After asking for a vote three different ways, the 10-member Noblesville Plan Commission was hung 5-5 and voted to “make no recommendation” for a controversial Change of Zoning petition that moves on to Noblesville Common Council in December.
The petition, if favorable, would change zoning to permit gravel extraction on about 50 acres of vacant flood-plain property adjacent Potter’s Bridge Park on Allisonville Road in Noblesville for an expansion of the park that would include the mining of gravel to create a recreational lake and planned development for the community.
Petitioner Beaver Materials is partnering with the Hamilton County Parks and Recreation Department with plans to expand Potter’s Bridge Park. Petition applicant is Chris Beaver, 56, owner of Beaver Materials, a more than 70-year-old Noblesville-based fifth-generation family-owned company that produces sand and gravel. Petitioners also included property owner Gina Heinzman and law office Church Church Hittle and Antrim, represented by attorney Eric Douthit.
Beaver Materials would purchase about 50 acres of Heinzman family farm fields that are for sale in between two parcels of park-owned land, between White River Greenway and Potter’s Bridge Park.
In Phase I, Beaver Materials would donate 10 acres of the land to the 75-acre park to expand trails (from 1.5 miles to approximately 4.5 miles) and to add to the connectivity. In future phases, Beaver Materials would mine gravel on the remaining 40-acre parcel, which is in flood plain, to create a 30-acre natural lake and then donate the property, over 10 years, to Hamilton County Parks for future use for recreational activities.
The motion to forward the petition to Noblesville Common Council was a surprising outcome due to the great number of remonstrators protesting the petition.
Anybody who attended the meeting on Monday night or who passed by City Hall an hour before the 6 p.m. meeting likely noticed dozens of picketers, including men, women and children, at 10th and Conner streets with picket signs protesting to “Stop the Gravel Pit and Potter’s Bridge” led by a group called Don’t Leave it to Beaver, which has professionally made signs they’re selling for $25 each.
People seemed to have their minds made up that mining gravel for a recreational lake would become an industrial gravel-pit site like Beaver Materials’ permanent business on River Road. Besides picketing, displaying yard signs and signing petitions (about 2,600 Noblesville residents, or about 3 percent of the city’s population signed), there has been sadly defacing of property, including the county parks’ informational signage on the west side of Allisonville Road that teased “More Parks, More Fun,” a sign promoting the project that has since been removed due to the vandalism.
Going into the meeting, the number of petitioners against the change of zoning far outweighed those who publicly supported the petition.
When Plan Commission president opened the floor for public comment, the Leave It to Beaver group, which started with a hired attorney to represent the disgruntled petitioners many of whom live in nearby Potters Woods and Fairfield Farms neighborhoods, had 11 speakers, who each presented a concern, from safety and noise to water quality and real-estate values.
A total of nearly 20 folks gave public comment in City Hall Council Chambers, which permitted a socially distanced 50-or-fewer audience, all wearing required facial masks due to the COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease) pandemic. Another nearly 40 people socially distanced while watching from an overflow room a live broadcast by Jim Wafford’s Hamilton County Television. The three-hour broadcast is now available on demand at http://www.hamiltoncountytelevision.com/
Chris Stice, Hamilton County Parks director, said the creation of this recreational lake and planned parks amenities that would include more trails, art sculptures, outdoor classrooms, shelters, restrooms and event space, would “make this park a world-class park with 125 acres,” comparing the future amenity to a lake created at Hamilton County Parks’ Coxhall Gardens, land of which was also donated to the parks department.
Before Beaver Materials two years ago paid $83,000 to buy the naming rights to the Noblesville High School football field, the company was already mining gravel for the past 10 years at Hamilton County Parks’ Strawtown Koteewi Park, with no cost to the county, to convert the leftover pit into a 19-acre recreational lake, Koteewi Lake, which opened in September to the public for paddle boats and fishing.
Hamilton County Council is also behind the project, according to Rick McKinney, at-large member, who said the donation of land, according to the consensus of the County Council, “would be a positive step toward improving the outdoor opportunities of recreation and quality of life this park provides for Hamilton County citizens.” The County Council supports the land acquisition and “would be supportive of making the necessary improvements for its use in the future,” McKinney wrote in a letter of support.
Earlier, Noblesville Planning Department gave “an unfavorable recommendation” to the project, according to the City’s senior planner Denise Aschleman, who presented the project at the public hearing.
Despite the “unfavorable recommendation,” the Plan Commission members voted 5-5 to forward the petition with a “favorable recommendation” and voted 5-5 to forward the petition with an “unfavorable recommendation” before voting to forward the petition with “no recommendation.”
Plan Commission member Steve Cooke, former Noblesville deputy mayor, said, "I was disappointed that five of my fellow Plan Commission members were in support of the change in zoning that will allow for the gravel pit. I don’t feel that the concerns of residents were given enough consideration before our 5-5 vote on how we would forward the petition to the Noblesville Common Council. Clearly, the nearby residents will be the most impacted if this industrial operation is allowed. Even with the proposed expansion of the park by Hamilton County, there is simply not enough community wide benefit that would outweigh the concerns of our citizens and the threat to our natural resources."
Cooke said, "Combined with the fact this project doesn’t meet the recommendations of the city’s comprehensive master plan, which was approved by the Plan Commission earlier this year, and that Planning staff do not support the application – I felt we needed to send an unfavorable recommendation to the Noblesville Common Council."
After the remonstrators voiced their concerns, the Plan Commission’s greatest voiced concerns seemed to be the lengthiness of the project and financial commitment from the Hamilton County Parks Department. But unknown to the Commission, at presstime, there was a parks board meeting running concurrently to discuss the financial commitment to the project, which would grow Potter’s Bridge Park from 75 acres to 125 acres. project.
One of the concerns was the transportation of gravel from the site. However, Beaver Materials has already been transporting gravel from a Strawtown lake site on the same route, Allisonville Road to Field Drive to Indiana 32 to River Road, but no one seemed to notice the trucks on the road until this petition to rezone was announced, a board member noted at the meeting.
Messy roads? Beaver will limit sediment tracking by sweeping Allisonville Road on an as-needed basis.
Road wear and tear? Scales on each truck ensures that each load does not exceed INDOT or local maximum truck tonnage or put excess strain on roadways.
Noise of trucks? No work will take place after 5 p.m. weekdays or on weekends or holidays, and Beaver Materials will monitor the decibel level of site to make sure no local ordinances are being exceeded.
Air quality and dust control? Beaver will use a water truck to wet the ground several times during the day, and there will be no high-volume dust sources.
Safety? Beaver will not disturb the wooded park and would remain functional through the duration of the project. The site would be locked when not in use. Beaver is also required to slope the body of water to ensure that it is non-hazardous during recreational use.
The list goes on, the many ways Beaver will follow regulations and limit any negative impact.
In Hamilton County Parks & Recreation’s 118-page five-year master plan, 2017-2021, land acquisition and partnerships for land acquisition were important. Through National Recreation & Park Association standards and per the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Hamilton County is considered critically deficient in the amount of parkland available to the population.
Realtors who expect property values to go down could be touting the amenities of a recreational lake as a perk for the neighborhood once the lake is complete.
Issues in question could be answered at the petition’s first reading at 7 p.m. Dec. 8 at the Noblesville Common Council meeting, with the second meeting and vote at 7 p.m. on Dec. 22 at Noblesville City Hall. While there isn’t a City Councilor who represents that unincorporated land area of the vacant farmland under scrutiny, Council president Wil Hampton represents Potter’s Woods and Fairfield Farms residents in District 4, Aaron Smith represents homeowners in District 1, and Greg O’Connor represents homeowners in District 5.

-Contact Betsy Reason at betsy@thetimes24-7.com.