Monday, April 9, 2012

Developer of Broad Ripple Parking Garage Wants Variance From Flood Ordinance

The Broad Ripple parking garage has been covered extensively on this blog, and others (see "Speaking of Boondoggles - The BR Garage is Back for Another Variance" for the last update here -- "Ballard Administration Pulls Bait and Switch On Broad Ripple Garage" by Gary Welsh at Advance Indiana -- and "Broad Ripple Deserves Better Representation Than The Broad Ripple Village Association" by Paul Ogden at Ogden on Politics).

As noted in February, the Developer is back with a request for a Variance from the Flood Control Ordinance.  The hearing is now scheduled for tomorrow before the Board of Zoning Appeals II.  Since December, I have received more information from many sources that fill in a lot of blanks.

The short version is that the Developer, an offshoot of the Keystone Group, wants to save a few bucks by building 2 feet below the base flood elevation and 4 feet below the elevation required by the Ordinance - saying that someday the floodwall in this area will be completed and at THAT time, they will be one foot above the flood elevation.  They, of course, would still be 1 foot below the building elevation required at THAT time as well.  Keystone goes so far as to claim that if it does not get this Variance, that it will not be economically feasible to build the garage.
“The redevelopment could not occur without relief from the requirement that the base floor elevation be at least two (2) feet above the base flood elevation due to excessive costs in meeting such requirement.”
Sounds like somebody, including the City, did not do it's due diligence when scouting for and accepting this as the best location for additional parking in Broad Ripple.

There are a few problems with allowing this variance.

The Flood Control Ordinance was put in place to keep Indy in the FEMA Flood Insurance Program in the first place.  The Feds are the only ones who back flood insurance.  And they ask, reasonably so, that any new building in flood prone areas, be built a safe distance above the 'base flood elevation', which is determined from the 100 year flood elevation data.  This protects the building and protects the integrity of the insurance program that covers so many existing buildings.  It is reasonable to have these protections in place.

So what if the Broad Ripple parking garage floods?  Well, the City's $6.34 million 'investment' in the building gets flushed down the toilet.  The IMPD substation could have damage to its equipment. The retail portion of the ground floor would be the developer's problem.

More importantly, though, the very existence of the Variance can push FEMA to once again slap Indianapolis with higher flood insurance premiums, or worse, exclude us entirely from the program.  This falls on the shoulders of homeowners and other building owners throughout the County that rely on flood insurance to protect their investment.

The single focus that has been evident on building a garage at this location should not be extended to the point where other people within our City could suffer financial costs and losses.  That is exactly what granting this Variance would do.

Happily, the City Staff is recommending denial of this Variance and the City's Department of Code Enforcement has sent a letter also requesting denial of the Variance as it could put our participation in the FEMA Flood Insurance Program in real danger.

Hopefully, the BZA will deny this request tomorrow.


Anonymous said...

Correct me if I'm wrong but isn't this the garage that the city is basically giving away to Keystone? So why is cost an issue?

Anonymous said...

Im betting someone on the city staff will be out of a job this week. The 25th floor does not like insubordination.

Paul K. Ogden said...

Anon 3:55, once it goes above about $6.5 million (our share) to build the garage, then Keystone assumes the cost. Similiar garages have cost about $6.5 million. If they run into an unexpected cost, then Keystone might actually have to shell out money for the garage for which Keystone gets 100% ownership and 100% of the revenue.

Pete Boggs said...

The huge lot behind the Vogue seems like a better location.

Proposed demolition of uninhabited properties was in part based on lowering insurance rates.

Essential equipment could be site located out of the floodplain and much can be moved if need be, like cars. Can the developer make up any additional insurance cost? This exception could set a new precedent for other area development, and if developers assume those related risks, it might not be all bad.

Had Enough Indy? said...

Pete - I agree that behind the Vogue was a better location; and that was the determination of a study commissioned by the City a couple of years ago.

But, this is not a precedent you want to set. It is not about how much more the developer will have to pay in flood insurance premiums. Its about how everyone in Marion County who needs flood insurance could pay more for it OR even lose their insurance altogether.

Part of the deal with the feds is to maintain a strict ordinance that does not allow these kinds of variances from the flood control laws. That is all put at risk.

So, this is no longer about Broad Ripple. It is no longer about a garage. It is about Indy staying in the National Flood Insurance Program.