Greenwood City Council members balked at a plan to improve the downtown because they want more options, including the possibility of demolishing buildings if needed.
Some council members were concerned that the plan doesn’t have enough detail and alternative ideas on specific issues, such as how to improve traffic or which buildings should get fixed up.
Specifically, council members including Brent Corey and David Hopper were concerned that the plan didn’t include the option to add downtown roundabouts or widen traffic lanes — both of which would likely require some buildings to be demolished.
Members also questioned whether some downtown buildings were worth fixing up with new facades if they have other structural problems or whether storefront work really would encourage owners to improve the interiors as well.
The mention of demolition, which was unpopular with residents in the past, wasn’t met well Monday night either. A crowd of about 50 residents and business owners grumbled when the council mentioned roundabouts and demolition and applauded loudly when residents spoke about preserving and repairing buildings. Residents also expressed concerns that if the council stalled or turned down the plan, it would be yet another failed attempt to kick-start revitalization work downtown.
The detailed plan was presented Monday by HWC Engineering and Axis Architecture, which were hired by the city to gather information to draft a long-range guide for how to improve the downtown as well as create drawings and estimate costs for potential facade improvements. The proposal is the result of about a year of work, including meetings with residents, business owners and city officials. The study was funded with a $40,000 planning grant that the Restore Old Town Greenwood group helped the city get.
The plan contains 12 ideas of how to improve the downtown, including fixing historic buildings, improving traffic flow, widening sidewalks and renovating parks. Those ideas were formed directly from feedback consultants received during brainstorming sessions, focus groups and interviews, said Cory Daly of HWC Engineering.
The city needs to approve a downtown revitalization plan in order to apply for up to $400,000 in state grant funds that could be used to start making façade improvements. That application will be due this summer, and Greenwood will have to compete with other communities for the money. The vote on whether to approve the downtown plan was delayed two weeks to give council members more time to consider it.
“(Greenwood’s) charm starts in Old Town,” Restore Old Town Greenwood member Brad Nemeth said. “There is actual momentum that has not happened in the past 25 years.”
‘I only see one’
The suggestion to eliminate turn lanes to add on-street parking and wider sidewalks and plans to renovate building façades drew most of the scrutiny from council members.
Since creating better traffic flow and improved walkability were frequent requests, the plan suggests changes to Main Street and Madison Avenue that would help add sidewalk space and parking around downtown shops. The plan suggests eliminating turn lanes on Main Street, keeping one travel lane in each direction, which would allow the city to add 3 to 7 feet of sidewalks on either side of the street.
But Corey and Hopper said they were concerned that the plan presented only that one idea. The plan didn’t include a diagram that would show what a roundabout might look like and what buildings would need to be removed in order to make room, if the city were to pursue that option, Hopper said.
“You say there are a lot of options in here. I only see one,” Corey said.
The plan doesn’t include possible demolition, mainly because city residents and property owners don’t want to lose downtown buildings, Mayor Mark Myers said Tuesday. The downtown plan should represent what residents want, and the role of city officials should be to find ways to accomplish it, not dictate their own ideas, Myers said.
“Realistically you can make a million different options; but until you have one that is feasible, we’re just wasting good money on bad. Because giving an option to tear down the building isn’t what people want. Why waste your time and why waste your money?” Myers said.
Not all buildings included
Council member Thom Hord also questioned the plans and cost estimates to do façade renovations for every building in the downtown core. He doesn’t want the city to spend grant money or city tax funds to improve façades on buildings that might have structural problems, rundown interiors or owners who aren’t motivated to keep up maintenance.
In the past, Hord also has been supportive of ideas to demolish buildings that are beyond saving and putting up new buildings with a historic style.
The estimated cost for façade renovations increased about 20 percent to $1 million since the draft was published because architects compared their estimates to recent projects and found items such as windows and masonry work were costing more than expected.
The plan didn’t include alternate ideas about road projects or how to address rundown buildings, but that doesn’t mean the city couldn’t pursue other options, consultants and city planners said. The plan is meant to compile feedback, offer initial ideas and outline next steps the city needs to take to reach their goals, Daly said.
For example, Greenwood will need to do a detailed traffic study before deciding what kind of street improvements might be best for downtown, he said.
The plan includes conceptual drawings and price estimates for work on the façades of more than 30 buildings, but that doesn’t mean the city is required to make all those improvements, Greenwood senior planner Ed Ferguson said. The plan had to include additional detail about possible façade improvements, since that’s a key aspect needed to apply for state grants, he said. The city would do detailed inspections of each building before any improvements would be made, he added.
“One, two, maybe more buildings are not worth significant investment,” Ferguson said. “We’re not naive enough to tell you we’re going to fix all the buildings.”
In 2011, Indiana Landmarks, a historic preservation group, made Old Town Greenwood one of the state’s top 10 most endangered historic places in the midst of former Mayor Charles Henderson’s plan to demolish some buildings to make way for new development. Henderson’s plan faced significant opposition from residents, and he buried the idea after voters ousted him in the primary election in 2011 in favor of Myers.
Residents were still hostile to the idea of tearing down any buildings in Old Town, and several expressed their concerns Monday night that council members spent so much time talking about demolition.
“I am very opposed to demolition unless a building is vitally damaged,” Greenwood resident Jo Ellen Villenes said.
Joanne Stuttgen, who has been involved with the downtown revitalization effort in Martinsville, warned city council members about the detrimental effect of tearing down historic buildings downtown. Martinsville has strict rules in place to prevent building owners from removing properties except as a last resort because the holes they leave are severely damaging to the downtown image, she said.
Greenwood has created three downtown plans in recent decades calling for fixing buildings and attracting businesses, but the plans were either denied by the council or shelved and never acted on, Myers said.
Hord and council member Mike Campbell said the additional discussion and proposed tweaks to the plan helped improve their awareness and alleviate some concerns they had. Council member Tim McLaughlin said he liked the plan and was in favor of it but supported the delay because he wants to make sure it doesn’t have any shortcomings that will hurt progress in five or 10 years.
Audience members encouraged the council to adopt the plan because they didn’t want to see it become the next failed attempt in Greenwood’s history.
“They’re losing confidence that anything is ever going to happen,” Restore Old Town Greenwood member Jennifer Hollingshead said.
“Its charm starts in Old Town. There is actual momentum that has not happened in the past 25 years.” — Brad Nemeth, Restore Old Town Greenwood
“What I heard was you were most concerned with tearing down buildings. Sitting back there, what I heard was a lot of removal.” — Elizabeth Groth, owner of Walt’s Barbershop, 105 S. Madison St.
“I am very opposed to demolition unless a building is vitally damaged.” — Jo Ellen Villenes, Greenwood resident
“If you have a downtown streetscape with holes in it, you have nothing.” — Joanne Stuttgen, Rediscover Martinsville
“They’re losing confidence that anything is ever going to happen.” — Jennifer Hollingshead, Restore Old Town Greenwood
“A postponement in no way means a ‘no’ vote.” — Thom Hord, city council member
“I learned real quick when I got elected, it’s not what I want. It’s what the people who elected me, what they want. You saw a room full of people who support saving (downtown).” — Mayor Mark Myers
“This plan doesn’t mandate anything. It presents options.” — Mike Campbell, city council member
“You’re concerned about putting lipstick on a pig. But would you rather just look at the pig?” — Ezra Hill, city council member
The Greenwood City Council postponed a decision on whether to approve a new downtown revitalization plan. Here’s a look at what the 120-page plan includes:
Goals: Nine goals were based on feedback received from residents, business owners and officials, including making downtown pedestrian-friendly, improving traffic flow, maintaining the historic character of buildings and attracting new businesses.
Ideas: Twelve projects are suggested, including changing the traffic flow downtown, widening sidewalks, renovating building facades, improving and beautifying Old City Park and the Pleasant Run Creek and creating small gathering spaces. The plan also includes drawings and cost estimates for renovating facades on more than 30 buildings.
Next steps: The plan includes suggestions for the next steps the city would need to take. For example, a detailed traffic study would be needed before deciding what downtown road improvements should be built.
The Greenwood City Council delayed a decision on whether to adopt a new downtown revitalization plan. Council members intend to take a vote at their next meeting.
When: 7 p.m. Jan. 19
Where: Greenwood City Center, 300 S. Madison Ave.
What: Vote on whether to adopt a downtown revitalization plan