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Pushback coming on ending student housing moratorium near Purdue?
Settle in Monday for WL City Council’s big night, starting with questions about city's role in Purdue growth. Plus, therapy dog handlers honored by justice system.
Today’s edition of the Based in Lafayette reporting project is sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Greater Lafayette and Vote411.org. For more about Vote411.org and its collection of local candidate profiles, interviews and your personalized ballot in Tuesday’s primary, scroll through today’s edition.
LONG NIGHT AHEAD, WEST LAFAYETTE CITY COUNCIL
Who is bringing the cot to the West Lafayette City Council meeting Monday? Expect about a half-year’s worth of debates and votes in a single night. Here’s a look at a few of them …
THE RETURN OF BIG STUDENT DEVELOPMENTS: As Purdue contemplates the prospects of another huge freshman class and likely another record enrollment – sitting just shy of 50,000 and still expanding – in fall 2022, city planners have indicated it’s time to lift an unwritten “moratorium” on student-oriented housing developments in West Lafayette’s downtown/Village area. That policy limited big projects after a historic development boom in the late-2010s that delivered thousands of beds and the first apartment buildings with floors in the double-digits. The idea: Hold off on big projects to see if the last ones fill up. Upshot: They filled up. A student rental report in December 2021 had the Area Plan Commission suggesting that enrollment growth and vacancy rates at less than 1% meant West Lafayette was ripe for another wave.
The first wave comes Monday night, with two projects a block south of State Street.
A proposed project from Subtext Acquisitions, a St. Louis firm with projects in college communities in a dozen states, called Verve would include seven floors and 247 units with up to 763 beds, along with 5,000-square-feet of ground-floor retail space and a 231-space parking garage, on Wood Street, between Chauncey Avenue and Salisbury Street. (You might know that one as the spot of the Banana House.)
In the second one, Evergreen Rentals has proposed a five-story complex called Monterey Apartments, just south of the southeast corner of Pierce and Wood streets. It would have 68 units with 103 bedrooms, replacing what were four single-family houses that have room for 32 beds.
Both are plans negotiated with city development officials.
(Another condo project is on Monday’s agenda, too, in Purdue’s Discovery Park District. A third Village-area project will be on the June agenda. Tomash Developers will proposed 4Up, a six-story building with up to 191 apartments and 334 beds on the upper floors and retail on the ground floor, near the corner of Vine and Fowler streets.)
Late last week, there were signs that not everyone was excited.
Peter Bunder, West Lafayette City Council president, said he likely will vote against the developments in the Village area.
In a blog post, titled “No, It Isn't Time To End the Student Housing Moratorium,” Bunder outlined the strain of the city dealing with enrollment growth that even Purdue officials say they are surprised by, at times: “Purdue's record enrollment numbers have continued to surprise us. Massive builds have taken place, yet rents continue to increase. The city is trying to manage urban in-fill without reliable information from the work's obvious beneficiary. … There is little compensatory involvement in the near campus neighborhood or in the larger interests of the community.”
How deeply that sentiment runs among the rest of the council, we’ll find out Monday night.
Here’s a closer look, from the April 20 edition, at the housing/commercial projects in the pipeline Monday (and the one coming in June): So long, Banana House ... a target of the next housing rush near Purdue
THE CITY’S ROLE IN PAYING PEOPLE TO MOVE TO PURDUE’S DISCOVERY PARK DISTRICT: At last month’s meeting, David Sanders, an at-large council member, took issue with the city’s $50,000 contribution to a Purdue Research Foundation and Indiana Economic Development Corp. project to put $1 million toward recruiting remote workers to West Lafayette and Purdue’s Discovery Park District. Sanders’ take: West Lafayette shouldn’t need to pay people to move to the city. Sanders’ take, also: The deal smells of cronyism, with the company behind the Work From Purdue project started by Bill Oesterle, a former Purdue trustee who led Purdue President Mitch Daniels’ first campaign for governor in 2004. Mayor John Dennis stands behind the city’s participation, calling it a good deal for West Lafayette. Oesterle says the criticism from Sanders, a frequent critic of Daniels, are off target. This month, Sanders filed a resolution calling for the city to withdraw its $50,000 contribution. The council is expected to vote on that Monday night.
I’ll have a closer look at this in Monday’s edition. For now, here’s a look from early April at the expansion of the Work From Purdue pilot program and Sanders’ initial concerns aired during April’s city council meeting: “Council member blasts Purdue incentives to relocate to West Lafayette.”
THE RETURN OF THE FACIAL RECOGNITION SOFTWARE BAN (ATTEMPT): Dennis vetoed a ban on the police department’s use of facial recognition software the council passed in 2021. Dennis said he’d veto a second stab at a ban, this one modified from the first attempt and proposed by Sanders. To get around some of the concerns raised by police, the mayor and some council members last time, Sanders added a string of exceptions to the ban, saying it wouldn’t apply when West Lafayette police were investigating a “crime of violence,” as defined in Indiana Code. That would include 21 types of crime, including murder, homicide, felony battery, kidnapping, rape, child molesting and others. Still, in those cases, according to the proposed ordinance, a West Lafayette police officer would have to sign a sworn affidavit “affirming that a ‘crime of violence’ has occurred and that the official reasonably believes the use of facial-recognition surveillance or a facial-recognition surveillance system would assist” in identifying the person who committed the crime or assisted in the offense. Asked about it in March, when Sanders first broached the subject, West Lafayette Police Chief Troy Harris wasn’t on board. Here’s a closer look: “After veto, ban on facial-recognition software 2.0 emerges in West Lafayette.”
LICENSE PLATE READER REGULATIONS PROPOSED: In another one from Sanders – who will find out Tuesday which of four Republicans he’ll face in his run for the Indiana Senate District 23 seat – the council will consider guidelines and limits on the use of automated license plate recognition software. In March, Lafayette announced it would expand a pilot program and pay Flock Safety, an Atlanta-based company, to install 10 of the readers in strategic spots across the city to collect license plate data and vehicle photos, saving it in a searchable database for 30 days at a time. Harris said West Lafayette police were interested in doing something similar. But he said that after the concerns about facial recognition software, he wanted to be sure the council was on board first. Looks like that discussion starts Monday. The proposed ordinance reads much like the outline of Lafayette’s program. Sanders said the idea was to codify use before letting police start.
ROLLS-ROYCE COMES WITH TAX BREAK REQUEST: In April, Rolls-Royce laid out plans to spend $204 million to build two new facilities and expand another in Purdue’s Discovery Park District, just west of campus. The company first will look for tax abatements on $184.4 million of that investment for the first five years. Monday night is the first step in that process for the city council. The idea got the full support of the West Lafayette Redevelopment Commission. The last tax break the council gave – for the $37 million Saab fighter jet fuselage plant in the Discovery Park District in 2020 – came with two council members voting against it. For a closer look at the plans and why Purdue would wind up shouldering much of that tax abatement, here’s background from an April 21 story: “West Lafayette ‘salivating’ over Rolls-Royce’s $204M plans.”
If you go: The West Lafayette City Council meets at 6:30 p.m. Monday at West Lafayette City Hall, 222 N. Chauncey Ave.
COUNTY TAKES UP RODEO, CONCERT VENUE REQUEST
Meanwhile, earlier Monday, Tippecanoe County commissioners are expected to consider a rezoning plan that could make or break Plaza Rancho Alegre, a combination rodeo and concert venue opened in 2021 near Romney, close to the southern Tippecanoe County line.
Owner Benito Munoz, a businessman with a car dealership in Frankfort and former club owner in Lafayette. Neighbors near the venue, at County Roads 400 East and 1300 South, complained during recent Area Plan Commission hearings that events in 2021 brought too much noise and too much traffic for the rural spot. Munoz’s advocates vouched for his effort to bring big-name bands and a family-friendly festival scene to the community. And Munoz said he was willing to make changes to help keep neighbors happy.
The rezoning request is the first step to bringing the venture into compliance. The APC sent it to the commissioners with a split vote and an inconclusive recommendation. Even if the commissioners approve the rezoning, Munoz still would need to make a case for a special exception from the county’s Board of Zoning Appeals.
Here’s a more detailed look after the APC vote: Concert, rodeo venue’s zoning south of Lafayette heads to commissioners, fate in question.
If you go: The commissioners meet at 10 a.m. Monday at the County Office Building, 20 N. Third St.
THERAPY DOGS, HANDLERS HONORED FOR CALMING INFLUENCE IN COURTS
In 2019, a new state law allowed therapy dogs in Indiana courtrooms. The Tippecanoe County prosecutor’s office had taken up the offer from Tom Roberts, president of the local chapter of Therapy Dogs International, in 2017 to have volunteers bring their trained dogs to county-owned buildings to help calm and comfort anyone dealing with the stress of the criminal legal system.
But, as Colleen Connor, executive director of Tippecanoe County’s Court Appointed Special Advocate program, said, not all judges were immediately on board. In particular, Connor said, Judge Faith Graham, who deals with the bulk of the county’s cases dealing with abused or neglected children, “wasn’t always a dog person – and she would be the first to admit it.”
So, Connor helped line up a bit of a pilot project, featuring a case of a child who historically hadn’t been willing to communicate with the judge and had been reluctant with the CASA volunteers, public defenders and others. Graham agreed to give it a try. Volunteers with Therapy Dogs International met in the courthouse rotunda with the child and the rest of the team before heading into Superior Court 3 for the hearing.
“It was amazing,” Connor told a crowd gathered at the County Office Building earlier this week. “What the judge saw was this youth sit on the floor in the middle of the courtroom with the dogs, petting the dogs, and she proceeded to talk. That youth communicated with the judge for the first time ever. Judge Graham was just like, ‘This is good. This is all the evidence and proof I need.’”
There were more stories like that one Monday, when Prosecutor Pat Harrington gave Chapter 267 of the therapy dog organization, the volunteer handlers and the dogs the office’s Justice Award.
“The comfort and support provided to victims of crime by these dogs during investigations, court hearings, witness conferences, victim preparation meetings for trials, at jury trials, is remarkable,” Harrington said. The recognition was for the volunteers’ work with the hospitals, CASA, Heartford House Child Advocacy Center, Grant’s House, nursing homes and others that came in contact with the justice system.
Jackie Starbuck, a deputy prosecutor specializing in sex crimes and crimes against children, described the calming effect on victims who are able to pet a dog “the entire time that they have to explain what is often the most horrible thing that ever happened to them in their lives to a group of strangers.” And she described the calm of the dogs’ handlers who volunteer to endure what happens before, during and after an investigation and trial.
“These dogs and their handlers have to listen to some of the worst stories that we'll ever hear – things that children should never have to go through,” Starbuck said. “But because they're sitting with us as we prepare these children for trial, and as they testify, they are taking on that burden. And that's something that we could never thank them for enough.”
Roberts, flanked by his golden retriever Maggie and Labrador retriever Gretta, told a crowd that morning that he would have preferred to give some sort of award back.
“We’re so impressed with all of those folks who treat victims,” Roberts said. “We’ve seen nothing but kindness and consideration and caring. … You guys are the heroes, not the dogs.”
Among those honored: John Phillips and his Samoyed Balto; Lisa Hopkins and her Keeshond Fergus and Samoyed Fiona; Caroline Hanson and her mini Goldendoodle Henry; Pam Schendel and her Labrador retrievers Frankie, Kipper and Aggy; and Kathy Stirlen and her long-haired Chihuahua Tater Bean.
Thanks, again, to the League of Women Voters of Greater Lafayette and Vote411.org for sponsoring today’s Based in Lafayette edition. For the League’s interviews with candidates on the May 3 primary ballot, click the graphic below.
HERE’S TO EVERYONE, INCLUDING YOU, MAKING THIS REPORTING PROJECT WORK. NOT A SUBSCRIBER, BUT THINKING ABOUT IT? NOW’S THE TIME. I’LL DO MY BEST TO MAKE IT WORTHWHILE.