The Monon/Kroger/dead tree story

Dateline: Tue 16 Jun 2009

Stick with me on this: ultimately, this is a story within a story. On one level, you've got chronology, citizen indignation, "rape of a landscape" etc. On another level, this is all about the failure of the state's largest newspaper to get into a story that has had a very angry buzz for a week.

So here is the timeline:

A week ago, on Tuesday June 9, I received an email from an enterprising Washington Township resident and watchdog  -- Penny Bigelow -- about "devastation along the Monon Trail," in the words of Nora-Nothside Community Council president Ruth Hayes.

In turn, Hayes was forwarding an email she had received from Pete Fisher, an attorney, a runner and a regular Monon Trail user. Fisher was and is the original sounder of the alarm: He was angry, very angry, about trees and shurbbery along the trail near 86th Street -- a source of shade as well as beauty -- that had been cut down due to a developer putting a Kroger grocery on the site and next to the trail.

Here is, in part, what Fisher wrote: "We need to take action now to regain (if it is lost) control over the maintenance of our trail. IT IS OUR TRAIL.  NOT KROGER’S TRAIL.  IT IS NOT A FRONTAGE FOR KROGER MARKETING.  IT SHOULD NOT BE CONNECTED TO KROGER.  THAT BATTLE HAS BEEN TRIED AND LOST ...ALONG THE TRAIL IN OTHER PLACES.  WHY SHOULD IT BE SUCCESSFUL HERE???????

"I am just so pissed off about this I can’t stand it.  How did we allow this to happen???  We were asleep at the wheel here," he concludes.
Now, this story has a lot of legs, as far as I can see: you've got righteously outraged residents who have a genuine sense of ownership for the trail (they are planning a memorial service Friday for the trees). NIMBY issues -- not in my backyard -- usually make pretty fair copy. But the incident also raises more fundamental questions about who maintains such public trails -- in this case, the Indianapolis parks department worked with Kroger, effectively turning a portion of formerly public land over to private control.

And here, finally, is the really fascinating part:This story -- swirling around in emails last week, covered in the Indianapolis Business Journal by the enterprising Cory Schouten in Property Lines as early as June 10  and reported after that by Channel 6 that night -- did not make it into the Indianapolis Star until this morning. Written by Gretchen Becker, it got good play on Page 1 with a photo and an architect's rendering of the new Kroger.

Today, the story also received coverage on a couple  more blogs -- Ogen on Politics ("The Monon/Kroger Expressway, Courtesy of City Leaders") and Jabberdoodle ("City Bends Over Backwards for Kroger").

My personal opinion is tha tthe city and the parks department -- for whom the very able former Star editor Paula Freud is now spokesperson -- screwed up. They neglected to communicate up front with Nora residents. Freund acknowledges this tactical error in Becker's account.

But far more troubling and telling is that it took so long for the Star to get a handle on what was being covered elsewhere, starting with emails from concerned citizens.

This is not blaming the reporters or middle-level editors at the paper; they have their hands full trying to put out "a product" without enough reporters and with all the morale issues that are part and parvel of the contract Gannett wants the Guild to eat for lunch.

That pounding you hear? It's more nails being driven in the coffin....






Whitebeard [unverified] said:

Yeah, The Star's a joke these days and growing progressively joke-ier by the issue.

Indiana's money-grabbers have never met a a beautiful, ancient old tree that they haven't wanted to chop down at some point or another.

Pave paradise, put up a parking lot.

2009-06-16 17:15:52

hendy [Member] said:

You're talking about disturbing an advertiser here. Move along. Nothing to see here.

2009-06-16 20:04:19

ruthholl [Member] said:

I'm ready. Thank you both.

2009-06-17 05:39:43

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

Thisissue is even more alarming when you consider the following:

**the developer in question, Sid Eskanazi, has a checkered record of property management at his properties region-wide. You could lose a small child in potholes in some of his centers, and landscaping? Pshaw. A few sticks and dead bushes.

**That developer met with Nora residents for months, and promised to them (I was there and heard it): "I won't build this if you don't want it." Twice he said that. And they quizzed him at length about the God-awful-ugly gas station canopy, and landscaping.

**The Monon Trail is the child of Nora Community Council, ,which gets an unfair bad rap for allegedly always opposing developers. When they pushed the trail, it wasn't cool. Property owners were loudly opposed. But Nora and other groups rightly foresaw the upside.

**nobody at the city thought to drop a dime on Nora when this "landscape plan" was put forward by the developer.

**any "landscape plan" which replaces 15-20-inch caliper trees with twigs, is a freaking joke.

Some underbrush needed cleared. But the mature trees removed, on our city-owned property, is a travesty. The twigs Eskanazi is planting, will take a generation to mature. And he's planting them so close together, many will die. Drive around town. Look at his properties. When the twigs die, they don't get replaced.

It's a crying shame.

By the by, Nora has cancelled its planned memorial service for Friday. I think they have other protest plans.

And you're right--The Star's lukewarm and tardy coverage is ridiculous. Gretchen is pretty much like most of the zone reporters--if it can be written quickly, without leaving the office, it might get filed. And as an aside, I've worked with her on three different stories over the year,s and she misquoted me each and every time. Once it was a very bad job, and the misquote caused some damage.

Andy Gammill did a much better job in the neighborhoods, particularly on school issues, but he's covering IPS now. Which is an undertaker's delight. Or a fool's errand.

I also detect what I call a "reportorial jealousy" among many Star writers. If another news outlet covered the story first, they won't move very fast to cover it themselves.

The result? A drip-drip-drip of slow downward-spiraling lowered expectations. Which even then, are rarely met.

We're all screwed.

2009-06-17 07:26:23

varangianguard [Member] said:

The trees in question appear to date to the creation of this leg of the Monon Trail. So, how old are they? Ten or twelve years?

Ruth, you forgot that this story is driven by people who seem to be lacking in perspective.

Amusing that development of the Trail over the objections of property owners was "good", yet redevelopment of an existing commercial site over the objections of trail users (not property owners) is "bad".

"Righteous outrage", "beautiful, ancient old tree" (ancient old?)?? This is what gets people off their duffs to protest? Not genocide. Not nuclear proliferation. Not economic recession. Not governmental mismanagement. But, 13 ten year old trees?

There's some perspective for you.

2009-06-17 09:14:43

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

Wow, Varan, are you out of touch. And wrong.

The trees predate the development of the trail. They were specifically discussed with the developer, by neighbors, during the zoning process. They are at the trailhead, and provided a stunning canopy for the trail.

The replacements are miniscule.

But we all miss the point here: the remonstrators pointed out, there is to much building for this parcel. A parking variance was needed, and should never have been grangted. A drainage pond was require,d but avoided by this fancy drainage swail.

So, in effect, on public property, all taxpayers have aided the developer to overbuild.

The developer is an arrogant gasbag. His reputation for property management, at numerous other developments, is dismal. He promised the neighbors he wouldn't build something they don't want. He misrepresented the facts, at the very least.

And we taxpayers got screwed. So yes, 13 mature trees is a big deal. Especially considering the replacements. If you don't get that, you aren't paying attention.

2009-06-17 11:42:20

varangianguard [Member] said:

TTT, I can only report on what I see. I see trees that probably aren't more than 20 feet tall. Tell me where to look instead of the intersection of the Monon Trail and 86th Street. Please.

Your description makes it sound like the Trail in the Broad Ripple area, or something.

Your missing the point paragraph is the most important. The variances should have been opposed vociferously. Were they? You don't like the replacements? Keep working to get bigger replacements.

Your opinion of the developer is immaterial. Yet, if he is on record misrepresenting information about the project, then legal remedies might yet reverse the variance approvals.

When do taxpayers not get screwed? Also immaterial.

Southsiders got screwed by the Monon Trail. I don't get to use it. Too far away. You gonna support a Trail closer to where I live using your tax dollars?

How come nobody in Nora didn't clamor for user fees like people are for the downtown stadia? Same thing.

2009-06-17 12:44:06

John Howard [unverified] said:

I can remember the 'good old days' when these folks fought tooth and nail to NOT have a trail in their backyard.

I've seen the area, viewed the area on Google and The trees in question were hardly a dominate or protective element - actually quite scraggly in my opinion.

And the area is smack in the middle of elbow to elbow commercial development.

Folks, put this anger and activism into battling the CIB, Veolia and rising-tax issues. Please! Direct it to something much more pressing and significant.

We went through a major tornado where I live, we all wrung out hands, and lamented the loss of many huge trees. Know what? We replanted and now 7 years later we've got some nice trees growing as a legacy to whomever follows us when we depart this earth.

2009-06-17 14:08:04

Whitebeard [unverified] said:

"Folks, put this anger and activism into battling the CIB, Veolia and rising-tax issues. Please! Direct it to something much more pressing and significant."

About this sentiment expressed a couple of times here.

Well, let's see, I guess I can be angry and activist about the CIB, the continued decay and increased violent crime in the inner city, the ever-growing gap between rich and poor, etc., etc., etc. - and STILL be concerned about the destruction of nature.

I don't know how old the trees in question were - I
wasn't around to celebrate their birthdays. But I do know that metro Indy has an abundance of pavement and relatively few trees.

Birds and squirrels nest in trees; millionaires nest on pavement.

2009-06-17 14:47:24

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

Southsiders get screwed by the Monon? There's a new twist. And I'm talking about the recognized trailhead, which is marked by a public monument at 86th Street, and which credits the Nora Council and friends for the development of the trail.

Trees are measured in caliper inches. Foresters believe that most trees of this type, grow in the range of .5-1.5 caliper inches per year. The landscape plan presented by the developer uses trees which grow at the lower end of that scale because they're cheaper. The trees in question were 15-25 calipers, and there were 13-16 of them removed. They're being replaced with 1-2 caliper inch "trees." Nora Council knows this because they've given away tree saplings to the public for over 20 years, in an annual event. They're aware those saplings take 15-25 year to reach a good size. They've paid their dues on this issue--in spades.

There was much underbrush which needed removed. No question. The neighbors and Nora Council loudly protested their removal beforehand, with the developer, in "good-faith" nose-to-nose meetings. He promised not to do anything they didn't like.

My opinion of the developer is largely-shared, and it is relevant, because the city, in its infinite wisdom, has ceded all control of public land and the plantings to this guy. His performance record is dismal. So the promises he's made are suspect, at best.

User fees? Ridiculous suggestion.

A few closely-grouped cheap shrubs and some twigs stuck in the ground will not replace the beautiful treed canopy which existed before this action. For a couple of decades--IF the twigs survive, which, in this developer's past, is not certain.

The bruhaha is large, because the Nora folks don't want to have this happen again. We learn form mistakes, right?

2009-06-18 05:27:56

varangianguard [Member] said:


Whew. I am getting beat up over 13 trees. Pretty amusing, from my perspective.

Development is beauty in the eye of the beholder. Still, I see your point of view, really, I do. But, get some perspective here.

What is it you really don't want here?

A. A new commercial building in the heart of a commercial corridor?

B. A particular person not to make some money off a biddable bureaucracy?

C. Thirteen trees cut down?

D. All of the above?

E. Something else?

If it is A., then you are all wasting your breath.

If it is B., too bad. It is NOT relevant whether the developer is an arrogant gasbag, or not. Want a different outcome? You get together a group who can swing the financing to buy the property instead. I'm sure the City would be OK if your group then turned the property into a Trail-related enhancement.

If it is C., get some perspective. I reviewed the entirety of the Trail yesterday afternoon. There are many more important segments of the Trail that could use some of this outrage being expended on the 86th Street intersection. But, what do you care? It isn't "your" part of the Trail, right?

If it is D., you are just whining. Do I need to repeat myself for emphasis? What happened during the variance review process? Was anybody putting in their two cents then? I haven't heard of it, if they did.

If it is E., please explain.

It still isn't too late to get the City to armtwist for new trees more to your liking. Berating me isn't going to get them for you. Get together a rational presentation, and make it. One of the people who are so upset about this ought to be able to get downtown to a meeting.

The user fee suggestion was sarcasm. I apologize that in the heat of your indignation, you might have missed it.

"The brouhaha is large...". No, the brouhaha is "late". This is what has brought forth my derision. I'm pretty sure than this wasn't snuck in under the radar. Waiting until now to complain just seems juvenile to me. Belittling me for having an alternate view may make you feel superior, but it doesn't change anything. And, acting as if the removal of 13 trees is going to bring ruin upon the Monon Trail is just making you look ridiculous.

One last item. Is this plan available on the web anywhere? I would sure like to see why the trees have to be removed in the first place. After all, it is mathematically possible that I am completely offbase here. Not likely, but possible.

2009-06-18 06:28:03

Nicolas Martin [unverified] said:

As a homeowner on the Monon near Kroger, my take is different.

In not a single article of which I'm aware about the Kroger store has the Star included the comments of residents who are supportive of the company. On Tuesday, Gretchen Becker's article appeared, as always with no comments of neighbors supportive of Kroger, so I sent her an email noting that and she called me for a brief interview. She asked me for another neighborhood source and I sent the name and number of someone who also lives on the Monon to her by email. She told me she was writing a story for Thursday (today). I wake up to find an article by Tuohy which, inevitably, includes no comment by a homeowner supporting Kroger. I emailed Becker and she responded that she had supplied her notes about my comments and the addition contact I provided. She said that we might be contacted for a future article, and I sarcastically replied that it would be for 2020 retrospective piece.

The Star is willfully distorting this story by its selection of sources. It only includes neighborhood critics of Kroger. There is no evidence that Kroger's critics represent the majority view of area residents.

This is textbook manipulation of opinion by selection of sources. As those of us who have been and dealt with reporters know, selection of sources is the key to framing the tone of an article.

2009-06-18 10:24:12

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

Varan, no one is confined to your prescribed outline of outrage, so you don't get an A-E answer. Google Earth had nice pictures of the "before" portion of this. And The Star published an excellent "before" pic.

I use the trail regularly. There are places where commercial development has blended well, notably The Art Center. That required stern intervention by neighbors and trail advocates. I was there, and paid my dues as far as co-existence of trail/park vs. commercial development.

And you're right: there are failures, too.

I have advocated (two weeks ago) that the original project remonstrators intervene with the city and demand an amended landscape plan. We'll see where that goes. The bruhaha is NOT late. You demonstrate your lack of knowledge of this case, and development rezoning in general, by saying it's whining. We'd agree---if we arrived too late to the party, we missed our chance. Far from it. We were there a long time ago. It is as timely as private citizens can muster under the circumstances. Many of us were there for multiple meetings with this developer over the course of many months, beginning almost two years ago. He was very well aware of the neighbors' concerns over the tree canopy. In fact he promised not to destroy it, in front of multiple witnesses.

There is a bright horizon here: those of us who put in the time to attend meetings with this (and other) developers, will never, ever again trust the city to follow-through on original concerns.

Those who remonstrated against this project would've accepted a far-less-intrusive commercial development: we are not "NIMBY." We spent hundreds of hours working on this project from every angle.

But the vastness of it, required a parking variance, and the extra-large drainage swail, hence the "landscape" plan which is under discussion.

The real concern here is that large trees take considerable time to mature. The twigs promised by this developer, judging by past performance, will survive at a 20-30% rate, and the dead trees will not be replaced. In these cases, we have worked with developers who promise and deliver--frankly, there are more of them than the clods. Ask around the commercial real estate community--the opinion is nearly unanimous on this developer and his track record on these matters.

It's too bad. There was a real chance for solid neighborhood interaction and a win-win. That happened with developments like Nora Plaza and the Old Navy-Bed Bath project on River Road. Same remonstrators (for the most part). Much different results.

And the user fee sarcasm was lost.

If you'd like a Primer on neighborhood involvement in zoning processes, get a note to Ruth, and I'll interface.
It requires lots of volunteer work, but in this area, we've been doing it for more than 30 years, with (overall) fantastic results.

That track record is what makes this travesty all the more difficult to accept. It was avoidable.

2009-06-18 10:44:40

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

Nicolas: I am aware of Gretchen's selectivity. You are correct. In addition, as noted earlier, she's directly mis-quoted me more than once. She already has the story outline in her head when she calls. I directly complained to her bosses twice; nothing happened. So, I don't talk to her. Touhy is a good reporter, but probably overworked

I was involved with the remonstrance, over a period of almost two years. The problem was never a Kroger store per-sey, but the size. And that God-awful huge gas canopy, which is ugly under any standards. There were neighbors supportive, but the vast number were not. Many meetings were held, and the attendees were almost unanimously against a development of this size. In plain English it's about 30% too large for the parcel, herego the variance. Remonstrators were supportive of Kroger, but worked hard to reduce the impact of the development. I respect your view, however, and the newspaper should've included it. Besides, the law states a variance (in this case, parking) can be granted when a hardship is proven. Which was not done.

Good luck dealing with all that surface water runoff in the future. And you will deal with it if you live close--especially directly west or south. Because this lame-ass drainage and landscape plan does not sufficiently cover it.
A development 20-30% smaller would've avoided this entire hassle. It would've been less profitable, of course. But development standards are in place for a reason.

2009-06-18 12:21:51

Whitebeard [unverified] said:

Let me break into this left-brain-oriented conversation and present some sappy, right-brain, sentimentalist perspective:

A poem by Joyce Kilmer

I THINK that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the sweet earth's flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

2009-06-18 19:40:10

nicmart [Member] said:

With few exceptions, reporters are beards for editors. The editors pick the slant and have the reporters flesh it out with the cooperative snitches and some pedestrian prose.

2009-06-19 08:55:12

nicmart [Member] said:

I had it out with Steve Berta, senior editor/public service, yesterday. He returned my call and began by giving me the somnolent crap about the paper being fair and covering all sides. I noted that the Star has run two articles this week, neither of which has included quotes from nearby residents who support the landscaping changes Kroger is making. Further, that Tuohy had my quotes supporting Kroger, obtained by Becker, and another contact name I had provided. Berta responded that he "was told" Tuohy didn't have them. So, I quoted from an email sent to me by Becker:

"Mr. Martin, I forwarded your comments to the person who wrote that story, and he did not use them." -- Gretchen Becker

Either Berta lied to me or doesn't know what is happening in his newsroom. Given my experience with reporters and editors over the past 40-some years, I assume the former. Journalists operate at roughly the same ethical level as politicians (which is why they get along so well with each other).

The Star has uncritically gushed over busybody Ruth Hayes1, head of the Nora-Northside Community Council, whose group even opposed the sale of alcoholic beverages at Target because, in the words of Comandante Hayes, the store has "family appeal."



"Early in life I had noticed that no event is ever correctly reported in a newspaper." -- George Orwell

2009-06-19 09:35:35

Whitebeard [unverified] said:

"Journalists operate at roughly the same ethical level as politicians (which is why they get along so well with each other)."
This is an interesting observation. As a semi-retired journalist of more than 30 years (still do some freelancing), I don't entirely dispute this contention.

Except I would replace the word "journalists" with the word "newspaper ownership/management."

I used to go to all of these newspaper seminars/
conventions, etc. and hear lofty speeches about the role of newspapers in heroically rooting out evil in government, society, etc.

At the same time, these newspaper big shots were cheating their own employees (the reporters, copy
editors, section editors) out of money - illegally fabricating their working schedules to avoid paying overtime (just one example of this kind of hypocricy).

Well, here's another example: One newspaper I worked for paying men more than women to do identical jobs.

I'm sure the poor guys and gals still working at The Star could cite many more examples of this kind of hypocrisy.

Journalism as religion: I don't kneel at that altar; never have.

2009-06-19 11:10:50

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