Johnson Addition neighbors feel Carmel ‘moved the goalposts’ in allowing 6-story building near homes

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The Carmel Board of Zoning Appeals voted 5-0 Nov. 28 against an appeal supported by several residents in the Johnson Addition neighborhood asking the city to essentially require a variance – and thus a public vote – for a six-story apartment building proposed near their homes. 

The redevelopment of the former AT&T site at 210 3rd Ave. SW includes a six-story apartment building and two-story townhomes, with the for-rent townhomes immediately adjacent to the neighborhood. The neighbors claim that the project, described as a 75-foot single building in an initial application filed with the city Sept. 23 by developer Buckingham Companies, violates an ordinance that states buildings with C2 zoning districts may be no taller than 35 feet when adjacent to single-family residences. An amended application submitted by developers more than a month after the appeal describes the project as two buildings, although its size and footprint didn’t change. 

The neighbors asked the BZA to appeal a decision by Mike Hollibaugh, director of Carmel’s Dept. of Community Services, to accept and docket plans for the project. They believe the 75-foot building height should have triggered a variance request that would require BZA approval. 

Johnson Addition resident Charlie Demler, whose property is among the closest to the proposed project, filed the appeal on Oct. 19. 

The BZA rejected the appeal based on the amended application, which the neighbors feel was updated in response to the issues they raised in the appeal. 

Demler said after the BZA meeting that he was surprised by the vote against the appeal. 

“We obviously feel they’re not seeing what their own ordinance is. It is one building, it’s pretty clear, but they’ve moved the goalposts on us,” Demler said. “It just seems that we have very solid evidence proving that they’re going against their own ordinance, but they see it different, and they’re the ones to make the rules.” 

Hollibaugh said Nov. 29 he always considered the two elements of the project as independent buildings. 

“I believe it was two buildings from its inception,” he said. “It really was more a matter of how it was described in the filing. Ultimately, when you look at the construction of it, the townhomes will be constructed separately.” 

Buckingham Companies did not respond to a request for comment. At the BZA meeting, Justine Massonnier, Buckingham Companies vice president of design and production operations, said the site will be split into separate parcels for the townhomes and apartment building and that the townhomes and apartments are “two very different product types.” 

With the appeal denied, the neighbors could take the matter to court. Demler said the neighbors will discuss whether that is an option they wish – and can afford – to pursue. 

Site plan and design approval for the project is set to be reviewed by a Carmel Plan Commission hearing officer at 11 a.m. Dec. 1. Hollibaugh will serve as the hearing officer and will be responsible for deciding whether to approve the plans. City code states that a hearing officer reviews plans in C1 and C2 zoning districts rather than the full plan commission, Hollibaugh said. 

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