NEW ALBANY — A neighbor of Summit Springs in New Albany is worried that the developer is overstepping boundaries by working in an area of the project that hasn’t received city approval, but the project’s team says that they’re doing everything according to plan.
Summit Springs IN LLC was sent a cease-and-desist letter from New Albany’s plan commission director Scott Wood after workers began clearing trees in April for a new water line that will connect to a hotel.
The hotel is in the first phase of the project, which has already been approved by the city, but the tree removal occurred in a second phase area of the project, which has yet to gain city approval. As a whole, the 60-acre-plus development will contain restaurants, medical/office buildings and a 14-story residential tower.
The letter called for the halting of "all construction activities" in the phase two area.
David Ruckman, the surveyor working on the Summit Springs project, said that Wood verbally rescinded the cease-and-desist letter the day after Summit Springs IN LLC received it. Ruckman said he called Wood and explained that the tree clearings were for a part of the project in phase one.
Work on the water line resumed as early as April 18, when the subject was discussed at a New Albany Board of Works & Public Safety meeting. But it was on Wednesday, less than 24 hours after the New Albany Plan Commission tabled the developer’s phase two application at a meeting, that neighbors noticed that Summit Springs IN LLC was removing trees cut down in April in the phase two area. The developer was moving around trees to stockpile excess dirt from the phase one area, said Ruckman.
Wood, who initially directed the News and Tribune to Mike Hall, New Albany's director of City Operations, for comment, later said there is no written document rescinding the cease-and-desist letter.
Fawcett Hill resident Aaron Hellems saw the tree clearing occurring Wednesday and contacted Wood, who told him the cease-and-desist letter was still in effect. Wood confirmed this.
Still, Hall stated in an email late Wednesday that the city was unaware of any violations by the Summit Springs developers.
In response to neighbor concerns, construction crews for Summit Springs IN LLC have stopped work in the phase two area anyway, Ruckman said. Construction crews are now stockpiling dirt in the phase one project area. Work should is on hold until developers get through plan commission hearings.
Hall's email also stipulated that the city is not the property owner or developer of Summit Springs, and it said that Wood would be meeting on Thursday with "all parties" involved. Both Hellems and Ruckman said on Thursday that they were not planning to meet with Wood that day. Ruckman did say that he expects to meet with the city and neighbors as the application process for phase two of Summit Springs continues.
Plan commission and board of works members were unable to shed light on the situation. New Albany City Attorney Shane Gibson also did not return a call and email for comment.
The developer started looking toward phase two so that they could get approval to extend Daisy Summit Road, which currently connects the Summit Springs development to Daisy Lane and State Street. Daisy Summit Road's path will determine the course of the water line, Ruckman said.
The water line is necessary for the opening of the Fairfield Inn & Suites in phase one of the project, which developers hope to have ready for visitors by Christmas. The new water line will also help ensure adequate water pressure for the development and for the neighborhood.
Hellems said that Summit Springs IN LLC's actions were part of a pattern of attempting to speed up the development process without going through the proper channels. He pointed to a situation in April 2016 when Wood gave Summit Springs developers permission to cut down trees without obtaining secondary approval. Wood said he was trying to help the developers meet a deadline to cut down the trees before Indiana bats made their home in them.