A closer look: Councilor, developer consider future development concerns, standards

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When a largely new Westfield City Council was elected in November 2019, some residents and developers expressed concern that development might slow down because of new members on the council.

Only councilors Joe Edwards and Cindy Spoljaric ran for reelection and retained their seats. The five new councilors are Jake Gilbert, Troy Patton, Scott Willis, Mike Johns and Scott Frei.

Three months into his term, Willis said development likely won’t slow down.

“We’ve had a lot of conversations as a council about where we want to go, and I don’t think anyone on the new council wants to shut anything down, especially on the commercial side,” Willis said. “We want to make sure Westfield remains open for businesses to diversify our tax base and continue to drive commercial development to the community.”

Although Willis said the council plan doesn’t plan to shutter commercial development, there may be a pushback on developer requests for tax increment financing. On the residential side, Willis said he doesn’t think the city is “closed for business.”

“I think all of us, quite frankly, will be very detailed on the types of residential development that comes to Westfield, and that the project makes sense with the right kinds of housing and standards around architectural design so it isn’t all cookie-cutter,” Willis said. “I don’t think we will see any drastic Draconian changes to our process. There may be some disagreement about what those good architectural standards mean.”

Willis also wants to ensure housing options have a variety of price points.

“If all we have is $700,000 homes, that makes it difficult for businesses to come here because of having a worker base in the community,” he said.

Birch Dalton, owner of EdgeRock Development in Westfield, said some developers may have rushed for their projects to appear before the previous city council but insists he didn’t do that.

One of Dalton’s projects, the Links planned unit development, which includes proposals such as a go-kart track, a driving school, a jump park and acreage for a digital planetarium, bridged the previous and new councils.

“Deliberately, I did not rush (my projects) to beat the new people,” Dalton said. “I have another one coming out that is much more complex than Links that I can assure you the new council and (Advisory Plan Commission) will go over it with a fine-toothed comb. I deliberately waited on that one because of the complexity of it and it couldn’t be rushed.”

Dalton plans to file for his new development in April or May. He said he hasn’t observed any dramatic changes from the council.

“There was a concern from the development community that there was going to be a radical change, and you saw that in the flood of filings last year before the changeover,” Dalton said. “EdgeRock did not see that same fear. While obviously it was a possibility, in looking at today’s council and today’s (Advisory Plan Commission), I see a continuation of smart, governmental leaders.

“It may be the case that they look a little harder and a little longer as they get acclimated to the process and to the plan, but I don’t see an adversarial position on anything.”

The Westfield City Council, from left, Jake Gilbert, Troy Patton, Joe Edwards, Scott Willis, Cindy Spoljaric, Mike Johns and Scott Frei.

Concern for residential development

Although local developers aren’t concerned about commercial development slowing down with several new members on the Westfield City Council, developer Birch Salton said residential development may encounter some hurdles.

“I think commercial development was never in doubt. Now, residential may be another story,” Dalton said. “I’m not a residential developer, so I’m not as in-tune to the residential side, but my belief is having dissenting opinions or ideas is not a bad thing (on city council) as long as they are coming to a consensus in a civil way.”

Dalton said his biggest concern regarding commercial development is what the council approves for future projects along Ind. 32.

“We built high-quality buildings (along Ind. 32), and I hope the council and APC really are restrictive all the way out past Ditch Road on what’s built because I think that’s going to be our permanent Main and Main,” he said.

Travis May, a local residential developer, did not respond to a request for comment.


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