(This piece was originally published on July 6, 2017 in NUVO.)

Here is a recent story to show that individuals can speak up and make a difference in their local communities.

I received this message from the Publisher of Natural Awakenings Indy a few weeks ago:

Hi Renee,

I’m reaching out to you because of a situation that’s arisen in my back yard (literally). In Fishers, there is a proposal for a large church to buy a golf driving range to build a new church. Within their plans, they estimate 75% of the greenspace would become hard surface/building area. They literally want to pave paradise and put up a parking lot!

A small group of us have come together in hopes of preserving the greenspace. We’re hopeful you, and maybe HEC, can help guide and support us through a process that we are unfamiliar with – the workings of city government and how individuals can challenge a large organization. 

Can you help us navigate and present our case in a persuasive and organized fashion?

Teona

Hi Teona,

I’m sorry you are in this position. It is a lot to process to figure out a strategic approach. I asked Hoosier Environmental Council’s Executive Director, Jesse, for advice. He offered a few questions that might help refine your approach.

Does the potential conversion of space pose threats to:

  1. any state or federally endangered species?
  2. groundwater quality in the area?
  3. any rare ecosystem?
  4. the nearest stream?
  5. any historic property?

Any such concrete information might allow one or more environmental groups in the region to voice concerns to the Plan Commission.

You might also consult other resources in the area, like Carmel Green Initiative or Indianapolis Neighborhood Resource Group.

The most important thing is that you speak up because so many people don’t. But if you raise concern – and get the word out – you’ll likely find that many others feel the same way you do. Good luck in your efforts!

Piece out,

Renee

Teona and her comrades focused much of their opposition on the key elements that would carry the most weight with the City Council: The City’s 2040 plan outlines preservation of land and park areas, along with the value of neighborhoods. They took the following actions (along with many emails and discussions along the way):

  1. Involve the media: the group wrote letters to the Editor and were able to get the local newspaper to do a story.
  1. Create a petition: they were able to show that opposition was much larger than their core group through a petition.
  1. Write letters: the group wrote letters to their elected officials to share their concerns and encourage an alternative solution.
  1. Be present: they also attended a planning commission meeting to voice their opposition.
  1. Ask for help: I’m grateful that you emailed me and hope the info I shared was helpful in some way.

And their efforts paid off! Because of this group’s quick and respectful approach, the church is now seeking a different location that is more appropriate for their construction.

Teona’s take-away that she’d like to share with others who want to speak up about an issue: “Being proactive with a positive, solution-oriented mindset helped set the tone for our opposition.”

Piece out,

Renee

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