The question is, will they settle for the houses we have now, or will they move here, albeit having fallen in love with the way our neighborhood presents itself today, and decide that the house of their dreams needs a make-over. Now, no one buys a house and doesn’t change it, so the real question is, of course, how much can a given house be changed and not destroy, or maybe contribute to destroying, the character of the neighborhood that’s attracted so many people here in the first place.
Starting points for these discussions, if you’re interested, are a Facebook Page— Preserve Meridian~Kessler — and a well written and pretty well balanced article in the May Issue of Indianapolis Monthly, appropriately titled The Battle Over Meridian-Kessler’s Historic Homes.
The topic, at least in part, will also be the focus of the Meridian~Kessler Neighborhood Association’s spring public meeting, to be held at the Basile Opera Center, 4011 N. Pennsylvania Street on May 14th, starting at 6:30. Unlike the first two, which require reading, the latter even offers refreshments and allows you to just sit and listen. Get more details on the meeting.
Meridian~Kessler contains four National Register of Historic Places’ Districts, only one of which is currently “protected” in the sense that there are restrictions on what you can do to a home (other than the local zoning ordinance, which is currently being re-written by the City). That of course, is the Meridian Street Preservation District, established by State Statute, and presided over by the Meridian Street Preservation Commission. MSPC’s jurisdiction runs along both sides of Meridian Street, along Pennsylvania Street in Meridian~Kessler, and Illinois Street in Butler Tarkington. The other three Districts, Forest Hills, Oliver Johnson’s Woods, and Washington Park, while recognized as National Historic Districts, are protected only by the local zoning code.
Additionally, Meridian~Kessler is in the process of re-writing its “Area Plan” for future adoption by the Metropolitan Development Commission. It was last re–written in 1980. While area plans don’t rise to the level of an ordinance, they do provide the MDC with a picture of what the residents of a given area thought should be the future of development (mainly commercial development) within that area at the time of adoption by the MDC.
Other than the MSPC District, areas wanting various forms of protection for their historic buildings may apply to the Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission for protected status, and, if there is a sufficient showing of support from the residents of the area, IHPC will assist the people in the area in developing a “Plan” which defines just what is to be protected, and, once adopted takes over regulation of construction within the area. As with MSPC, all regulation relates to the exterior of the building, not the interior. It’s worth noting that no current IHPC District is anywhere near as large as Meridian-Kessler, but all of the current IHPC Districts are as large, or larger than MK’s three National Register Districts.
The above, along with the Facebook Page and the Indianapolis Monthly article, ought to give you the basics.
As it happens, I live in one of the three National Register Districts— Forest Hills. A decade or so ago, Forest Hills explored becoming an IHPC District. The arguments for such a district, namely that homes would be torn down and replaced with Carmel sized homes, or added onto to the point homes were out of scale with the those of adjoining homes remain true today. Conversely, the arguments against the District, that a person’s property is, after all, their property and they should be able to do whatever they please, within the limits imposed elsewhere in the City, are also held today, and created enough opposition that a District was never formed.
Mostly, Forest Hills has been lucky. Homes have been gutted to their foundations and rebuilt. New homes have also been built. Huge additions have been made to existing homes. Most seem to fit my eye’s perception of what fits within the neighborhood, although some don’t. As I’ll go into shortly, that’s basically irrelevant. And, honestly, the few changes I personally don’t like, are lovely homes, inside, and are inhabited by some of the nicest people I know. Still, as I said, we’ve been mostly “lucky” because we’re relied on an owners, and a builder’s sense of our neighborhood being somewhat the same as the rest of the neighbor’s sense, and, having been to a few gambling towns, you don’t always draw the hole card.
I also learned a little watching our neighborhood go through this process. What scared those who were scared, was a perception that regulation would be vast and endless. People were told by those already opposed that one’s door knocker would be regulated, as would their soffits (which at least led me to figuring out just what a soffit was). If this idea is going to go anywhere, it has to be relatively simple. If you’re going to tear down a house, prove it needs to be torn down or at least that it isn’t of any historic value. If you’re going to build a new house or totally reconstruct an old house, establish that it fits in with the other houses in the neighborhood. Probably the same with an addition. I expect there are other simple restrictions that can be discussed— uniform set-backs, massing on small lots, on-the-street garages where none previously existed? Mostly, keep it simple.
There was a telling quote from a prominent builder in the Indianapolis Monthly to the effect that rules about what one could build weren’t, mostly, a problem, as long as everyone knows the rules. The real problem arises where there are no rules and the neighborhood rises up in protest anyway.
Like all of you, I really like Meridian~Kessler. I know it will change, and is changing. I’m not even sure it would be possible to build my current house under the existing City code. I would, however, like to be sure that when I do leave Meridian~Kessler, that whatever happens here would still make the neighborhood seem the sort of place that attracted me here thirty years ago. But, it’s not about what I think of a given project, or, for that matter, what you, individually, think about the same. We all have instincts about our neighbor’s house, none of which, individually, are worth very much. Thus, what’s needed are minimal, but logical rules that keep us safe from our neighbor failing to draw the hole card, or our neighbor being blind–sided by angry neighbors. If we can achieve that sort of balance, maybe a bit of regulation can preserve our Meridian~Kessler.