The Village of West Clay, one of the Midwest's most celebrated experiments in New Urbanism, may be proof positive that commercial zones are easier to change than citizen comfort zones.

Brenwick Development, creator of the 686-acre traditional neighborhood development north of Indianapolis in the town of Carmel, recently announced that 100,000 square feet of office and retail space originally slated above street level in the town center will be relocated to the town's periphery at 131st Street and Towne Road. The move is intended to accommodate single-story commercial uses such as restaurants, pharmacies, gas stations, and drive-through banks. The upper-story spaces that remain in the town center—topping current tenants, including a small grocer, a salon, a dentist, an insurance agency, and a pet grooming center—will be recast for residential use as live/work units or condominiums.

Keith Lash, vice president of operations for Brenwick, describes the reallocation of commercial space as a defensive move in response to prolific development that has enveloped the New Urbanist enclave since its launch in 1999. The fear, Lash says, is that strip malls popping up adjacent to the village might lure small retailers to greener pastures with the promise of increased visibility.

“We didn't want outside development to affect what we were trying to achieve,” Lash says. “We figured if additional retail servicing was necessary, why not do it within the boundaries of the Village of West Clay? That way, it will be done in an architectural style that's compatible with the village, and the whole town wins.”

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