Transportation is changing. For the past 100 years or so we’ve been building our cities to accommodate cars as they have opened up new areas for development and allowed people to travel farther and more comfortably than ever before. But once we designed our stores, houses, parks, schools, libraries and other public places for cars we realized we lost something: the human scale that facilitates social interaction and gives a community its character.
Good governance requires active participation by citizens. You know what active participation looks like: people show up for public meetings, they let their elected officials know what they think, and they express themselves at the voting booth on election day.
It’s important to recruit new businesses to add to our tax base and give our residents employment opportunities. And I recognize that city governments have become players in the economic development game. Public-private partnerships are the way things get done these days. My problem is with the way we are managing these partnerships. I don’t think we’re getting the best bang for our buck.
Here’s what I mean…
Noblesville recently partnered with Fishers and the county on a plan to take out the Nickel Plate Railroad tracks and turn the right of way into a trail. I love trails. In fact I have advocated for them in my past two elections, even to the extent that I included an image of a bike on my campaign signs in the last election. We need more trails going to more places in Noblesville for a number of reasons. It would help relieve traffic congestion, improve the health of our citizens, improve the look of the city and add to our quality of life. Yes, trails are great, but it is a HUGE mistake to tear out the Nickel Plate tracks to create a trail. Here’s why.
It seems like a great opportunity. 70 acres of undeveloped land in the middle of Noblesville. The problem, of course, is that its polluted. For years, Firestone and its predecessors dumped dangerous chemicals on the land, and its going to be very difficult to clean up.
But we have to do it. The land is right between a residential area and our major retail center. It’s not acceptable to have it fenced off with barbed wire forever. Federal grants are available to help clean up these sites, yet for the past nine years it has sat there, abandoned and ignored by our city officials. It is truly a blighted area and needs attention.
A few ideas have been proposed for the land over the years: a bus barn or storage facility come to mind. The mayor once proposed a dog park but nothing has happened. Most recently the police chief has been promoting the idea of building a new police station on the slab that used to hold the building. I like that idea. The slab wasn’t polluted like the ground around it and apparently is buildable. A new police station could spur new development around the site.
There are restrictions. Firestone has said they would never allow residences to be built on the land because of past pollution. Some of the land is more polluted than the rest. There is apparently a dump that still hold buried barrels full of poison. For more on this saga, go here.
I know this is a tough situation. Clean up will be expensive and dangerous. It may seem like the best alternative is just to leave it all in the ground and try to ignore it. But it’s right in the middle of town and I don’t think we can ignore it forever. The best solution is to bite the bullet: clean it up the right way, haul away the poisons, scrub the land clean and put it back into productive use.
It’s been nine years of neglect. Its time to act. The proposed police station is a good start but that’s the easy part. It’s time to tackle the hard part.
The city is spending millions of dollars to upgrade Pleasant St. as a way to bypass downtown and move traffic more quickly for cars and trucks that want to avoid the cross traffic and congestion. I understand the rationale but I don’t understand why the city insists on taking a route that involves cross traffic and congestion rather than a more rural route that would emphasize speed.
I go into detail on my objections to the city’s current proposal on my Better Noblesville website. In a nutshell, the city wants to take an urban route that involves bulldozing some two dozen homes on both sides of the river while doing little to improve the urban landscape along Pleasant St.
My biggest concern is the integrity of the Southwest Quad neighborhood, which would be bisected in the interests of gaining a minute or two to cross town. You can imagine how you would feel if the city proposed building a bypass through your neighborhood. The homes in the southwest quad are some of the most affordable in town, and the people who live there won’t be able to find replacements at the same price they will get from the city for those houses. That’s a problem for a community that struggles to maintain affordable housing stock.
I could understand the city’s unwillingness to consider other options if there were none, but there are a number of alternative routes that wouldn’t involve destroying any houses, could have higher speed limits, and would open new land for development as a bonus. But the city won’t consider them.
I’m especially dismayed about this project because I see so much potential for the southwest quad neighborhood to compliment the city’s new cultural arts district. We have one of only seven designated districts in the state, and the district is meant to highlight our commitment to nurturing the arts. A cultural arts district needs artists and the starving artist is more than just an amusing stereotype. It’s a fact of life in most arts communities, which is why affordable housing is so important. These modest homes in the southwest quad are great raw material for an artist’s touch, and the neighborhood would make a terrific artist’s housing district. That we want to destroy it for the sake of a road is a darn shame.
I will do something about that.