Behind the scenes: Reaction to Johnson Addition public hearing


On Monday, the Carmel City Council heard from the public regarding the petition to turn the Johnson Addition neighborhood into a conservation district. I won’t rehash the whole back story. You can read about that here. But I did want to tell you what some people tell me was their reactions after the long council meeting.

First off, I have no opinions on this issue, I’m just sharing what I’ve been told by city councilors.

It was a long meeting — more than three hours and very little on the council agenda took up any time except the Johnson Addition issue.  One City Councilor told me  the remonstrance — those opposing becoming a conservation district — was “some of the worst we’ve ever seen.” The councilor pointed to one speaker who talked for several minutes before later revealing she didn’t even live in the affected area.

In general, those who support the conservation district say that “majority rules” and “Who are we to stand in the way if they want to do this?”

Those who oppose it say that it “creates another layer of bureaucracy” and that “it doesn’t qualify to be a historic area.”

Those who support it say the oppositions is because Mayor Jim Brainard, “doesn’t want any rules that he’ll have to follow” when it comes to development. Like all of this, that’s from someone else, not me.

I asked around to try to get some clues on how the City Council might vote on this matter. This is all speculation, but it’s based on what others tell me. I could be wrong, but this is my educated guess.

It appears that Eric Seidensticker, Luci Snyder and Rick Sharp will vote in favor of the district if they feel that this is what the majority of the people want. There was a petition where more than 50 percent of the residents signed. There are some questions about whether slightly over 50 percent is enough to make a decision. Is two-thirds enough? More?

Carol Schleif will likely vote in favor of the conservation district. She has done a lot of research on the topic and believes in protecting historic character.

Sue Finkam is unlikely to vote for the project. She opposes Main Street as part of the boundaries, but she had other criticisms. She said she thinks there are other ways to preserve character without relying on the commission to approve changes. She said  an overlay for zoning purposes or a homeowners association could be created.

Ron Carter didn’t ask too many questions but from what I’m told he’s concerned that creating rules that make it hard to alter or sell a home would decrease property values.

Seidensticker counters that some people believe that “preserving the character of the neighborhood” will increase/maintain property values.

Kevin “Woody” Rider could be a swing vote. He asked questions about if there was an “appeal process” if the conservation district was created or the council could go back and remove the district designation if it wanted to.

Mark Dollase, administrator for the Carmel Historic Preservation Commission, didn’t seem to like those questions. Dollase said he believes an appeals process doesn’t conform with state law and that he doesn’t envision the conservation district being removed once put in place because people would “see the benefits.”

Mayor Brainard doesn’t appear to support the conservation district and he could veto the ordinance if it passed, which means the council would need five votes to override his veto and pass it. That means the conservation district supporters would look to recruit Rider to vote along with the “four S’s” on the council.

Again, this could play out many ways. Tell us what you think or e-mail me at [email protected].