The City of Carmel is preparing to take action if one of its most prominent families continues to hold large events that are not approved for a residential area, but some neighbors are wondering why enforcement hasn’t happened already.
The city’s board of zoning appeals denied a variance request last fall for Lucas Estate, owned by Lucas Oil Company founder Forrest Lucas, to hold semi-public events such as weddings and recognition ceremonies at the 33-acre site at 1143 W. 116th St. Since then, the city has continued to receive complaints from neighbors about large events.
Sima Sciopu, president of the neighboring Queens Manor HOA, wrote a letter to the city in June outlining events that appear to violate city ordinances since the 2017 BZA ruling. Sciopu stated that 11 events took place on the property from April to June 17, with the four outdoor events requiring multiple calls to the Carmel Police Dept. with noise and nuisance complaints.
Sciopu stated that the events lead to “an immeasurable influx of cars” driving through Queens Manor and concerns about intoxicated drivers leaving parties at the estate. It also addresses concerns about wear on the residential infrastructure and impact on home values.
Nearly a year later, Sciopu questions why more hasn’t been done to stop the ordinance violations.
“A major challenge continues to be enforcement of the rulings, regulations and laws,” the letter states. “Regardless of your decision that the Lucas Estate cannot continue in the manner they have been, the Carmel PD has not acted upon your instructions.”
The city has sent letters to Lucas Estate officials and met with them regarding the issue, but if the ordinance continues to be violated Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard said the city will take additional action.
“We can write citations, and eventually we can stop an event,” Brainard said. “We hope we don’t have to do that to anybody’s event, but we’re coming very quickly to a point where we’re going to start notifying people publicly that events could be stopped if they’re for-profit, and we’d have to use the police to do that.”
City leaders are hopeful a resolution can be reached soon.
“The City has been discussing issues with attorneys for the Lucas Estate, which has appealed the determination letter by our (department of community services) director. We also have been encouraging them to work with the neighbors,” stated Nancy Heck, Carmel director of community relations and economic development, in an email. “Those efforts are ongoing and we are hoping for a solution that would satisfy all parties and keep this within the parameters of city ordinances or a future variance.”
The estate – just like any residence in Carmel – is allowed to host private parties or fundraisers as long as it’s not renting out the space or charging for services. Neighbors and city officials pointed out that the estate has presented itself online as a space to rent. Currently, its website states that it’s “down for maintenance,” but it continues to maintain a presence on Facebook.
Many believe the problems with holding semi-public events at Lucas Estate go beyond the noise and traffic complaints received by neighbors. Brainard said it’s not fair to other event spaces in Carmel, which pay double the tax rate to operate as a commercial venue, but ultimately the issue comes down to respect, he said.
“Most people teach their children to follow the laws. If they don’t like it, (they can work to) change the laws, but follow them while they’re in existence,” Brainard said. “It’s disconcerting to see a community leader like the Lucas family choose to say, ‘I’m just going to defy the law.’ What type of message does that send to children and the community, saying ‘I don’t care what the rest of the community has decided. I’m prominent enough that I’m going to do what I want to regardless.’”
Lucas Estate officials appealed a determination letter written in November 2017 by Carmel Dept. of Community Services Director Michael Hollibaugh that ordered the estate to cease commercial operations within 30 days. The appeal claims that the Lucas family denies that activities on the site constitute a “commercial use” as defined by city ordinance, and that the city’s letter did not adequately define “short-term outdoor special event” or “temporary use.” The Carmel BZA is set to discuss the appeal on July 23.
An attorney representing the Lucas family did not respond to a request for comment as of press time.