"Does anybody have a copy of that law I'm supposed to be applying?"

Dateline: Fri 25 Aug 2006

That was the question posed by Metropolitan Development Commission hearing examiner Judith Conley when she heard a request in the winter of 2005 to rezone 13 acres in the Driftwood Hills neighborhood.

Amazing -- a hearing officer who doesn't even know the law she's supposed to uphold. And is too lazy to have a copy of it on hand during a public hearing.

The neighborhood in question, at 86th and Haverstick on the Northside, gets the bulldog award for its persistence. It is in court to appeal the decision to turn a quiet residential area into a development by Paul Kite. Kite wants to build 32 townhomes and has hung his hat on attracting Whole Foods Market as the centerpiece of the deal.

A week before Conley heard the case and gave it her approval in 2005, the staff of the Metropolitan Development Commission had recommended denial of the Kite request. That's because Kite's proposal did not follow the Comprehensive Plan developed for Marion County, said Maury Plambeck, director of the Department of Metropolitan Development.

Todd DeGroff is the attorney and Driftwood Hills resident who represents the neighborhood. For the record, DeGroff said, the law on which the neighborhood's case is based is Indiana Code 36-7-4-603.

Plambeck rattled the five-part law off to me Friday: "When commissioners hear a rezoning petition, several things needed to be looked at.

"One is the comprehensive plan. One is the current conditions of structures and uses in each district. Then there is the most desirable use for the land, which each district has developed. (Four) is conservation of property values in the district. (Five) is reasonable development of growth.

"And then, again, overall, we have to give consideration of general policy and the pattern of development as set out in the Comprehensive Plan."

Plamback said there is "a lot of information in the Comprehensive Plan about this part of 86th Street...we recommended denial of that case, because it was contrary to the Comprehensive Plan."

DeGroff said he was amazed that Kite was able to get his project approved without filing any plans regarding drainage, elevation, orientation, utilities and other effects on the infrastructure. The area, he notes, is still on septic and wells.

The site map presented by Kite at hearings, he added, was something a 9-year-old could have drawn.

Furthermore, some of the property Kite supposedly is developing hasn't even been purchased yet, said DeGroff. That raises the question of how on earth Kite could have begun cutting down trees. DeGroff speculates that Kite has traded on the allure of the Whole Foods Market name -- altho WF says it has not yet made any decision about locating in Indianapolis.

After Conley ignored the neighbors and the Metropolitan Development Commission, the City-County Council rubbed salt in the wounds by voting in favor of the rezoning in January, 2006. That action followed an emotional behind-closed-doors plea by City-County Councilman King "Ro" Conley to please not embarrass his wife(!)Judy Conley. Conflict of interest, anyone?

That's all pretty astonishing. But Conley not knowing the law takes the cake.

Fortunately, said DeGroff, a neighborhood resident was at the meeting when Conley asked if anyone happened to have a copy. Yes, that resident did indeed have the law on hand.

Obviously, Conley didn't bother to read it.

Another case of a botched job and the fix being in. No wonder some of us are calling for Conley's resignation. She's getting an impressive record of screw-ups: first this, and more recently the Polin Park rezoning.

Eventually, somebody in the mayor's office will get wise. Or will they? In the meantime, the city has a costly lawsuit on its hands. And no commitment from Whole Foods. What a mess.

Contact me: ruth@ruthholladay.com

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