New Palestine’s planning commission struggles to understand vote on $61 million apartment complex plan

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New Palestine Council President Bill Niemier

NEW PALESTINE — The town’s Redevelopment Commission passed a declaration resolution surrounding the process of issuing tax increment finance bonds to be paid for from the development of a high end apartment complex at its most recent meeting last week.

However, the town’s Planning Commission sputtered, for now, on a separate resolution regarding plans for the same project.

Absences on the town’s Planning Commission and the uncertainty of what members were voting on surrounding the $61 million development during the Wednesday, Aug. 3 meeting equate to a re-vote in the not-too-distant future.

The confusion is over plans that will, in essence, allow the bond process to continue to move forward for the proposed high-end, 280-unit apartment complex near the intersection of U.S. 52 and Mt. Comfort Road beside the Wellness Center.

The problem arose during the town’s recent PC meeting when the commission was to vote on a declaratory resolution to confirm that the plans conform with the town’s official plans for the development.

After the RDC passed a resolution 5 t0 0, on the financial side of the project, the PC took a vote on the actual plans which ended in a 2-2 tie. However, there was confusion surrounding the vote, as at least one PC member said he was not clear on what they were voting for.

The member noted he thought he was voting against the bond measure for the project when in reality the PC was voting on the approval of the plan.

A re-vote has been set for Wednesday, Aug. 17 when the commission may have a different makeup. The seven-person PC was missing two members, Mike Jackson and Nancy Owens, while another member, Brandee Bastin, abstained from the vote due to her work association with the land owner where the development is set to be built.

With the deadlock, the measure appeared to die, meaning the apartment complex project would not move forward. However, a representative from the Becovic Management Group, the developers, told the PC members who voted against the measure, according to state law, they must present written proof as to why the project doesn’t meet town requirements.

The representative for the developer and the town’s manager, Jim Robinson, both stated they feel the plans for the project do meet town standards and requirements. Officials noted denying the approval of the plan, without merit, could result in a law suit against the town.

“The commission needs to determine how the project does not comply,” the Becovic representative said, noting they’d be willing to alter or fix any issues.

Planning commission member Angie Fahrnow, who has been vocal against the development due to the request for a bond, stated the vote was valid and therefore should stand, in essence stopping the project. She told the representative she wanted time to submit a written statement as to why she didn’t agree with the plans. However, fellow PC member Eric Kropp admitted during the meeting he wasn’t sure what he had voted against.

“I would say, I misunderstood,” Kropp said, at the meeting. “I personally don’t like the project.”

A day after the meeting, PC president Rawn Walley told the Daily Reporter that, due to the confusion, he felt it was fair and in the best interest of all if the PC take up the measure again and re-vote at the next scheduled meeting later this month. The hope, Walley said, is they’ll have a full commission and members will have a clearer understanding what they’re voting for.

During the town’s council meeting, the same night, council president Bill Niemier said it was important for the council to make sure they have members on the PC who will attend meetings regularly to avoid deadlocks on major projects in the future.

Niemier wanted to remove Jackson from the PC because Jackson has missed several meetings, but the town’s attorney noted Jackson had to be mailed a 30 days notice. Niemier noted that he wasn’t given a proper 30 days notice when Fahrnow asked him to step down, but he did so a few weeks ago, saying he now wants that action reversed due to the fact proper protocol was not followed.

“If the process wasn’t properly constituted, I would then take Brandee’s place (his old position) on the planning commission,” Niemier said.

The town’s council has called for an executive session slated for 6 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 10 to discuss a personnel issue. They also have a special council meeting planned for 7 p.m. The special council meeting is to bring the town’s planning commission into compliance, a notice said.