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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. This law is troubling in two respects: First, why wasn't the law reviewed "with the intention of getting all the facts surrounding the legislation and its actual impact on the marketplace" BEFORE it was passed and signed? Seems a bit backwards to me (even acknowledging that this is the Indiana state legislature we're talking about. Second, what is it with the laws in this state that seem to create artificial monopolies in various industries? Besides this one, the other law that comes to mind is the legislation that governed the granting of licenses to firms that wanted to set up craft distilleries. The licensing was limited to only those entities that were already in the craft beer brewing business. Republicans in this state talk a big game when it comes to being "business friendly". They're friendly alright . . . to certain businesses.

  2. Gretchen, Asia, Roberto, Tonia, Shannon, Cheri, Nicholas, Sondra, Carey, Laura ... my heart breaks for you, reaching out in a forum in which you are ignored by a professional suffering through both compassion fatigue and the love of filthy lucre. Most if not all of you seek a warm blooded Hoosier attorney unafraid to take on the government and plead that government officials have acted unconstitutionally to try to save a family and/or rescue children in need and/or press individual rights against the Leviathan state. I know an attorney from Kansas who has taken such cases across the country, arguing before half of the federal courts of appeal and presenting cases to the US S.Ct. numerous times seeking cert. Unfortunately, due to his zeal for the constitutional rights of peasants and willingness to confront powerful government bureaucrats seemingly violating the same ... he was denied character and fitness certification to join the Indiana bar, even after he was cleared to sit for, and passed, both the bar exam and ethics exam. And was even admitted to the Indiana federal bar! NOW KNOW THIS .... you will face headwinds and difficulties in locating a zealously motivated Hoosier attorney to face off against powerful government agents who violate the constitution, for those who do so tend to end up as marginalized as Paul Odgen, who was driven from the profession. So beware, many are mere expensive lapdogs, the kind of breed who will gladly take a large retainer, but then fail to press against the status quo and powers that be when told to heel to. It is a common belief among some in Indiana that those attorneys who truly fight the power and rigorously confront corruption often end up, actually or metaphorically, in real life or at least as to their careers, as dead as the late, great Gary Welch. All of that said, I wish you the very best in finding a Hoosier attorney with a fighting spirit to press your rights as far as you can, for you do have rights against government actors, no matter what said actors may tell you otherwise. Attorneys outside the elitist camp are often better fighters that those owing the powers that be for their salaries, corner offices and end of year bonuses. So do not be afraid to retain a green horn or unconnected lawyer, many of them are fine men and woman who are yet untainted by the "unique" Hoosier system.

  3. I am not the John below. He is a journalist and talk show host who knows me through my years working in Kansas government. I did no ask John to post the note below ...

  4. "...not those committed in the heat of an argument." If I ever see a man physically abusing a woman or a child and I'm close enough to intercede I will not ask him why he is abusing her/him. I will give him a split second to cease his attack and put his hands in the air while I call the police. If he continues, I will still call the police but to report, "Man down with a gunshot wound,"instead.

  5. And so the therapeutic state is weaonized. How soon until those with ideologies opposing the elite are disarmed in the name of mental health? If it can start anywhere it can start in the hoosiers' slavishly politically correct capital city.

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