Wednesday, November 11, 2020

A Gravel Pit Lake Tests Noblesville's Commitment to Communication

Communication is the buzzword in Noblesville’s City Hall. Our new mayor and new council members mention it often. The goal: Communicate proactively with constituents about projects and policy. Don’t blindside them with backroom done-deals after it’s too late for real public input. But Hamilton County Parks’ and Beaver Materials’ plan for a gravel pit lake on North Allisonville Road will test this admirable commitment to communication.


For decades Hamilton County leaders, some elected, and some anointed by their economic power, have treated the general public like a nuisance to maneuver around, rather than what the public truly is: their only reason to exist. But just as Noblesville’s new leaders are trying to govern beyond these old bad habits, the County and Beaver brought the old habit to City Hall for a stamp of approval. 


Beaver hopes to dig a 20’ deep gravel pit where 191st Street T’s into a rolling farm field that falls west toward Potter’s Bridge Trail and White River. They’d dig for 10 years, then turn an eventual lake over to the County to add to Potter’s Bridge Park. Lovely idea. Only problem, they never asked surrounding homeowners in Allison Trails and Potter’s Woods if they wanted a gravel pit next door for the next decade. Prevailing winds from the northwest would aim dust and noise, and gravel trucks at both neighborhoods. Before even talking to neighbors, County Parks had already put up signs in the empty farm field heralding their done deal.


On September 14th, Beaver and Hamilton County Parks presented their plans, hosting a meeting for the neighborhoods at Potter’s Covered Bridge. It didn’t go well. What was to be a carefully managed rollout collapsed into a shouting match between angry residents on one side and a defensive Beaver and the County on the other. 


Now what? In old Hamilton County tradition, Beaver and the County are moving ahead intent upon forcing their will on these neighborhoods.


But the property needs a rezone and the elected officials who can give the green light to this horrifically communicated plan are the very same Noblesville officials who have been calling for communication. I don’t envy them. They’re all good people. I just hope they govern with their newly stated ethics front and center.


From my perspective, there are 3 ways to govern. You can represent, lead, or dictate. 


Before even announcing their plans, the County put
up a sign at the site of their proposed gravel pit lake
that read, "More Parks, More Fun." I was vandalized
last weekend and then removed.
Want to Represent? That’s admirable. Figure out what the public wants and give it to them. But don’t govern as if you know better than the public, even if you do. That’s dictating, not representing.


Willing to Lead? That’s tricky, but also admirable. You have an idea the public hasn’t considered. Be up front and get out front with your idea and educate and “Lead” the public through the wisdom of your vision, bringing them along with you. 


But if they don’t follow and you do it anyway, you’re dictating, not leading.


Or you can go low and just Dictate, which has been the politically inbred, one-party reflex of 

city and County governments for the 35 years 

I’ve lived here. We’ve all heard the excuse, “I was elected for 4 years to do what I think is best.” No you weren’t! We don’t elect kings. We elect Reprentatives and Leaders. In truth, dictating is fine when settling mundane affair. But if you’re changing the rules and the lay of the land for the entire community or for even just families in a few neighborhoods, you’d better be Leading or Representing.

Dictating is easy. Leading and Representing are hard. No wonder dictating often wins in a one party town. I so wish the County and Beaver Materials had Lead from the very beginning, involving the surrounding community in the planning process so that City leaders could Represent the public’s desires on a rezone. But old habits die hard. I honestly believe we have the people in place for fresh Noblesville government. They’ve been put in a tough position. 


Frankly, I’m neither for nor against the gravel pit lake. And I know my opinion isn’t as important as that of those who’ll live near it. 


Noblesville’s Plan Commission and City Council should vote no, for now. Not no on the gravel pit lake, but no for failed communication during the planning process. Send a firm statement that says, “That’s not how we do things here anymore.” Vote no now to tell Beaver and the County to start from scratch and include in their planning the Noblesville residents who will spend the next 10 years living beside the digging. If the plan survives, bring it back and vote on its actual merits.

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