Seminary Park in downtown Noblesville will remain a public park.
Noblesville Mayor John Ditslear on Tuesday confirmed that the City would not pursue selling the park property to a developer who had expressed interest in building a single neighborhood of 12 homes there.
"Obviously, that's not going to happen because that (project) did not fly, and I'm kind of glad," Ditslear said. "I like Seminary Park."
He declared, "Seminary Park will remain Seminary Park and open to any and all."
Ditslear shared details of the City's rationale in considering the project. "We were approached by a developer. We want to try to promote living in Downtown Noblesville. There's not going to be as much happening at Seminary (Park) as there used to be." Noblesville Cultural Arts Commission's Shakespeare in the Park and summer band series will be moved from Seminary Park to the new Federal Hill Commons, which opens in April at Ind. 19 and Ind. 32/38.
Ditslear said the first step in the housing project, being called "Seminary Square," was to go to the Noblesville Parks Board "in executive session and say 'what do you think about this?' We had a presentation about the 'Whys,' why it could be good." He was aware of the meeting but did not attend because he was at an event with mayors talking about legislative issues in Indianapolis.
The City's presentation offered a project overview, park improvement ideas, tax benefits, comprehensive plan, housing analysis and a study from Southwest Quadrant neighborhood. The presentation was made to the parks board and to four Noblesville Common Council members in attendance.
Ditslear said he worked alongside Deputy Mayor Steve Cooke on the project for less than six months.
"We're a team," he said. "Steve Cooke did meet with them, and I knew about it and looked at some of those homes ... and in the presentation I think it's necessary to try to show and be open, certainly to the park board....."
He said, "It was an idea that was put out. It was not to be public, to get everybody all riled up. And frankly, that's what happened. People were all riled up, for us even thinking about that."
He said, "To me, it was an idea that should not have gone public. The public should not have known, in my opinion. And I'm not trying to be anti-newspaper or anti-transparent, but there are certain procedures that you need to go through in my mind before the public needs to know things."
Ditslear said, "If that was a viable project that we, maybe, got some 'yes' or 'maybe let's explore it,' then you go to NPA (Noblesville Preservation Alliance) particularly, then you go to the public for input."
But now the public need not worry about a housing project at Seminary Park, he said. Now or in the future. "It's 'no,' not at that site," Ditslear said.
"We're going to look for other parcels in the City of Noblesville where it could be done....I would like to do a similar project, somewhere within the near Downtown...."
Ditslear said that the City has heard a great deal of reaction from the community following Monday's publication of the City's park project in The Times. "Once that reaction was there, because of your article, we've had a lot of 'no way' and have upset some people," he said.
But he sees the "silver lining."
The people have spoken. "I think we got the word that everybody wants it to be a park," he said.
Noblesville Parks director Brandon Bennett is already looking at ways to better engage the community at Seminary Park.
Ditslear said, "It's a neighborhood park. Good to have. And we now know that it's even more loved than we maybe thought....Obviously, we know that it's a public park that the community doesn't feel that we ought to do anything with or give up. And that makes sense. I understand....We know how dear it is to all of us....We know how much it's appreciated."
Posted: Wednesday, March 8, 2017
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Regarding Seminary Park, Ditslear states, "We know how dear it is to all of us." Then why was this proposal given any kind of consideration? Surely the City has the authority to say "No, thank you" to any proposal that is in not in the best interest of the community. Surely the City is not obliged to waste time and money on every idea brought to them.
I applaud The Times for bring this issue to light, even if Ditslear believes it should not have gone public. In his timeline, the public would have been the last to know. By then, it might have been too late.