INDIANAPOLIS — The Nora-Northside Community Council has voted to oppose a proposed development on Westfield Boulevard.
The Willows Event Center has been owned and operated by Antonia Zunarelli and her business partners for more than 30 years. The center took a hit during the pandemic and is no longer viable, so Zunarelli and her family has decided to level the buildings and start over with apartments, condos, and townhomes.
The development would contain 238 luxury apartment units and 16 townhomes. According to developer John Hart, chairman at J.C. Hart Co., the townhomes would sell for $700,000 to $1 million. Ten percent of the apartments would be reserved for affordable housing.
“As a community, I think, you have to think, what is the best change for that property?” Zunarelli said. “Residential, considering this is the heart of a residential neighborhood, is really the most viable option.”
But the neighborhood doesn’t agree. “Save Our Island” signs litter front yards in the area. “The Island” is a term the residents use to describe the area encompassed by the White River in Broad Ripple. Residents say the neighborhood has a special feel that will be lost if a complex is built.
“It’s incredibly dense. It's incredibly out of character for the rest of the area,” said Andrew Taylor, a resident and board member at the neighboring Oxbow Estates subdivision.
Residents are also concerned about traffic if an additional 300 cars come to town.
“There's one road in and out. It's a two-lane road in both directions. In my opinion, it's just not suitable for a development of that size,” said Tom Durkin, resident and board member at Spirit Lake, another nearby complex.
Residents also expressed concerns about the effect on the water quality in the area and about using Tax Increment Financing (TIF) to fund the project. Affordable housing is a requirement to qualify for a TIF.
Hart says that the number of new residents would offset the TIF grant, bringing more tax money into schools. He also says that the plan incorporates a water control filtering system, something the property doesn’t currently possess.
The plan has also changed to address some resident concerns. The building was lowered to three floors in some areas, in addition to other changes.
“We broke them into three separate buildings and put courtyards in between,” Hart said.
He also plans to increase access to the Monon Trail.
At a Nora-Northside Community Council meeting on Thursday night, Hart and his colleagues presented the updated plan, to overwhelming dissent from the community. The council voted to oppose the project.
Despite community dissent, Hart and Zunarelli still believe this project is the best use of the land.
“I know change is difficult, people don't like change. But we've been doing this a long time, and it's always going to turn out better than they think it is,” says Hart.
“I think they have to have faith. I think they have to open their minds that this is a property that can be enjoyed by many, and not just a few,” said Zunarelli.
The next step is for the project to be presented to the Metropolitan Development Commission. A public hearing will be held on April 20. The Council’s opposition, and that of the neighborhood, will be presented to the commission.