Hearing on zoning variance is June 5
By B. Scott Mohr
“It’s not a good fit.”
That was the overwhelming consensus of nearly 125 people who showed up at the Perry Township Government Center on April 23 to voice their disapproval of CSL Plasma opening a branch at the southwest corner of Madison Avenue and Southport Road.
The town hall meeting commenced with Sonya L. Williams, CSL’s senior manager of corporate communications and community relations, presenting an overview of the company and how it would benefit the community.
But it was clear that the somewhat hostile audience felt she was telling a sugar-coated story about the company, which is based in Boca Raton, Fla., and operates 90 facilities across the United States.
Even though Williams stressed that the center would bring good jobs to the area while annually pumping $2 million to $3 million into the local economy through the money it pays to donors – and a similar amount through its wages – the crowd wasn’t interested in her tale.
Robin Heldman, whose Direct Connect Printing & Digital Services business at Hanna and Madison avenues is located in the same strip mall as another plasma center, said she has not reaped any financial benefits from being in close proximity of the facility. Heldman has seen the donors walking to and from the center and calls them “undesirables. I haven’t gotten any of their business, and I wouldn’t want them in my shop.”
Williams, who boasted that the center would partner well with the community though through its numerous charitable programs, said most people are misinformed about donors and have stereotypical views of them. People who donate are some of the healthiest people around. And they feel good about themselves because they know they are helping others.”
Donors, who undergo a strict screening and can donate twice a week, are paid $20 to $35 a visit and receive their money via a prepaid debit card. The process takes about 90 minutes. The proteins and clotting factors contained in plasma can be used to make medicines that help to save lives of hemophiliacs, trauma and burn patients and those with immune deficiencies and other blood orders.
When it was time for the question and answer session, Williams got peppered pretty good, but she maintained her polite Southern (Knoxville, Tenn.) demeanor.
Tracey Held, who owns Bella Dog Bakery & Biscuit Co. at 7220 Madison Avenue, is concerned about how the center would change the community. “I used to have close contact with the center in Irvington, and it has changed the dynamics of that neighborhood. I am concerned about your background checks and looking for needle marks on donors. Are these the type of people who will be hanging around the center?” she wanted to know, especially since Homecroft Elementary is nearby.
Perry Township Schools Superintendent Thomas Little and Homecroft Principal Jody Matthews, who said he can see the building from the edge of his school’s property, are concerned about the children’s safety and the well-being of the community.
When people are turned away from the center because they fail their background check, will they be angry? Matthews asked. “Where are they going to go?” he asked.
Nancy Simon echoed those sentiments in a letter she was circulating. “I am concerned that transients with drug habits will be loitering around the businesses I frequent: drug store, bank, dog bakery, cleaners and the restaurants. As an older adult, I would feel less secure in venturing out in the area with hundreds of plasma donors milling around waiting for their donation times or waiting on rides,” she wrote.
The center, which would be housed through expanding the old Advance Auto Parts store – if rezoned C-4 – would hire 25 employees, including phlebotomists, nurses and doctors to start; that number would grow to 60 by the third year.
“These are good-paying goods,” said Williams, “and our donors are not transients.”
Since the center would eventually be open seven days a week while seeing an average of 200 donors daily, some of the attendees voiced their concerns about the added traffic.
But congestion shouldn’t be an issue because Southport Road will be widened in the future, said Don Tharp, who owns the land and would enlarge and renovate the building.
“CSL Plasma would make a major investment in the area,” said Tharp. “The community is missing out on a heck of an opportunity. The window for an opportunity like this might not open again. Everything I build is class. I don’t do things in a sloppy manner. I have built and managed 5 million square feet of property.” He renovated the CSL center in Irvington and noted that he hasn’t experienced any trouble out of the ordinary there. Off-duty police officers are on the premises, but only because the facility is so busy, he said.
Tharp pointed out that he heard a lot of misconceptions about donors during the meeting and sensed that the remonstrators felt they are better than everybody else. When recently dining at Smokey Bones, he discovered that his waitress, a student at the University of Indianapolis, donated plasma at the center located in the 3900 block of Madison. “Sometimes people get short on cash and they need to donate.”
Eric Harvey, Tharp’s attorney, said they aren’t trying to push the center down anyone’s throat. “We will go back to meet with Jack Sandlin (a City-County councilor) and State Rep. David Frizzell. “I don’t think the community realizes that there are other facilities along Madison that are already zoned C-4. We could go into one of them without anyone saying anything. There are good plasma centers, and there are bad ones; we are a good one.”
The petition will be heard June 5 by the Department of Metropolitan Development, which will make a favorable or unfavorable recommendation to the Board of Zoning Appeals.
“We are building a case on why the center is not a good fit for the community,” said Joan Miller, president of the Greater Southside Business Alliance. “Our findings are based on fact, not emotion.”
Kent John, who owns Closet Space Toys in the 6000 block of Madison, wonders where all the uproar was when pawn shops, tattoo salons and check cashing centers were going up on every corner. “What happens if the petition is defeated? We will still have an empty building,” one that’s been that way for about three years.
Miller agrees that the community didn’t get fired up when the pawn and tattoo shops went in, but that’s because those businesses don’t impact the area the way a plasma facility will.
In response to concerns about the business hurting property values, Williams commented, “Our center will not bring down property values; empty buildings do that.”