Opinion and Editorials

EDITORIAL: Another Indy building block

May 17, 2014

There’s little glamour in the tedious work of streamlining and rewriting a grossly outdated zoning code.

But the team led by principal planner Tammara Tracy has done an admirable and important job of shepherding the first comprehensive overhaul in 40 years for rules governing commercial and residential development in Marion County. (See story, page 1A.)

The last time such an effort was undertaken, back in 1969, the resulting rules paid tribute to the car. The one-size-fits-all approach favored large parking lots; retail buildings set back from roads; and sprawling, inefficient housing developments.

The proposed rules—almost two years in the making—pay tribute to sustainability, density and mass transit.

Highlights include allowances for smaller setbacks and fewer required parking spaces for projects in urban areas, more zoning flexibility for buildings that have been vacant for five or more years, and more requirements for green elements. The plan creates zoning categories for compact villages and high-density, transit-oriented development nodes.

The $2 million Indy Rezone effort, paid for in large part by a federal grant, puts all the city’s zoning regulations under one cover—albeit one that stretches to 656 pages. It was developed with input from a wide variety of constituencies ranging from neighborhood groups to elected officials to developers.

The city plans to unveil the full plan and host an open house in June. No doubt, the details will be nitpicked. But no one can credibly question the need for a dramatic rethink of the city’s approach to development to reflect changing demographics, live/work tastes and the more simple reality that broad tracts of developable land are now scarce.

Our elected officials must summon the intestinal fortitude to follow through on the panel’s recommendations and take the next steps, including redrawing the zoning map and tackling sign and billboard regulations.

The zoo’s bold bet

The $26 million Simon Skjodt International Orangutan Center should be a huge draw for the Indianapolis Zoo and the city.

The stunning new attraction—which houses eight of the highly social and endangered primates—was an audacious undertaking. We applaud the zoo for tackling a project that’s both mission-driven and bottom-line friendly.

On the conservation front, the center offers capacity for up to 16 apes and an educational opportunity that should raise awareness about threats to the habitat of wild orangutans, particularly the production of palm oil.

It’s also an audience-friendly attraction. These are animals that grew up in other zoos and the entertainment industry, so the zoo eschewed the idea of building a faux rain forest. One of the orangutans, Rocky, appeared in a Capitol One commercial and a photo shoot with Fergie for Elle magazine.

The zoo expects a 25-percent increase in attendance on the heels of its new residents, which will also help drive revenue from a stand-alone souvenir shop. The center opens to the public May 24.•

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