Sunday, January 25, 2015

Smitty's . . .

Our first home in West Lafayette back in 1985 was a small brick house on the west side of Northwestern Ave. Smitty's was our pantry. There was at least one moment of terror on each trip to the store. How fast can you push a stroller across four lanes of traffic? Smitty's was close, friendly. My recollections of the store bring back memories of my young daughters and bulk gummie bears.

Smitty's "Foodliner" closed in 2005.  Across Lindberg Rd.,The Family Inn came down in 2008 to make way for the Champion Center, then the Point at Northwestern, then Faith West. The Lor Corporation floated a plan for the Smitty's site in 2014. Now 1812 Northwestern will boast a Family Express gas station/convenience store. 

The minute the tanks go in the ground, one county official humorously suggested, the City of West Lafayette will have it's newest commercial redevelopment site. No one believes a second gas station is the "highest and best" use of the corner.

Could the outcome have been different? Sure.

In hindsight, a land use plan for the area might have helped. More patience on the part of the city development folk. Less trust in developers' promises. Seven years of work on the corner have gotten us a tax-exempt church dormitory and a gas station.

In the near term, two things might have happened at 1812 Northwestern that did not:

1) The city might have used its long-standing relationship with the Nichols family to seek a better outcome. Jack Nichols Sr. bought Smitty's in 1972. Jack Nichols Jr. celebrated the store's place in the community at its closing. Who was talking to the Nichols brothers? What happened here?

2) In 1998 the Redevelopment Commission purchased the Sear's "Levee" property to guarantee that  it would not become a storage site for "port-a-potties". The Smitty's property was incorporated into an expanded TIF district in 2012. Given the city's interest in a Northwestern Ave. "gateway" and the obvious development "flux", should the redevelopment commission have been involved here?

I have an incredible amount of sympathy for the folks along Northwestern Ave., in Hills and Dales and Northwestern Heights. I have spent the last six years on city council wrestling with the realities of the city's growth on behalf of my New Chauncey neighbors. I have had the benefit of a strong neighborhood association, and the dependable help of the likes of Jay McCann and Carl Griffin.

We all need to take an interest in the tedious mechanics of city government and the Area Plan Commission. We should realize too the very real limits West Lafayette has as a community.

Friday, May 30, 2014

West Lafayette: A Class Two City

So little changes with the City of West Lafayette's move from a Class 3 to a Class 2 city that it is hard to work up much energy around the shift in status. The city attorney's memorandum in support of Mayor Dennis's proposal is five pages of "not much happens".

Here are the notable changes:

There will be two more city council members. Our current five district - two at-large member council becomes a six district - three at-large member council. Better representation for more people is a good thing.

Personally, the current post-annexation council map has me representing the Hovde Hall fountain.

I would rather get the top half of North Chauncey back; Meridian and Robinson too. A new sixth council district would make that possible.

Professionally, I would hope the new "District Six" would be a (mostly) student district. My job includes pushing Purdue students beyond self-interest and corporate utility into an appreciation of community and a participation in the political process. Governing is difficult, but government is good. The West Lafayette political community should model young adult inclusion in government.

The council president gets a job. The council president chairs Class 2 council meetings.
Ann Hunt has chaired numerous pre-council and council meetings and the republic still stands.

The Clerk/Controller job is split. The city clerk would be elected and the city gets a CFO hired by the Mayor. This would seem to be a decent management move in any case, given the increasing complexity of city finances. The current arrangement is not conducive to any one person's physical or mental health.

West Lafayette gets two more spots on the Area Plan Commission. From two to four; the APC membership expands from 17 to 19. This should better reflect the growing urbanization of Tippecanoe County. I think the APC is important. I like this.

We get the Playground Tax money. But we will find ways to offset this revenue loss ($68,000) to the schools. The school corporation has no objection to this change.

The biggest change that comes with this administrative move is a change in our self-understanding. With the annexation of Purdue, with the completion of US #231, with the redevelopment of State St., and, I would add, with a new interest in land-use, historic preservation, and an urban core, the city of West Lafayette is now bigger, different, and, we all hope, better. This move acknowledges that evolution.

I will vote for Ordinance #17-14.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

"A Celebration of Community" 10/27/13

Purdue hosted three public events in connection with recent visit of Bishop Gene Robinson. Here are my remarks at the first of those three events.

I have a final word for you. A blessing. A dismissal. 

Theodore Parker (1810) was a Unitarian minister, an Abolitionist, a Transcendentalist.

A line from his sermon entitled "Of Justice and Conscience", published in 1857 as part of a collection of "Ten Sermons of Religion", has become a part of our culture.

Parker wrote:

"Look at the facts of the world."

"You see a continual and progressive triumph of the right."

"I do not pretend to understand the moral universe. The arc is a long one. My eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by experience of sight.
I can (only) divine it by conscience."

"But from what I see, it bends toward justice."

"Things refuse to be mismanaged long."

"Jefferson trembled when he thought of slavery, and remembered God is just."

You are called to bend the arc.
             called to repair the world ("tikkun olam").
             called to make the mighty tremble.

To make the mighty tremble
 when they think of the hungry and remember why they are not fed.

To make the mighty tremble
when they think of the sick and remember why they are not healed.

To make the mighty tremble
when they think of the wealthy and remember how they have been made.

To make the mighty tremble
when they think of love and remember why it cannot be pledged.

Particular good deeds and singular acts of charity are a fine beginning.

But you are called to bend the arc.
to repair the world...
to make the mighty tremble...
when they remember God is just.


Out into the world you go.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Waiting to Exhale

Last Sunday, the Journal and Courier headline "Waiting to Exhale"  led into an excellent fourteen page report on Purdue's "Breakfast Club".  Included in the report was a section written by Chris Morisse Vizza on how "Breakfast Club" impacts our New Chauncey neighborhood.

We all have our stories.

A professor goes across the street to say something about party noise and ends up with broken bones after being tossed off the front porch. They live in British Columbia now. The early morning "golfer" who walked down Stadium banging his driver against the parked cars to set off the car alarms. The drunken girl laying herself down in the middle of our alley.  Underage students jumping our fence, fleeing from a party in the house across the alley that had attracted police attention. My youngest got to sit in the back of a patrol car and give a statement after she witnessed Purdue drunks begin bashing the head of a Notre Dame drunk against the concrete steps of the house at the corner. Our neighbors the nurses worked on his wounds. Etc.

We are the people who like students. Most of us have Purdue salaries and benefits. We could live anywhere. But we like being a part of a historic, multi-class, multi-generational, near campus neighborhood. We are throwbacks to a time when the Ag Dean lived at the corner of East Stadium and Salisbury and walked to work. We are throwbacks to an era when continuous contact between faculty, staff, and students was assumed. We expect high energy levels. Noise.

We feel that things are probably better than they were five years ago. Purdue students have changed. They have gotten older. Proportionally, the number of grad students at Purdue has increased. They have gotten smarter. The SAT scores are higher. They have gotten richer. The higher SAT kids usually come from out of state (sorry, Indiana) and have parents with resources enough both to pay out of state tuition and buy their students a house in our neighborhood. They have gotten wiser. Thank you Tammy Loew!

And the football teams have gotten worse.

But "Breakast Club" makes us uneasy. Our little football Saturday Mardi Gras, with costumes and alcohol tourism; it's fun. It provides a little color in a sometimes colorless place. We are not a party school. But it also means we take for granted teen-agers (is anyone surprised by underage drinking) drunk by 7:00 am. Not just in the Village at the bars, but at near campus and on campus parties.  Put out the barricades, it's Boiler "Rumspringa". Try explaining that (and our liquor laws) to an out-of-state colleague.

Everybody is responsible, the paper notes. That's true. But only for a time. People move on. When they go, they are no longer uneasy. It's not so bad. It's not . . . Bloomington. 

But the neighbors are always here. We take the deep breath. We remember the few deaths, share the new stories, call the police and city hall; and we stay uneasy about our signature social event. 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Historic Preservation Ordinance #19-13

In May 1990 the Tippecanoe County “Interim Report” for the Indiana Historic Sites and Structures Inventory was published. The Chauncey-Stadium National Historic Register District was created in 2002. But national districts offer very limited protections to historic neighborhoods.


So in September of 2010 I began work on the creation of a local historic preservation district for West Lafayette.


There is probably no need to rehearse the advantages of historic preservation. Since the 1930’s, historic preservation districts and historic preservation commissions have proven to be an effective way of enhancing historic neighborhoods. They protect the investments of owners and residents, often offering tax incentives to property owners. They aid in professional recruitment, as local preservation suggests to prospective employees a higher quality of life. They honor architectural design and encourage a more innovative use of construction materials. They encourage the ultimate in recycling; that of an entire building!

In Indiana, they are used in cities from Anderson to Lafayette (1993) to Zionsville.

On June 6, 2011, Ordinance #9-11 was passed. It served as a statement of the city’s willingness to establish a historic preservation district. Ordinance#19-13 shows how the preservation district will work.

Many thanks to Development Director Chandler Poole and his staff for the time and energy they put into this ordinance. It wasn’t easy! Even the well-documented Chauncey-Stadium Historic District was missing some paper work. (Apparently the Zionsville law firm that did the work had lunch at Harry’s one afternoon and a few blocks of Stadium disappeared!)

Thanks also to the members of the historic preservation commission for their thoroughness and persistence: Drew Freeman, Jeanette Bennett, Mary Cook, Persis Newman, Gerry McCartney, Jim Garland, Kelly Bush, Otie Kilmer, and Mary Whittaker. Many thanks to city attorney Eric Burns who did the final edit of the ordinance and sent it on to city council. Finally, a special thank you to Kurt Wahl, “on loan” from the city of Lafayette’s Historic Commission, who served as our mentor and prepared the final map. This is a solid and reasonable work product.

What happens next? There is a “first phase” of the ordinance. This is a three-year period during which the ordinance applies only to demolition and new construction. During this time the commission will have to refresh its membership. Most of its current members have had their terms expire. The commission will also have time to develop a resource manual much like Lafayette has, and to begin an educational process in New Chauncey. The “second phase”, which includes obtaining a Certificate of Appropriateness for renovations, begins after three years unless a majority of the property owners objects in writing to the Commission.

The whole process is meant to be helpful, not adversarial. (The practices of the Lafayette Historic Commission are instructive here.) It is helpful both to the individual property owner, and helpful to the city as it develops a multi-class, multi-generational near campus neighborhood that will make other cities envious.

It is part of a four-part process envisioned for the New Chauncey neighborhood during the conversation among New Chauncey residents, Purdue Research Foundation, CSO architects, and the city around the construction of Wang Hall. A land use plan was to be put in place for the neighborhood. That has been accomplished. Older structures would be protected by the creation of a historic preservation district. New structures would follow guidelines to be developed for a zoning “overlay”. A redevelopment entity (“New Chauncey Rebound” J) would be created to marshal the resources necessary to renew the near campus neighborhood from Stump Town to Kingston to Chauncey.

This may not be the ordinance I would have preferred. (I believe the appeals process is redundant. I think it might be helpful, as in the Barnes and Thornburgh ordinance template developed by Indiana Landmarks, for the commission to be able to buy and sell property. AND the Lafayette ordinance has a nice section on signs!) It took too long. But it I believe it puts us in a good place between “too much, too soon” and “too little, too late”!

The ordinance’s second reading will take place on Tuesday, September 3rd. at 6:30pm.