More than a year after the Lucas Estate filed several variance requests to be permitted to use the 70-acre property at 1143 W. 116th St. as a meeting or party hall, the Lucas family plans to continue hosting events there that they believe have always been permissible – without a variance.
The Carmel Board of Zoning Appeals was set to discuss the matter at its Aug. 27 meeting, but it was pulled from the agenda after Michael Hollibaugh, director of Carmel’s Dept. of Community Services, withdrew a determination letter he wrote to Lucas Estate attorneys in November 2017 outlining restrictions on short-term outdoor special events. Lucas Estate officials had appealed the determination letter, which they believed unfairly singled them out.
Hollibaugh stated in an Aug. 22 letter to Lucas Estate attorneys that he was withdrawing the determination letter after attempting mediation.
“Throughout the appeal, the City of Carmel attempted to negotiate a settlement agreement with your client,” Hollibaugh stated. “Unfortunately, even after formalized mediation efforts, any attempt to achieve a reasonable resolution failed. Therefore, it now seems prudent to withdraw my Determination and allow the BZA Order to stand on its own merits, without any attempt at further clarification or interpretation by me.”
Michael Wukmer, an attorney representing Lucas Estate, said the BZA order has no impact on events at the Lucas Estate because they don’t violate any city ordinances in the first place. He said the Lucas family only applied for the variances in April 2017 at the repeated request of the City of Carmel and that they have never been ordered to halt operations.
In a statement issued Aug. 27, Lucas Estate owner Forrest Lucas described why he believes events on the property do not violate city code.
“Some have asserted that we are a commercial business because many of our events are catered or offer valet services for their guests, but these activities are common with larger estates or functions and is not prohibited by the zoning laws,” he stated. “The fact that we have a larger piece of property and can invite more guests does not change the fundamental nature of our events or convert our activities to commercial activities. It does not make our private events into a commercial business.”
In September 2017, the BZA narrowly voted against the variance requests, with many west Carmel residents speaking against the parties at the estate because of noise, traffic and other issues. Lucas stated that some of the protests are believed to “be political in nature” and that many remonstrators are not immediate neighbors of the property.
“Legally, (the BZA vote) did not change anything,” Lucas stated. “What we were legally doing before the denial we could continue.”
In the August letter, Hollibaugh states that failure to comply with the BZA order may result in the city “pursuing enforcement” against Lucas Estate.
Dan McFeely, a spokesperson for the City of Carmel, declined to discuss specifics regarding the situation, describing it as a “matter of litigation.”
“Neighbors to the estate still have a grave concern about noise, traffic and what they believe is business use of a residential property,” he stated in an email. “Any action to enforce that BZA order by the city will potentially result in litigation. Despite this, both parties continue to discuss a potential resolution. To guarantee the integrity of these discussions, the city has no further comment at this time.”
Lucas stated that the estate had never received a citation for violating city code since it began operating in 2011 except for a recent noise ordinance complaint that he is challenging. The estate has put in directional lighting and sound systems, buffering and sound monitoring to ensure all events comply with the city’s noise ordinance.
“We have met many times with the neighbors and believe that we have satisfied all but a few protestors,” Lucas stated. “We are not trying to minimize their opinions. We will continue to be sensitive to our neighbors and their legitimate concerns.”