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Neighbors upset after acres of woods cut down on Indy’s west side

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Some neighbors on the west side of Indianapolis are upset after around six acres of woods with trees over 100 years old were cut down. The owner of the land said it is private property and he has the right to do it. 

“I just had to watch all of the trees be carried up and carried out and I was in tears,” said Angie Hill.

It’s hard for Hill to look out at what was once a flourishing forest next to her home. Now, the property in the 7400 block of W. 34th St. in Indianapolis near Eagle Creek, is barren.

“So the new owner brought loggers in and actually clear cut the whole six acres,” said Hill.

It was a shock to Will Kassebaum, who lives nearby, too. His family has lived in the area since the 1950s. 

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“Horrifying to us who have been trying to protect this forest,” said Kassebaum. “It’s like losing an old friend.”

The homeowner’s association is also stunned. Glen Fuller is the president of the Historic Eagle Creek Preservation Association. News 8 checked the city’s website, and it is the HOA registered with Indianapolis for this address, however, landowners do not pay any fees to the HOA. Fuller said he should have been notified of a proposal before any work was done.

“Clear cut basically the heart of mature woods which residents have protected for almost 200 years,” said Fuller.

The land is zoned PK-2, Park District Two in Marion County/Indianapolis, which is a park-like setting with residential housing. Neighbors said the zoning carries certain restrictions on development unless approved by the city.

“Any attempt to modify the property, or build on the property, or that sort of thing, should require Metropolitan Planning Commission approval,” said Kassebaum.

News 8 reached out to the city to see if that happened. Matt Pleasant is the administrator of Current Planning, at the planning division for the Department of Metropolitan Development for the city of Indianapolis. He said that his office was not notified of any plans to develop the property. While they might have approved the action, no permits were ever requested.

“There was nothing filed with my office at DMD. And from my understanding, he did not file on time for the Business and Neighborhood Services, BNS. So this gentleman had, you’re right, had gone through and started to cut down trees and that was not permitted whatsoever,” said Pleasant.

Pleasant said no site development plans or drainage permits were filed with the city. According to neighbors, the tree removal all happened in a matter of days in early November. By the time a stop order citing a failure to obtain a drainage permit was put in place, the trees were already gone.

Courtesy the city of Indianapolis

“The best plan is remediation. But you can’t plant a 400-year-old tree. Let alone a whole forest,” said Hill.

The landowner is Rico Elmore. After multiple requests to do an interview on the subject, both he and his attorney declined to talk on camera with News 8. However, a letter from his attorney said in part, “Mr. Elmore is willing to comply with valid legal obligations, however, to this point it remains unclear from the city of Indianapolis whether he had to obtain a permit for tree removal.”

The letter suggested that the Historic Eagle Creek Preservation Association is simply a watchdog group with no authority, whose members trespassed on Elmore’s property. Elmore told News 8 off-camera that the land is private property and he is simply trying to build a house and a pole barn for his daughter. He showed News 8 the property deed and it appeared no HOA is listed.

Still, the city said the actions did not follow the necessary protocols. 

“If the gentleman who cut down the trees owns the property and wants to develop anything on that property, he will need to get a site plan and development plan approved by the Metropolitan Development Commission,” said Pleasant.

Now a big concern for the city is the potential loss of heritage trees. Heritage trees are certain breeds of trees that are more than 18 inches in width at chest height and according to the city, can’t be cut down without permission.

“We find these heritage trees to be extremely beneficial and we desperately want them to stay in our community,” said Pleasant.

For every heritage tree removed the city requires eight more to be planted in their place. It is not clear if any were removed in this process. The city said they will now have an arborist evaluate the property. There could be repercussions for the landowner, however, it is not clear what that might look like.

Now neighbors, such as Hill, are left with the loss and are wondering what’s next.

“I understood there could be some kind of improvement go in, but not like this, not like a whole clear-cutting of a forest,” said Hill.

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