Thursday, August 17, 2006

Restaurant/Bar Constructed In Violation of Numerous State And Local Laws

A search of the City of Indianapolis' Department of Metropolitan Development's on-line permit records reveals that the restaurant/bar recently constructed in the Julia Carson Government Center was done so in violation of numerous state and local building and zoning laws. Keystone Construction Corp., the general contractor who performed the work, was issued a stop work order on June 19, 2006 months after it had already commenced its work for failing to obtain proper permits for the interior remodeling of the tenant space on the 1st floor of the Carson Government Center and construction of an exterior wood deck for dining.

The stop work order notes that the space was "converted into a bar" and that the work was "completed." An inspector for DMD notes that he "returned a phone call to Lacy Johnson . . . to discuss progress towards obtaining permits" the day after the stop work order was issued by the city. Johnson is listed as the tenant's contact at One American Square, Suite #3100, Indianapolis on at least one of the entries; other entries show his address at the government center at 300 E. Fall Creek Parkway. The One American Square address is that of Ice Miller, the law firm where Johnson works. Johnson's son, according to the Indianapolis Star, is the registered agent for the business entity seeking to open a restaurant/bar in the government center. That's important because two attorneys for Ice Miller are now listed as attorneys for Center Township; an earlier on-line posting of MDC's agenda showed the attorneys as representing the city's parks department in the petition before the Metropolitan Development Commission to rezone the park land adjacent to the property. Johnson and the law firm have also represented Center Township, the building's owner, in the past.

According to observers at yesterday's hearing of the MDC, the petition to obtain a variance for the parking lot was withdrawn by Ice Miller's attorneys at yesterday's hearing to consider an appeal of the decision by hearing officer Judith Conley approving both the rezoning and variance petitions for the property, which would have permitted the use of the tenant space for a restaurant/bar and the adjacent property where a park once existed as a new parking lot for the employees of the restaurant/bar. At the request of Councilor Patrice Abdullah, the petition for the variance has been continued until October 4. It is important to note that the building's landlord, Center Township, did not petition for the appropriate variance and zoning changes for the changed use of the property until July after it had already completed construction of the restraurant/bar and outdoor wood deck seating. The hearing examiner nonetheless swiftly approved the request despite the numerous problems previously identified by DMD inspectors.

Not only did the township, the tenant and the general contractor fail to obtain the necessary rezoning, variance and permits to convert the tenant space to a restaurant/bar and to build a parking lot on the former park prior to commencing the construction work, the construction work failed to comply with numerous state and local building code requirements as noted in the city's activity report for Keystone Construction Corp.'s permit file. Among the violations cited include the following, some of which are quite serious from a public safety perspective:

  • Failure to construct a 2-hour rated fire wall between the restaurant/bar and the office space occupying the remainder of the building.
  • Failure to install an automatic fire detection system.
  • Failure to install an emergency voice/alarm communication system.
  • Failure to install exit signage and exit signage illumination.
  • Construction of a deck with combustible materials in violation of building code.
  • Failing to intall 1.5 hour fire-rated doors.
  • Failure to properly light exterior deck and stairs.
  • Failure to install accessible plumbing facilities.
  • Failure to install grease traps on waste lines.
  • Outdoor areas failed to include two means of egress.
  • Failure to install duct smoke detectors in mechanicals.

The activity reports note that city inspectors met with Lacy Johnson and Carl Drummer more than a month after the initial stop work order was issued. The two tell the inspector the "zoning was approved yesterday", "that they have not opened per them", and that they are "currently in 'que' with ABC". Johnson and Drummer tell the inspector on July 28 that they plan to open the restaurant/bar "once the Liq. Lic. is received." What is particularly disturbing is a report that an open house has already been held at the restaurant/bar, even though proper procedures for legally establishing the facility have not been followed. I personally observed a large number of people streaming out of the building on the evening of Saturday, August 5, 2006, a time when all offices in the building are typically closed. Even more troubling is the fact that city records show that no fines have been levied against the contractor or anyone else for blatant violation of state and local building code and zoning requirements. Also, a permit was filed to place the signage for the restaurant/bar's name "300 East" on the building back in May, which has already been erected without the proper approvals!

As AI previously reported, Drummer quickly issued a statement on August 10 when GOP congressional candidate Eric Dickerson held a press conference at the government building to protest the removal of the park and the placement of a bar in a government building saying that no bar would be located in the restaurant "at this time." As the city's permit records disclose, Johnson and Drummer both fully intended to open up the restaurant with a bar as soon as it received its liquor license. They only shifted course after the public heat was turned up on them.

Oddly, Parks Director Joe Wynns is reported to have stated after the hearing that he was concerned about eliminating green space, and that his department had not agreed to the deal as represented by Drummer according to at least one of the attendees at yesterday's hearing. Then why did two attorneys for Ice Miller petition the city on behalf of the township to rezone the Polin Park land for commercial use and why did Wynns authorize the removal of the playground equipment from the park? Does the township's sudden decision to withdraw the petition seeking a variance for the parking lot now mean that the parks department plans to restore the former park as it was before the playground equipment was abruptly removed from the park? Or will it support a petition to rezone the property to commerical use, thereby allowing a bar at this location?

The permit records and yesterday's hearing raise more questions than they answer. Who paid for the build-out of the restaurant bar and the outside deck, which improvements city records indicated cost $90,000 and $5,000, respectively? Who paid for the exterior signage on the building? Who's paying Ice Miller's legal fees? Can Center Township please make a copy of the lease between the township and the tenant publicly available immediately so we can determine whether this was an arm's length transaction? Who are the owners of this proposed new establishment? Why hasn't the city levied fines against anyone for violating building and zoning laws? These and many more questions must be answered by those responsible for this sordid deal.

The more we learn about this project, the smellier it gets. It's about time the Marion Co. prosecutor launched an investigation into this deal.


Anonymous said...

Finally, someone is asking the right questions.

Can The Star and other media get this information, so it can be more widely-distributed?

The real tragedy here, is that had there been an unfortunate fire or other safety concern, bar patrons might have been hurt or worse. The building codes are there for a reason.

This entire project, from original idea, through lease and zoning and construction, was supposed to fly under the radar. It didn't, thankfully.

The trustee knows better.

This isn't political, it's just stupid.

An outside deck was built? I think any Center Township resident has the right to show up at any time and ask the Trustee for a tour of this facility. (Good luck with that) Who paid for the construction improvements?

Can someone look through the Center Township claims rolls, and determine if public funds paid for the Ice Miller rezoning request, and/or the construction?

If no public dollars were used for any of this, AI, what is the grand jury implication? Bad judgment doesn't elevate to a prosecutable crime, or a lot of us might be in jail from time to time.

As always, follow the money. If public funds paid for that rezoning application, or any of the construction, there may be a criminal offense.

But this crowd always seems to slip away from that kind of scrutiny.

Excellent post. Right on the mark. That big sound you hear is the arrogant folks at Carson Center collectively squirming, and they should.

Anonymous said...

A couple of corrections.

"the petition for the variance has been continued until October 3." that should be Oct. 4th.


"Oddly, Parks Director Joe Wynns showed up at yesterday's hearing to say that he was concerned about eliminating green space,"

He made the comments in his office when asked about the project after the meeting - he was not at the MDC meeting itself. He also mention he would verify if there had been any paperwork at all related to the parcel of land.

And "the petition to rezone the park property was withdrawn ". What was withdrawn was the variances for the parking lot. The zoning request to change it from a park to commercial is still on the docket. This is important because if they can not get that changed from PK-1 to C-1 then there may be other zoning issues with a bar that close to land zoned as a park.

Gary R. Welsh said...

Thanks anon 2:53 for the corrections. Getting slightly varying accounts from attendees. Your info. is very much appreciated. It is a very confusing case to say the least. Nothing about it is normal.

Anonymous said...

Nothing confusing at all, AI! You're operating from a logical mind.

The petitioners were operating from devious mindsets.

Try to think "no public questions," "arrogant use of power," and "diversion of funds." (Polite word for fraud, if any of this involved public funds)

Wilson46201 said...

just because you saw a number of folk coming out of that building after normal business hours is nothing unusual. the 2nd and 7th floors have long been used for a conference center --- numerous events are scheduled after 5pm. no biggie - not nefarious,,,

Anonymous said...

Hello, Prosecutor Brizzi?

We have a BIG problem down on the first floor of the Julia Carson Building, the 27th floor of the First America Building, AND the mayor's office in the City-County Building! You better get down there quick-like before the papershredders working on the phone and computer logs go "poof"!

Anonymous said...


Does just the average person have to follow the law ?

From the FAQ on the Indygov web site

"If a permit, when required, is not obtained before construction, you have violated City of Indianapolis codes and ordinances, and you will be subject to fines, penalties, and possibly court action. You will be required to obtain permits for the work that was constructed without permits and it must pass inspections, or you will have to return the structure and site to its original condition. Keep in mind that
building codes were adopted for safety reasons. Projects constructed without review and permits can be unsafe, even if they look great. The city's Division of Compliance, Inspection Services wing enforces zoning and building codes on already-built structures that were constructed without required permits."

If I went out and started renovating a site for something else and Idid not have the proper permits I would expect the City would come down pretty hard on me. Does Carl Drummer get a "Get out of Jail" free card for this ?

Gary R. Welsh said...

Wilson, I'm curious if those events occur after 7:00 p.m. on a Saturday night with everyone dressed to the nines. And since you brought it up, what type of events are being held in that government space (i.e., township trustee's office and Julia's office) after hours?

Wilson46201 said...

there have been wedding receptions, sorority shindigs, etc held in the conference center areas for 10 years now ...

Center Township's Chief Finance Officer was hired from the State Board of Accounts to ensure proper governmental accounting procedures are followed ...

Anonymous said...

A CFO from the SBOA is a good idea. But NO one in the trustee's office can or does overrule this trustee.

Did the idea to have a tavern in the building, have a public hearing?

Did the variance applications get mis-filed under the tenant's name, and get re-filed on the day of hearing (A clear MDC violation) in the name of the trustee?

Did the public have a right to bid and comment on this tavern idea?

Did construction begin and continue without permits?

Was the trustee's lawyer used for the variance and/or liquor license applications?

And, if so, was the legal time billed to the townhip trustee (Taxpayers)?

Wilson, the reception/party answer made sense. But try to answer these questions.

And try to think as a taxpayer, not a mouthpiece for the trustee. Put on your taxpayer hat, and ask: if Julia's or Carl's Republican opponent did these things, wouldn't you guys scream from the tallest building?

The answer is yes. Hellyes.

Wilson46201 said...

I have not been the Center Township Clerk for over 2 years now --- I am happily retired and dont know any details about this kerfuffle ...

I do find it interesting that a Congressional candidate is brought in to holler about this Township brouhaha. Does the GOP even have a candidate for Center Township Triustee?

Anonymous said...

It is kinda silly for Eric D. to whine about this, I'll give you that, Wilson. It's not a Congresisonal's a trustee issue.

And this time Carl has bought himself a whole bushel of trouble.

Gary R. Welsh said...

Linda Ivey is the GOP candidate for Center Township Trustee. Don't ask me anymore about her because I've never heard of her. She's listed on the Marion Co. GOP's website.

Anonymous said...

On the radio this morning Matt Tully asked Julia Carson how she felt about bar / resturant going in the building where she is a tenent.

She said dhe was not disposed to it but not opposed to it.

Last week she told Channel 13 "Rep. Carson spoke out against such a venture at the center that would serve alcohol now or in the future. "Liquor has been a very bad problem because people over drink and then they have problems," she said.

Sir Hailstone said...


Anon 10:32 - now she says on Abdul/Matt Tully that she's "not opposed" to the bar. Then last week she said she was opposed to it for social reasons ... you know "Alcohol is bad, mmm'kay?"


Your retirement is coming soon Julia your pee-on Carl Drummer will throw a retirement party for you.

Gary R. Welsh said...

Sir Hailstone, Carson did not say she was not opposed to the bar. She said she wasn't disposed to it, which means she was not receptive to the idea.

Anonymous said...

Actually I took notes of both Eric and Julia and my notes read from Julia "Not disposed to but not opposed" to it. I was unable to record the broadcast so I can not 100% it but that is what I remember hearing and writing.

Gary R. Welsh said...

That's not what I understood her to say, but maybe I misunderstood her. She was difficult to understand--the part you reference was kind of mumbled. I thought she followed that statement with something specific about opposing a bar in the government center.

Anonymous said...

Hey Sir Hailstorm. When Julia was interviewed by channel 13 at the trustee buildling, she said she didn't know what was going on in the building...she comes in and goes up to the 5th floor. Two minutes later she said she comes to work and goes up to the 3 floor. Well, which one is it, the 3rd or the 5th?

Wilson46201 said...

anonymous Darlene --- 3rd floor is where the Congressional office is located...

Anonymous said...

Julia said in the interview, which I heard:

"I'm not disposed to it," after mumbling and stumbling. That would mean she doesn't favor it, IF you take her at her real word. Which you can't because this poor strteet-educated woman can't string together two coherent English sentences. Some people find that charming. I find it embarrassing.

She then said, after being pushed, that she wished Drummer had spent more time airing out the idea. That was fairly coherent. I could sense she was irritated at him for dragging her into this.

The "disposed" comment was typical Julia murdering the language. Don't read a lot into it---I'm not sure anyone knows what she really meant. Convenient, huh?

Wilson46201 said...

Anonymous just wrote : "Which you can't because this poor strteet-educated woman can't string together two coherent English sentences."

A sentence fragment containing a spelling error is hardly evidence of a superior education. Get off that high-horse! Somehow Ms. Carson communicates better with the voters than all her GOP opponents ever manage to do ...

Anonymous said...

Wilson, sentence fragments are widely-accepted communications tools. Consult any modern English textbook.

Typos are fat thumbs on a small Blackberry keyboard.

Lighten up...blogs are not English classrooms.

I heard Ms. Carson on a radio program, where I expect (relatively) clear, concise communication. She voluntarily returned a call to the show's substitute host...she wasn't ambushed. I was waiting to hear her postion on a variety of issues, including this one.

The fact is, Ms. Carson too often sounds like she's one-quarter street jive, one-quarter illogical, and one-half asleep. This is not the first time her words were not understandable, and it won't be the last. Sometimes it passes for "cute" or funny. On this issue, it doesn't pass.

She said what was reported. Maybe you understand that jibberish, but to most people, it creates a question about her position. The person asking the questions was confused about it, too.

Whatever her position on this club, including "no comment," we have the right to understand what she says.

Wilson46201 said...

there are none so deaf as those who will not hear ...

Anonymous said...

Here Here .. Does Carl Drummer hear that ?

Anonymous said...

Nothing wrong at all with my hearing, Wilson. Not a thing.

I know BS when it's being slung.

Anonymous said...

questions for Wilson46201 - who appointed you as spokesperson for the Center Township Trustee Office?

Throughout all of these blogs you seem to have a great deal to say about everything.

How much do you know about all the illegal business transactions initiated by the Drummer? You seem to be defending Carson and Drummer in all of your answers.

The community is ready for the truth to come out about the bar/restaurant. Why have they not been fines from the city?

Just talked to the DMD permit department. They were fined #125.00 and building permits have been issued.

Anonymous said...
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