local stores to lose business.
When Brainard continued plans to build the roundabout, Indianapolis filed a lawsuit.
On Aug. 10, Boone County Judge Matt Kincaid granted a preliminary injunction halting the projects and ordered the two sides to meet and discuss the issue.
“I’m hopeful that this will be seen as a frivolous case, and we’ll be able to move on from it,” Brainard said at the town hall meeting.
Why so many roundabouts?
Brainard shared 2016 accident statistics for Indiana cities. He noted Carmel has significantly lower accident rates than other municipalities. He also said that while Carmel has nearly tripled in size the past few years, the number of accidents has stayed nearly the same.
Brainard credited roundabouts for the low numbers.
“Now if someone out of town asks why we put in all these silly circles, you can tell them,” he said.
A luxury hotel for all
Brainard addressed plans to build a new hotel in downtown Carmel. In addition to rooms, the hotel would include 3,500 square feet of meeting space, a lounge, a bar, a restaurant, a nightclub area and a patio overlooking the greenspace that hosts the Farmers Market and The Palladium.
“This hotel, in conjunction with everything else we’ve done, will hopefully attract some corporate headquarters,” Brainard said.
One resident voiced concerns about what would happen if the hotel wasn’t profitable. Brainard said the hotel had good projections.
“It was pretty much off the charts,” he said.
Brainard said city officials discussed the idea with representatives from Marriot Hotels, who are excited about the site. Marriott then recommended hiring a developer with experience in hotels and offered developer recommondations.
Another resident said Carmel isn’t a destination city because it lacks tourist sites. As a result, he said he is concerned no one will use the hotel.
Brainard said amenities like The Palladium and Westfield’s Grand Park attract visitors. He also said the hotel would primarily be a business hotel for the sales people, shareholders and other business people from the 125 businesses in the area.
After discussions on the viability of the hotel, another resident asked if the hotel would be community-friendly and could be used for conventions, weddings and other events.
Brainard said the hotel would be an amenity for all.
“We want to make certain that this hotel serves the community as well,” he said.
Investing in a carousel
Brainard also discussed plans to bring an antique, restored carousel built in Pennsylvania to Carmel’s downtown area. He said the carousel would be great for birthday parties and city events.
“Anything we can do to keep that downtown fun and exciting to attract people is a great investment,” he said.
A group of retired residents have formed the Carmel Carousel Society to operate the carousel and keep it running—a volunteer service that Brainard said would save the city money.
Overall, he said the carousel would cost the city $5 million, which would be paid over a span of several years without raising taxes.
“It’ll be a community amenity for the next 100 years,” he said.
Carmel resident Henry Mestetsky started a petition on change.org in support of the carousel after hearing some complaints about its cost.
The petition, which has more than 600 signatures, argues the carousel will help Carmel become a world-class city and even a tourist destination. Brainard has signed the petition and shared it on his own Facebook page.
But not all residents support the carousel. Another petition against the carousel and hotel has 1,420 signatures. At the meeting, one resident said Carmel is not a tourist destination, and the carousel plan seemed to have come out of nowhere.
Another resident agreed that the carousel plan was out of the blue and asked what other plans might be in the future. Brainard said the city is looking into the possibility of streetcars.
“If anyone has any ideas, let us know,” he said. “We get such good ideas from the public.”
On affordable housing
A resident expressed concerns about a lack of affordable housing in Carmel, which she said means some Carmel police officers can’t afford to live in the city.
Brainard noted the many new apartments in Carmel, which he said some residents have seen as a waste. He also said Carmel has reasonable housing costs when compared to other cities and that there are affordable areas.
Above all, he said he is reluctant to try to control the market to force lower housing costs.
“We have a variety of housing options,” he said. “The key is to make sure there’s a lot of options, and we don’t want to put any artificial limits on it.”