By Ann Marie Shambaugh
The Zionsville Town Council ended its June 6 meeting debating a last-minute addition to the agenda: the merits of removing zoning put in place for a stalled mixed-use development known as The Farm.
Town Council President Susana Suarez proposed directing the Zionsville Plan Commission to move “swiftly” to remove planned unit development zoning approved for the 62 acres in 2013 and revert to the previous zoning, R-SF-2 residential.
The plan commission approved a development plan for the site on the southwest corner of Michigan Road and Sycamore Street in September 2015, and Kroger has announced plans to build a Fresh Fare grocery store there. But construction has been delayed as the five Pittman siblings – who own the land – are in court to determine the fate of their $2.4 million estate that includes several properties in Zionsville and Carmel.
With the outcome of the court case unknown, Suarez said she worries that the development, which is on land designated as an important gateway to the town, would be “up for grabs” and could fall into the hands of developers who don’t have the town’s best interest in mind.
“I just don’t believe that this particular part of Zionsville is something we should leave up to chance,” she said. “We get one chance to develop this parcel, and I certainly hope we do it right.”
While sharing her concern about the future of the important project, other councilors said they didn’t see a compelling reason to change the zoning – especially on such short notice.
“People spend a lot of time and money and effort to get to the point where (the developers) are now,” said councilor Tom Schuler, who said he first heard about the proposal shortly before the meeting began. “That does create value on that particular asset, and I would hate to strip that value away for no actual valid reason I’ve heard here tonight.”
Other councilors echoed a desire for more time to consider the proposal. Some wondered why a representative from the Pittman family wasn’t present to answer questions and provide input.
Steve Pittman said June 7 that he was unaware that the council was considering this issue at all, let alone discussing it publicly, and that he or another family member would have been more than willing to answer questions at the meeting. He said he can “appreciate why concerns have risen” and confirmed that his family still intends to develop The Farm as approved by the town, even if not all of the siblings are on board.
Steve Pittman said that Mark Pittman and his sister, Anne Kelton, are looking to sell their share of The Farm but that members of his family still intend to develop the project.
“Mark Pittman is one of five Managers of Pittman Investors. In this instance, his views do not reflect those of the majority of managers,” Steve Pittman stated. “I and my brothers Scott and Chad Pittman, who reside in Carmel and Zionsville, respectively, plan to work within Pittman Investors to continue advancing development of The Farm project. No company action to sell The Farm or approve other developers has been taken.”
Mark Pittman, who lives in Los Angeles, denied that, stating that “all of the Pittman siblings have been actively involved in the process of potentially selling the project or joint venturing with a qualified developer for more than a year.”
“Our concern is that our family doesn’t have the financing, tenant relationships or development expertise to deliver a quality project that the community would be proud of,” Mark Pittman said, adding that the family hopes to have selected a developer within a month.
Pittman siblings have met with several developers, and all of them have committed to working within the approved PUD, Mark Pittman said.
“All of the developers we are talking with are local, and several of them have either done work in Zionsville or have active projects in Zionsville. All of the developers are substantially more qualified than our family,” he stated. “From Zionsville’s perspective, nothing has changed.”
The council did not take any action on the proposal to give officials more time to research the matter. Councilor Bryan Traylor said changing the zoning could thrust the town into the middle of a heated family dispute and cause more problems than it solves.
“It seems like it could definitely be used as a bargaining chip, but we don’t know for who,” he said.
Schuler said he worried that removing the zoning could create legal issues of its own.
“We may be putting ourselves … in a court battle right now by doing this,” he said, adding that he would sue the town if he was the land owner.