Carmel’s Board of Zoning Appeals denied a variance for Lucas Estate to hold semi-public events such as weddings, receptions, fundraising, recognition ceremonies and more at its party barn venue.
Forrest Lucas, owner of Lucas Oil Company, had asked to use his property at 1143 W. 116th St., which includes the famous party barn that once belonged to the Irsay family, for charity events that benefit the community. But neighbors and city officials became concerned that the parties had become too frequent and too loud and were no longer exclusively charity fundraisers. A website for Lucas Estate advertises interested parties they can host their next event at the famous mansion.
“It appeared the nature of the property had changed from an occasional charity event to a moneymaking operation,” Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard said. “It’s a matter of a level playing field. Private businesses have to follow different rules, such as fire codes.”
Brainard said private citizens are allowed to host fundraisers and social functions, which could include a wedding, at one’s house. If event hosting becomes a business, he said in many cases the properties might need to go through a commercial rezone, which can mean paying higher property taxes and following the same rules other businesses follow, such as installing fire suppression sprinkler systems and maximum capacity limits set by the fire marshal.
In letters to the BZA, neighbors expressed concerns about noise and traffic. Chuck Lazzara, owner of the Ritz Charles event venue, raised concerns about a level playing field for a competing venue operating in a residentially zoned property.
Lucas Estate, which did not return calls for comment, said in its application that charity fundraisers are the main focus.
“The Lucas Estate is simply one of the many avenues for the Lucas Family to carry out their philanthropic initiatives,” the application reads. “The estate cannot be hired out by anyone simply by paying a certain fee. This is not a traditional, commercial banquet facility.”
Representatives from local charities defended Lucas Estate the BZA meeting, saying that hundreds of thousands of dollars have been raised at events at the venue.
Brainard said the process has worked properly.
“That’s the process,” he said. “That’s the law. Neighbors have the right to rely on zoning when they move somewhere. There’s a process, and it works.”
Three board members — Alan Potasnik, James Hawkins and Earlene Plavchak — voted against events at the party barn, but BZA member Leo Dierckman said he’d be OK with a limit of 26 per year. BZA member Tim Moehl said he’d be OK with only nonprofit charity events at the party barn.