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Adams: Is Indy Rezone long overdue or cutting edge?

March 26, 2014
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Indiana Lawyer Focus

By David A. Adams

Unless you are a land use lawyer, you may not know that there are some very interesting things happening with Indianapolis’ city zoning ordinance and associated development regulations. For those of you who dabble in the real estate practice, you may be aware that among real estate practitioners, you often come across other attorneys and real estate professionals whose practice is nearly dedicated to “land use” or the zoning practice. Others (like me) deal more on the transactional side of real estate and are more than happy to get my partner down the hall to assist in getting a project through the zoning process. With that background in mind, I recently had the privilege of hearing from some of those individuals at the “Indy Rezone” project who are primarily spearheading the city of Indianapolis’ effort to transform and update the city’s zoning ordinance and development regulations.

adams-david.jpg Adams
The problem

According to the Indy Rezone website (www.indyrezone.org), due to the city’s expansive boundaries and diversity of uses within those boundaries, the city’s zoning ordinance is long overdue for an update:

“Today, the City’s jurisdiction encompasses over 400 square miles comprised of a myriad of development patterns ranging from agriculture, recently developed residential subdivisions, commercial areas that are decidedly suburban in character, and the original commercial nodes the heart of the City created during the streetcar era. This diverse array of communities was, and still is, regulated by a one-size-fits-all set of zoning and building ordinances and regulations. The City’s current practice of administering and enforcing a single use pattern of development is auto-centric. As a result, the City is hindered in its ability to create livable, sustainable places of lasting value.”

Indianapolis has changed drastically over the years, but its zoning ordinance and development standards have not been able to keep up.

Categories of permissible uses

Indy Rezone is introducing a new set of permitted-use tables, which will present a broader categorization of uses and will allow the city to better respond to new types of businesses and industries. The city is also including a new category of uses known as the “V” category, in an effort to help the city address its issues with long-term vacancies. For example, after a certain number of years of being vacant, a new set of permissible uses would open up for that property. Now the devil is in the details, correct? In other words, what does it mean to be “vacant?” Is that classification not available to me if my building is only occupied for a short period of time within that period? The new ordinance will also purportedly include new mixed-use categories, which may allow for different types of uses within the same zoning district.

Transit emphasis corridors

Portions of the new zoning ordinance allow for the accommodation of rail or additional bus lines and mass transit; this has been an ongoing issue that the city has struggled with for some time. The new zoning ordinance seeks flexibility to allow necessary changes that come with updates to the mass-transit movement. For example, new mixed-use zoning districts may be located at future transit stations, whether for light rail or bus service. These mixed-use districts might even restrict the amount of parking to further encourage transit-oriented development.

The green factor

The popularity of “green” or sustainable development is not a new concept and, though focus on those efforts have waned a bit over the years, it still remains a guiding principal in many developments. I also understand that one of the components of the new zoning ordinance will be to, in a sense, reward project owners for the use of “green” or sustainable practices in their developments by allowing for “double-dipping” of credits for landscaping and storm-water development standards.

Seeking consistency

Some of the more general, albeit necessary, revisions to the ordinance include the consolidation of definitions so that there is consistency throughout the ordinance (for example, those related to parking spaces, including how parking ratios are to be measured).

Conclusion

From the experienced land use practitioner’s perspective, these changes may seem long overdue. In fact, other cities across Indiana have already addressed some of these issues in their zoning ordinances. In that sense, Indianapolis may be playing catch up. That said, I think we can all appreciate the effort that has gone into this project and the time and commitment of people and resources to roll it out and educate the public about its goals and intended effects.

Indy Rezone is by no means finished with its project, but is in the process of completing the draft of the new ordinance that will be ready for “prime time” (public comment, including feedback from bar association and practicing attorneys in this area) in the near future. This will be followed by an educational period, which will give experienced land use professionals and novices alike an opportunity to further appreciate and refine these efforts. More information about this project can be found at www.indyrezone.org.

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David A. Adams is a partner in the economic development practice group of the Indianapolis office of Bingham Greenebaum Doll LLP. His practice focuses largely on commercial real estate development, finance, investment, acquisitions, sales and leasing. He also represents both lenders and borrowers in different types of secured financing transactions. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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  1. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

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  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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