ELKHART — Local investors are proposing to build apartments on a contaminated site on West Beardsley Avenue but need approval from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.
The 700 W. Beardsley Ave. lot is empty, but Lion Gate Investments LLC is offering $1 to the Elkhart Redevelopment Commission. The developers wish to add 16 to 20 homes to what they said is a part of Elkhart that has historically had a mix of industrial and residential buildings.
The proposed apartments would be built in a townhome style with Chicago common brick facades with wrought iron fences and light fixtures to match the old No. 4 firehouse at 822 W. Beardsley and the antique mall at 800 W. Beardsley. The new apartments would surround a park with a pond and go under the name Central Park West.
"Our 'Central Park West' apartment complex will continue to enhance the West Beardsley Corridor, while fulfilling the need for multifamily rental apartments," a letter to the commission said.
However, there are no guarantees for whether the development will take place, as IDEM has yet to approve the site for residential zoning and an actual offer has yet to be presented to the Redevelopment Commission.
To move forward, Lion Gate on Monday presented a concept to the commission and asked the members to agree to exclusive negotiations for the property. Lion Gate, which already owns the old firehouse and the neighboring 800 W. Beardsley, has leased a part of the 700 property to construct a parking lot that will both accommodate the 800 building and the proposed apartments.
"The developer is taking a significant risk," said Crystal Welsh, an Abonmarche consultant assisting Lion Gate. Welsh led the city's development office until March 15 and often advised the Redevelopment Commission.
Welsh was arguing for the commissioners to agree to the exclusive negotiations, saying other developers might otherwise benefit from the investment in the parking lot. But some commissioners were skeptical, particularly because the Monday meeting could be the last one for any or all of the commissioners, as Mayor-elect Rod Roberson might appoint new members in the new year.
"Why now versus when the new folks take over?" Kyle Hannon said. "If we say, 'Yeah, let's go with it,' we've sort of set the agenda for the next group."
He did express excitement for the proposal.
The city acquired the property at no direct cost through a tax sale in 2012. The empty lot has been for sale since 2014 when the city was asking $107,000. To date, no one has made an offer.
Gary Boyn, an attorney assisting the Redevelopment Commission, said the commission cannot negotiate in good faith since more testing needs to be done at the property.
"We don't know if this property will ever be cleared for residential use," he said.
After half an hour of discussion, a majority of the commissioners voted to approve Lion Gate's concept and to authorize exclusive negotiations when appropriate. The timeline is unclear, but Lion Gate representatives said they will be patient. If the land is approved for residential use, the developers expect to invest between $3 million and $4.5 million.
Separately, Lion Gate is seeking approval to increase the number of residential units from two to 12 at 800 W. Beardsley Ave. That building also houses stained-glass production, warehousing, retail and offices, and was previously the home of the Elkhart Carriage Company that produced the Elcar.
Commissioner Jason Fink was excited to move the process along for 700 W. Beardsley.
"Because the neighborhood does need it. It looks awful right now," he said.
Follow Rasmus S. Jorgensen on Twitter at @ReadRasmus