Map showing Evansville Promise Neighborhood census tracts. MaCabe Brown/Evansville Courier Press
Map showing Evansville Promise Neighborhood census tracts. MaCabe Brown/Evansville Courier Press
EVANSVILLE — Most of the city council wants to see fewer liquor stores, gas stations and storage spaces built in areas of town designated the Evansville Promise Neighborhood.

But the decision wasn't without its conflict among the councilors and public. One city councilor worried about government overreach, and a local attorney said it would "chill" development to pass a resolution disfavoring certain builds.

But ultimately the resolution did pass, with a vote of 5-2.

Democrats Ben Trockman, First Ward, Alex Burton, Fourth Ward, Jim Brinkmeyer, Sixth Ward, Kaitlin Moore, At-Large and Zac Heronemus, Third Ward, voted in favor. Republicans Angela Koehler Lindsey, Fifth Ward, and Jonathan Weaver, At-Large, dissented.

Missy Mosby, D-Second Ward, and Ron Beane, R-At-Large, were absent from the meeting.

"The Common Council of Evansville desires to express a policy preference that protects the urban core from unwanted proliferation of certain uses such as tobacco stores, liquor stores, gas stations and storage spaces," the resolution reads, "but still encourages economic development that benefits surrounding residential neighbors."

Important language to note in the resolution is the use of "policy preference." Since this was passed as a resolution it is not creating an official rule, but instead making it clear to potential developers what might be seen as a "disfavored" use when they bring a project to the city.

Census Business Builder

What is the Promise Neighborhood?

In Evansville, the Promise Neighborhood is bound by Census tracts, and includes six different Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation schools.

The schools are:

  • Evans Elementary
  • Delaware Elementary
  • Lincoln School
  • Bosse High School
  • Lodge Community School
  • Glenwood Leadership Academy

Promise Neighborhoods is a $30 million federal grant program available through the U.S. Department of Education.

According to the University of Evansville, which received the grant, specific results expected from the program include: "kindergarten readiness, proficiency in core academic subjects, successful transitions from middle to high school, high school graduation, postsecondary education/credential attainment, health and safety, stable communities, family engagement, and access to 21st century learning tools."

The aim of the city council resolution hits at least one of those goals as it hopes to strengthen public health and safety.

But there was some confusion during the Nov. 13 city council meeting about how the University of Evansville felt about the resolution in connection to the Promise Neighborhood.

Ted O'Connell, director of Jacobsville Development, said he had talked with the director of the Promise Neighborhood who said they were unaware of the resolution and worried about its impact on grant funding.

Despite the passed along concern, no one from the University of Evansville was present at the meeting.

Koehler Lindsey suggested they table the discussion until UE was present to discuss the resolution.

The Courier & Press reached out to the director, Derek McKillop, to ask directly about the statements made during city council. The email was forwarded on to UE's communications officer Noah Alatza who sent a statement in response.

"The Evansville Promise Neighborhood is a geographical area of publicly available census tracts, and we were not involved in the drafting of the proposal."

Burton said the resolution would not get in the way of the Promise Neighborhood at all.

The Fourth Ward rep said every town hall he's attended he hears questions on why there are so many gas stations and dollar stores popping up.

The urban core needs more development than the items mentioned in the resolution. Burton said.

"Smart development and healthy development doesn't mean anti-development," he said.

Burton said cities all around the country are facing this issue in their urban core of too many gas stations, and this resolutions sends a strong message of what development should and could look like here.

This prompted a response from Weaver who said some of the gas stations in those areas are "the nicest place to be."

Weaver noted some of the gas stations on Heidelbach before mentioning the one located at Lodge and Riverside.

"Beautiful gas station," he said.

That's a beautiful gas station? That's a beautiful gas station," Burton responded. "Interesting."

That gas station, while only built in 2021, was the site of double homicide in Aug. 2022. It is directly across the street from Lodge Elementary School, one of the Promise Neighborhood schools.

Developer concerns

Local attorney Krista Lockyear and client Brian Hutchinson, with Melmar Properties, both spoke to city council about concerns around the tone of the resolution.

Lockyear said the intent was wonderful, but there was concern over it being written in the negative and not in the positive.

"It's potentially got a really bad chill effect on development, as drafted," she said.

She suggested a change in tone, encouraging residential rather than what the city doesn't want. Lockyear said she wasn't there to speak in favor of liquor stores and smoke shops, but the outside storage element was a concern.

Builds like a home improvement store or garden center might require outside storage, she said, something discouraged by the resolution. But the city would have the ability to still approve a project that falls under one of these uses if the council agreed it was the right project.

Lockyear felt that was an issue too.

She developers will go to the area plan commission, the step before city council on new projects, and hear that council doesn't want these types of project. Even though they could still approve it at their own meeting.

"I think you're putting yourself in a position to be talking out of both sides of your mouth, which is probably not what council wants to do," she said.

Burton said this resolution is a step forward, not the final piece of this discussion. His hope is there will still be an ordinance approved within the next year that puts guidance in place for years to come.

"I understand you saying this is negative," he said. "But for the Fourth Ward and the entire Promise Neighborhood, I really think this is a step forward in the right direction."

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