Court ruling puts Block 20 project back on track at Athenaeum

The proposed Block 20 will face Michigan Street, covering all of the L-shaped parking lot owned by the Athenaeum Foundation and reaching to North East Street.

Nearly two years after receiving Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission approval, the $15 million Block 20 project to replace the Athenaeum’s surface parking lot appears to have the final go-ahead.

That’s because a three-judge Indiana Court of Appeals panel ruled against a group of petitioners who had challenged the IHPC’s original decision largely on the grounds that the project violated a covenant placed on the property when a one-story commercial building facing the 400 block of East Street was demolished to make way for the parking lot.

That covenant required for any development to be residential in nature – but that the Block 20 project being planned by developer Daniel C. Jacobs contained commercial space in addition to apartments. The petitioners also claimed the project was in violation of the Lockerbie Square Historic Preservation Plan.

Confirming an earlier decision in Marion Superior Court, the Indiana Court of Appeals rejected those notions.

Writing for the court, Judge Margaret G. Robb noted that the restrictive covenant does not mandate the property be used for solely residential purposes. “The historic preservation statutes and the historic plan do not exist to prevent change, but to encourage and appropriately guide revitalization,” the judge added.

The Block 20 project, a partnership between Jacobs and the Athenaeum Foundation, includes about 5,500 square feet of street level commercial space, 75 apartments and a parking garage for 260 vehicles.

The project includes townhome-style units facing Allegeny Street, the brick alley which runs between New Jersey and East streets along the south side of the Athenaeum.

The project includes the partial closing of the half-block section of Cleveland Street, which runs alongside the Athenaeum between Michigan and Vermont streets. That section would feature bollards which could be withdrawn into the pavement to allow for delivery vehicles. That element caused some concern to nearby residents who worry about backed up traffic on the southern half of the alley, as well as along the east-west Allegheny Street, another alley which will be faced by townhome units within the Block 20 structure.

After the ruling came out, Jacobs said the “full-service, furnished apartments” would be priced for people making 80% to 120% of medium household income, a category that includes teachers, servers and store clerks, in accordance with the city’s Workforce Housing Model.

“We don’t want to drive out that income bracket,” he said, noting that offering living quarters for Downtown workers “is critical to our existence.”

He defined “full service” as including cable TV, utilities, wellness services and other housekeeping expenses. He said that strategy allows him to maximize the space and incorporate energy-saving strategies which will ultimately lower the total cost of living in the units, which he added will be somewhat smaller than typical apartments now being built Downtown.

Jacobs is hoping to begin construction this fall.

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