NCC initiative for public process
In this section:
- Letter to the Editor of the Indianapolis Star
- Statement at the IndyParks Forum
- Proposal to protect City parks and greenways
October 18, 2009, Indianapolis Star
Remember the public outcry when, without public notice, 40 or more mature trees were destroyed on the west bank of the Monon Trail just south of the 86th Street trailhead? We later learned that the surprise trailside devastation was only a signal of a greater betrayal of the public trust.
Indy Parks officials and the public express dismay over continuing cuts in parks budgets; yet the department’s administrative staff in May amazingly gave a significant portion of city-owned greenways to private entities.
Most shockingly, the private land-use agreement was negotiated and signed in administrative secrecy. The agreement allows those private parties to now freely use the citizens’ greenway, for at least the next 20 years, as a drainage facility for an intense commercial development abutting the Monon Trail.
City taxpayers received no initial payment for this public property; nor will taxpayers, through Indy Parks, receive any monthly or yearly rent for use of the greenway property. The document also requires the city to pay the private parties $300,000 should the city desire to terminate the agreement and resume control of the Monon parkland.
This disturbing precedent should alarm all Marion County residents who cherish their greenways and parks. It must never happen again, but it certainly could without City-County Council intervention. We call on the council to promptly enact a legal process that precludes any such parkland gifts, leases, transfers or sales without the transparency of public and council legal review.
Last year, Mayor Greg Ballard and Indy Parks Director Stuart Lowry promised they would not sell parkland. True, they didn’t sell the Monon. They gave it away!
Ruth R. Hayes, President
Nora-Northside Community Council Board
Oct. 22, 2009
I’m Ruth Hayes, and as president of the Nora-Northside Community Council, Inc., we thank you for the opportunity to share some thoughts with you this evening.
For over 42 years, our all volunteer organization has worked to bring positive change and initiatives, not just to Nora, but for the county as well.
Nora volunteers (with no paid staff) helped found the Marion County Alliance of Neighborhood Associations; started the first newspaper recycling center on the north side; helped develop a plan for 86th Street which would serve as a model for thoroughfare beauty and efficiency all over the City; have given over 9000 free trees to anyone who promised to plant them; participated in updates of the Comprehensive Land Use Plan and Parks and Greenways Plans; and served on numerous City task forces and committees.
Most pertinent tonight, however, was Nora’s instrumental involvement in the planning and construction of the Monon Trail. Thus, one can understand our outrage at the destruction along the west bank of the Monon south of the 86th St. trailhead of over 40 mature trees and the visual and physical buffer from intense commercial use, which is required by the Greenways Master Plan. Soon we found that the destruction was only a signal of an even more serious problem. We learned that without public discussion or notice, the Parks Department had entered into an agreement to transfer use, through encroachment, of a significant portion of the trailside to private parties for at least the next 20 years, all without monetary contribution to the City for such use. Rather, incredibly, the document requires the City to pay the private parties $300,000 should the City desire to terminate the agreement and resume control of the Monon land.
We do not plan to harp forever on the recent sad history of the Monon incident. We do share the story again tonight, however, to caution that, without a change in public process, other such secret administrative agreements could happen again anyplace in the County.
We call on all members of the City County Council to enact, with public support, a legally definitive and transparent process to give public review to any proposal to convey, sell, lease, loan, give consent of encroachment, or give public park or greenway land to private parties and/or other City agencies, whether or not for monetary value. We also ask that there be public review of any proposal which substantially deviates from the formally adopted Parks and/or Greenways Master Plans which were developed with citizen input and adopted by the City County Council.
Tonight we are happy to say we already have the bipartisan support, in principle, of Councillors Ryan Vaughn, Joanne Sanders, and Angela Mansfield. We trust many other councillors will step forward to address this public policy issue.
We have copies of this ” City’s park and greenway lands which should be held in sacred trust for all citizens.
(see proposal below)
The goal: Preservation of public parks and greenways assets of the City of Indianapolis, as held in trust for its citizens, through public involvement and transparency of administrative actions.
We propose that the City create a new board or reform the current Greenways Development Committee to act as a legally authorized entity composed of at least five citizens (excluding City employees). This board would hold public hearings on any proposed conveyance, transfer, sale, lease, loan, consent of encroachment, or gift of public park and/or greenway land to private parties and/or to other City agencies, whether or not for monetary value. They would also hear any proposals which would substantially deviate from the formally adopted Parks and/or Greenways Master Plans. (Hearings would have rules of procedure similar to those of the Board of Zoning Appeals.) (Members of this review board would be appointed by the Mayor and City County Council with political party balance.)
Legal notice would be required to be given to affected registered neighborhoods and property owners within two properties or 660 feet, whichever is lesser, of any proposed conveyance, transfer, sale, lease, loan, consent of encroachment, or gift of public park and/or greenway land to private parties and/or other City agencies, whether or not for monetary value. Such notice shall also be given for hearings on any proposals which would substantially deviate from the formally adopted Parks and/or Greenways Master Plans. There should also be legal notice published in local newspapers and notice of hearing signs posted on site. Due to the critical public interest in such proposals, all notices should be given no less than ninety days prior to hearing.
Approval of any such proposal shall take place only upon an adequate showing by the petitioner of the public necessity for any such conveyance or deviation. The ordinance should require proof of multiple elements, much like the variance and rezone ordinances, in written Findings of Fact, to be submitted for public and staff review no less than ninety days prior to hearing. In no event shall conveyance of park and/or greenway land or deviation from the Parks and/or Greenways Master Plans be accepted if to do so would benefit private interests without adequate consideration returned to the public trust, taking into account the intangible value of public park and/or greenway land. Positive decisions of the review board may be appealed to the City County Council. A majority vote of City County Council members present at a de novo hearing could overturn appealed decisions. In consideration of broad public interest at stake, there shall be a right to intervene, and then appeal, by any registered voter of Marion County.
By Nora-Northside Community Council, Inc.
About the Monon
Rail-trails are multi-purpose public paths created from former railroad corridors. Most often flat or following a gentle grade, they traverse urban, suburban and rural America. Ideal for many uses, such as bicycling, walking, inline skating, cross-country skiing, equestrian and wheelchair use, rail-trails are extremely popular as recreation and transportation corridors. Rails to Trails Conservancy
The first section of the trail, from Nora to Broad Ripple, opened in 1996. Since then the trail has grown in popularity and size, now connecting with Fall Creek Trail, the Monon Greenway of Carmel and the Central Canal Towpath, which leads to the White River Wapahani Trail.