Council can't discuss Flanders
Published: December 7, 2012
AFTER BEING told they could
not even discuss the possibility of leasing Flanders Mansion
until the latest version of the environmental impact report on
the future of the historic house is finished next year, Carmel
City Council members unanimously voted Tuesday to authorize city
administrator Jason Stilwell to seek expert advice about what to
do with a property that’s been the center of debate for four
The discussion arose at the Dec. 4 meeting after council
members fielded several proposals in closed sessions earlier
this year from people expressing interest in leasing the
historic Tudor-style mansion and renovating it themselves —
either because they think they could deduct the renovation costs
from their income taxes, or because they would live in the house
For most of the past decade, the council has focused on trying
to sell the house — an action supported by a strong majority of
voters in November 2009 — but the effort has been stymied
by two lawsuits filed by the Flanders Foundation.
At the meeting, city attorney Don Freeman cautioned the council against discussing the merits of a lease vs. a sale until after the final environmental impact report has been certified. According to a timeline submitted by consultant Denise Duffy & Associates and approved by the council Tuesday, members will receive the EIR in January 2013 and take action on it the following month.
“This evening, what the agenda item talks about is having the
city council authorize the city administrator to retain the
services of a real estate professional in terms of potentially
leasing Flanders Mansion, but because the EIR has not been
certified by the city council, we want to be careful about
getting ahead of ourselves,” Freeman said. “We don’t want any
discussion or decision if it should be a lease, a sale or
something else. The city is prohibited from making any decision
until the final EIR has been given to you.”
Nonetheless, some members of the public couldn’t resist sharing
their opinions, including Carmel Woods resident Joyce Stevens,
who said she supports a curatorship agreement in which someone
would live in the mansion and fix it on his own dime before
returning it to the city.
“The lease option would solve the problem,” she said. “I’m
appreciative that this council is interested in pursuing more
creative ways of solving the vexing problem of Flanders
Hatton Road resident Skip Lloyd warned the city to take its
time in soliciting lease proposals so that it would have a
better chance of fielding feasible options, and Carmel Residents
Association board member Dick Stiles pointed out the city would
not have to pay for another election if the council decided to
lease out the mansion rather than sell it.
Flanders Foundation President Melanie Billig said she was also
looking forward to the discussion of a curatorship. She
questioned Duffy’s proposed timeframe, however, suggesting it
would take longer for city officials to digest the information
in the EIR and make decisions regarding its comprehensiveness
Billig also praised the council for being open to a lease.
“This takes this off a negative route and puts it on a more
positive route, thanks to all of you,” she said.
Robert Knight, however, pointed out the amount of time and
energy that have gone into the Flanders Mansion issue. Mission
Trail park is more important than the mansion, so selling the
house would make more sense, he said, while leasing it would
saddle the city with the duties of a landlord and not lead to
permanent resolution of the debate. Instead, city officials
would have to police the tenants and find new occupants if the
first lessees didn’t work out.
“If you lease it, it could be fraught with all sorts of
questions,” he said, adding that voters resoundingly favored
Mayor Jason Burnett reiterated the only question to be answered
that night was whether Stilwell should be asked to hire a real
estate professional to get started on investigating lease
options, so that if the council decides to go that route, the
research would already be under way.
“All it would be is a real estate professional working with the
city administrator in the event you may wish to lease the
property,” Freeman agreed.
But councilwoman Victoria Beach questioned whether the
consultant should be a real estate professional or a historian,
and she said the person should not be in a position to gain
financially if the city went with his recommendations.
Councilman Steve Hillyard said the consultant should be an
attorney or someone who would evaluate the finances of all
options to help the council make its decision.
“We need the financial information, because we can’t just give
this property away,” he said.
“I want to talk about how Jason Stilwell is going to select
that person and what that type of person should be,” Beach said.
Ultimately, Burnett suggested two experts: one in real estate
and the other in finances, and the council unanimously voted to
authorize Stilwell to assist the council in the Flanders debate
by soliciting such help.
After trying and failing to orally articulate a motion in a way
that was clear to the council and assistant city administrator
Heidi Burch, perhaps in part because the meeting had already
passed the four-hour mark, Burnett took a few minutes to clearly
articulate his thinking in writing.
“First, we need financial expertise to compare lease vs. sale
vs. other disposition and within one form of disposition,’ such
as lease 1 vs. lease 2, he wrote. “Second, we need a real-estate
professional who has experience with leases, especially of
historic properties, who can help advise us on options.”
The real-estate advisor would be paid by a consulting contract
but might eventually be hired to put Flanders on the market for
“We authorize the city administrator to pursue whatever process
he sees fit for ensuring the council has the information we need
to make an informed decision at the appropriate time in the
future,” Burnett concluded, and the rest of the council agreed
with his motion.