By Jennifer Erickson | LB Indy
The City Council signed off Tuesday on saving a historic sewer digester tower in a City Hall Parking lot, which sits on the proposed village entrance site. They also approved the estimated $300,000 makeover of the structure’s exterior, but redirected $1 million budgeted for its interior renovation to instead pay for Laguna Canyon Road median improvements.
Additionally, they decided to raze a decrepit carport and nix covering the flood channel that traverses the site.
The decisions followed the Council’s review of results from a July public workshop that sought consensus from residents on four specific elements related to the long-sought beautification of the corner of Forest Avenue and Laguna Canyon Road.
The Council approved a general concept to replace some surface parking at the site with a landscaped pedestrian park when voting down a controversial parking garage last November.
But before hiring a design team to more fully develop the project, they wanted to sample public opinion about the fate of the digester and carport, timing and funding of highway median improvements, and whether to create more surface by covering the flood channel that bisects the site.
The project’s $14.5 million budget includes $1.3 million for the renovation of the digester and $100,000 for the design of the median, but does not include an estimated $1 million to carry out median improvements. For that reason, the proposal originally called for completing those improvements later than the rest of the project.
The Council’s decisions Tuesday only partially reflected the workshop’s consensus. They decided against renovating the interior of the digester, for one, whereas the consensus was for a complete renovation. To spend $1.3 million to renovate 1,400 square feet “is absolutely asinine,” said Council member Kelly Boyd, who proposed using the $1 million earmarked for the interior remodel to instead fund the median improvements. Mayor Pro Tem Bob Whalen agreed, adding that grant money might be found to repurpose the building at a future date.
The Council agreed with the workshop consensus that improvements to the median should move forward with the rest of the project. But rather than find alternate funding, as workshop attendees proposed, they decided to redirect the $1 million originally slated for the digester’s interior remodel.
Based on testimony from project manager Roger Torriero of Griffin Structures that the carport is “pretty much beyond repair,” the Council, in a 4-1 vote, with Iseman dissenting, decided to demolish it and let the design team come up with an appropriate replacement, such as a green screen. The workshop was divided between saving the carport or letting the design team decide its fate.
The Council agreed with the workshop participants to leave the channel uncovered, but make it more attractive with fencing and plants.
Though a design team has yet to be selected, a group of locals already presented their own design proposal for the site and outlined its elements again at Tuesday’s meeting.
Ann Christoph, Ginger Osborn, Ruben Flores and Penny Milne collaborated on a proposed blueprint that includes a decomposed granite parking area with integrated planting that can resemble an open space in the off season when not needed for parking.
Though the agenda item called only for input on the four specific elements and not the overall design of the project, most of the 14 residents commenting Tuesday addressed design issues and more than half professed their approval of the locally designed concept.
“I hope you will accept this plan in the spirit that it’s offered to you…a thoughtful way to help forward and implement design parameters that the Council set out earlier,” said former Council member Verna Rollinger.
City Council candidate Michele Hall encouraged the Council to hire a design team, whether local or not, and to ensure that they work in conjunction with the recently hired urban planner.
When it comes to designing the median improvements, resident Tom Halliday suggested that they not preclude the possibility of incorporating traffic-slowing roundabouts, perhaps at Canyon Acres and near the Festival of Arts.
City staff has already received six responses from design firms answering their request for qualifications. They will now incorporate the Council’s decisions into a request for proposals from the most qualified of those firms and anticipate making a recommendation to the Council by December.