Extra protection: Property owners must obtain permit to demolish certain downtown buildings

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Buildings in downtown Noblesville now have an added layer of protection after the Noblesville Common Council recently unanimously approved a demolition ordinance.

The ordinance requires a permit prior to the destruction of a building within the ordinance’s boundary. To obtain a demolition permit, petitioners must appear before the Noblesville Plan Commission and Noblesville Common Council. Plan commission and council members would vote on whether or not to grant the permit. The northernmost boundary is Harrison Street, the southernmost boundary is Division Street. The boundary extends east to west from the White River to South 17th Street.

Council member Aaron Smith, who represents the downtown district, said prior to the ordinance, property owners were able to demolish a property without a vote. Property owners were still required to obtain a demolition permit from the planning department. Although council would be notified of the upcoming demolition, they couldn’t take a vote to stop it.

Now, if property owners want to demolish any structure larger than a two-car garage in the boundary, they must get approval from the city.

“My goal was not to stop development,” Smith said. “My goal was to make sure it was thoughtful and worked with what we’re trying to do downtown. We didn’t want people to be able to buy old homes and demolish them to make a parking lot or something like that.”

Smith said the ordinance allows the city to preserve historic buildings while continuing to grow.

“The balance between preservation and progress is a hard one to get right,” Smith said. “When I was campaigning, I said you can have both, you just have to do it the right way.”

However, Smith said if a building is deemed a hazard, it is not subject to the demolition ordinance.

The ordinance was first considered after Noblesville resident and Realtor Kurt Meyer gave advice to prospective clients.

“I had some experience with clients or prospective clients who asked, ‘Would it make sense to buy and demolish this property?’” Meyer said. “In each case, it was upsetting to me, and I advised them don’t do that. But they don’t have to take my advice. I might not always be the Realtor.”

Meyer approached Smith and together looked into establishing the ordinance.

Meyer said even buildings designated on the National Register of Historic Places weren’t protected from demolition. If a building is on the National Register of Historic Places, an impact study must be done if a federally funded project is planned for the area. The study examines if the proposed project negatively impacts the historic fabric of the neighborhood. However, if someone purchased the property and decided to demolish it, the register doesn’t protect the building.

“It adds another layer of protection,” Meyer said. “It doesn’t mean a property can’t be demolished. It means there is a public hearing and an opportunity for people to remonstrate. (The petitioner) could still get approval, but this just means we will more carefully consider it as a community rather than let people do what they will with a historic property.”

For more, visit cityofnoblesville.org.

A map of the protection boundary. (Image courtesy of City of Noblesville)

Common questions

Council member Aaron Smith said one of the most common questions about the demolition ordinance is:

Why does the boundary include alleyways?

“When we looked at (the ordinance), we were concerned with, ‘How does it look from the street?’” Smith said. “That’s why both sides of Logan and both sides of Conner are protected. We are looking at it more of how to preserve the fabric of the community.”

Realtor Kurt Meyer said a common question he often hears is:

Why isn’t my house protected?

Although not currently outlined in the ordinance, Meyer said he thinks it is completely reasonable for a city block contiguous to an existing boundary to request to be included in the boundary if all property owners are in favor.

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