Court documents allege secret plans between Charlestown official - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Court documents allege secret plans between Charlestown officials and private developer to demolish Pleasant Ridge

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CHARLESTOWN, Ind. (WDRB) -- New court documents allege secret plans to demolish a low-income neighborhood were discussed between the city of Charlestown, Indiana, and a private developer.

The Institute for Justice claims court documents detail a plan by Charlestown officials and a private developer to drive down home prices.

“We're not surprised,” said Josh Craven, President of the Pleasant Ridge Home Owners Association.

The documents allege the developer purchased the homes and boarded them up in an effort to reduce the cost of homes in Pleasant Ridge using eminent domain.

“We’ve been saying for three years now that the city has been in cahoots, so to speak, with a specific private developer,” Craven said.

That private developer is John Neace of Neace Ventures. In an email exchange between Neace and his project manager John Hampton, Hampton lays out a plan discussed by Mayor Bob Hall and city attorney Michael Gillenwater.

"Bob says for all of this to work properly for the condemnation of homes we need to remain independent of the city as we are right now considered a private developer with no contractual relationship with the city which is 100% factual,” the email reads.

The Institute for Justice said despite looking publicly independent, they had a very close relationship behind the scenes.

City attorney Michael Gillenwater said otherwise.

“Why is the Institute for Justice saying this? Because that's what they know how to fight," Gillenwater said. "And they have made a lot of allegations against the city, mostly based on speculation. And I can tell you that because I've taken depositions of every single plaintiff."

“The evidence is blatantly right there in front of people to look at," Craven said. "I think it's crazy they would try to deny it. But then it also doesn't shock me."

That same email also discusses protection in case of any lawsuits.

"Once a development plan has received final approval, we will become the approved developer, and we would be able to enter into an indemnification agreement," the email reads between Neace and Hampton.

The documents reveal a city employee sent a proposal to Neace for asbestos inspections. Text messages also discussed an attempt to influence news coverage.

The developer did not return our messages Wednesday night. A hearing challenging the city's alleged illegal inspection program is set for Friday morning.

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