As West Lafayette Eyes The Sky, Others Question Need For New High Rises

Mar 17, 2017

The University Lutheran Church atop West Lafayette's Chauncey Hill
Credit Sarah Fentem / WBAA

West Lafayette city councilors may be at odds with some of the city’s landlords on the issue of building several new high-rise apartment buildings in the city’s new downtown.

The latest development, a 16-story building slated for the top of West Lafayette’s Chauncey Hill, won’t be the tallest building in the community—that title still belongs to the county courthouse dome. However, it is tall enough to test Federal Aviation Administration rules for building height, because its roof will rise to a higher elevation than any other building.

The so-called “Rise at Chauncey," which will sit on the lot currently occupied by the University Lutheran Church, is one of three large-scale residential buildings in the works for West Lafayette. A ten-story high-rise is planned on Pierce Street behind Harry’s Chocolate Shop, and city officials alluded to yet another large-scale development in a city council meeting last week.

Council Member Nick DeBoer represents the area just south of Purdue’s campus—he’s been an ardent supporter of higher-density housing.

That’s the area where if you see a 1 percent vacancy rate, your marketing isn’t functioning correctly,” DeBoer says. “You’re going to have people who are either exploited by landlords or exploited in terms of their pocketbooks.”

Landlord John Basham owns and operates approximately 300 rental apartments in 49 buildings, mostly south of Chauncey Hill, where DeBoer has encouraged new development. He says he doesn’t see the necessity for thousands of new bedrooms in his neighborhood. But he thinks the owners of the 675-occupancy Rise development will be the ones that end up hurting, not his business.

“Unless there’s something I’m not seeing that President Mitch Daniels is going to increase the enrollment by 3,000 to 5,000 people, there’s a need. But there’s not a need. These developers come in from outside of the community, they do not give back.”

CA Ventures, a Chicago-based firm, is in charge of the Rise at Chauncey project.

Basham thinks the novelty for such buildings will quickly wear off.

“Why would a student want to live on the 16th floor and pay $1,100 to $1,200 dollars a month for a one-bedroom, when you could be down ground level or second floor and pay around 500?” he asks. “There’s only so many students that can pay that kind of money.”

Even though the rents in the new buildings are high, DeBoer says, more variety in the market will help push down what he says are skyrocketing rates for the neighborhood as a whole.

“You’re not going to be seeing these new buildings commanding less, but you’re going to see the rest of the rental market affected by the additional stock coming online,” he says.

The Fuse apartment building on Northwestern Avenue charges approximately $1,500 per month for a one-bedroom apartment. Rates at the new developments are expected to be in the same basic cost bracket.

Several residents have voiced concerns about the new high-rises, along with the changes to State Street, fundamentally altering the character of the university town.

DeBoer says the developers are working with the University Lutheran Church to preserve some of the church’s features, such as stained glass windows, and transfer them to the congregation’s future home near campus, in the building that also houses the Purdue Exponent.

The new development's ground floor is expected to host retail space, perhaps a  restaurant or grocery store.