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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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