Rezone should aid commercial developers, ease parking pinch

May 22, 2014
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A proposed overhaul of the Indianapolis zoning code should make life a lot easier for commercial developers.

Rezone Indy parking 225pxAs IBJ reporter Kathleen McLaughlin reported in the May 17 print edition, city planners are preparing to unveil Indy Rezone to the public June 10 at the Central Library.

It’s the first comprehensive revision since 1969 and is meant to wean the city off of the suburban-style, cookie-cutter designs the current code encourages. Often, developers are forced to spend a lot of time and money obtaining variances to skirt the regulations.

Among the proposals most likely to have the biggest impact on developers: eliminating the minimum 70-foot front setback in commercial districts; scaling back the number of parking spaces required; and creating mixed-use districts to accommodate the growing number of developments combining residential with retail.

“They’re trying to streamline the process and make it easier,” said Joe Whitsett, president of TWG Development LLC, about the city’s efforts. “Getting those variances is not difficult, but you still have to go through it and you still have to pay for it.”

No minimum setback is required in downtown's central business district. But, say, in the Lafayette Square area, where plans are under way to make it a cultural district, the minimum setback might be cut in half, to 35 feet, said Tammara Tracy, the Department of Metropolitan Development’s principal planner.

Parking is another issue in which variances are routinely granted, typically for projects that simply don’t need as many spaces as required. Under the new proposal, the requirement would go from one space for every four seats in a restaurant to one space for every five seats.

For general retail projects, one parking space would be needed per 350 square feet instead of the current 285-square-foot requirement. And for commercial spaces smaller than 5,000 square feet, no spaces would be necessary, Tracy said.

More broadly, the proposed code contains four new mixed-use zones enabling developers to avoid requesting a variance or rezoning for what basically amounts to a commercial planned unit development designation, she said.

“It makes it easier for them,” Tracy said. “That’s our objective.”

Indy Rezone is the result of nearly two years of work, made possible by a $1.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.


  • ???
    "Under the new proposal, the requirement would go from one space for every four seats in a restaurant to one space for every five seats." This is still a joke. Parking requirements need to be completely eliminated. If a business doesn't feel like they need parking, don't force it on them.
    • A Joke
      " Under the new proposal, the requirement would go from one space for every four seats in a restaurant to one space for every five seats." OMG, this whole project is a joke and a half. There has been zero leadership out of DMD in the past 20 years, and it continues. I can NOT believe how badly this was carried out.
    • Less parking downtown REALLY????
      I wish this was a joke... I mean Look at the picture which highlights too little parking in an article about making it easier for developers to have even less parking. I hope a lot of people will attend on June 10th At the downtown library when Indyrezone will be revealing this major changes that will make it easier for developers to build higher density projects with fewer variances and lower parking requirements in return for for more green space. Those sending up the balloons compare Indy's efforts to leading edge cities like Seattle, Washington DC, Denver and similar cities but what they fail to state is that ALL of those cities have substantial mass transit options. The notion that Indianapolis can support increased density downtown and do it with less cars but WITHOUT light rail and a "real" established mass transit plan is naive. I hope everyone will get the word out that adding density and adding green space need not be at the expense of parking till Indy truly has another option! And No BlueIndy is not the fix. While it's a great start it's only a drop in the bucket to Mass Transit!
      • DT parking
        I live on the north side of Indy and go DT frequently. I NEVER have trouble finding a parking space.
      • Parking Wars
        The picture above looks to be up around 82nd/86th. That is the burbs. They can have their parking lots. I really don't care what suburban areas do with their vast parking lot jungles. But downtown, less parking required is better. Of course, no one downtown is going to build a stand alone restaurant that will require 20-30 parking spots. It's the mixed use changes that should really have an impact in the downtown core, such as with the empty building that sits between Fort Wayne and Alabama streets. Something is going there. I hope it's nice and doesn't have a big parking lot!
        • Parking Wars
          If the developers of project on fort wayne you mention have their way there will be a 5 story 80 unit apartment building with parking on the first floor. No mixed used at all (except for the building office) and in the opinion of many, including myself, St Joseph is known for it's neighborhood feel promted by the many row houses and green space and adding a 5 story structure that dwarfs the homes to the west, north and east that will be built with ZERO setback is not the best use of the land. The neighborhood is also very concerned about the parking issues especially since the developer wants to charge for parking vs including it with each unit. Looking at other buildings that also charge we have seen tenants opt to try to park on the street. The developer's response is not every tenant would want or need parking to which we say if the landlord can rent a space so can the tenant! Developments like these the push parking to the limit are part of the reason the topic of permitted parking (like exists in lockerbie) came up this week at both the St Joe meeting and at the Chatham Arch meeting (also faced with a new development)
          MITCH ROLSKY, it sounds like Avon might be a better place for you to live than the downtown of one of the largest cities in the country.
          • Good Info
            Thanks, Mitch, for sharing the info on that location. It is the one I was referring to. I live very near there and, truthfully, I'm not sure what to think of a 5 story apartment building being put there. Ideally, it would be nice to see more row homes, but it's better than the empty building, I suppose.
          • Sarika
            Sarika I guess you think it's bad to see a balanced growth downtown. I am actually Realtor with a focus on downtown and I represented more buyers of downtown condos in the past 2 years than any other Realtor and was the only 1 of the top 3 downtown condo listing agents to sell every listing. I love downtown and all of Indianapolis. I have not only a right but an obligation as a downtown property owner and as a REALTOR with so many downtown clients to share my perspective and the perspective of many of my clients. I would love to see Indianapolis downtown continue it's dynamic growth & I realize and not only accept that growth includes higher density but i am excited about what that density will bring to downtown Indy. But it will also see many of the challenges other major metropolitan cities face. Ironically Indy had one of the first trolley systems downtown and we lost decades ago justified by something called "progress." To those of us who focus so much on Downtown as a place to live and work it's frustrating that our growth over the past couple of years has not been consistent with the Regional Master Plan which was a project brought 300 plus folks together under the city's prior leadership intended to chart a course for 2003-2020. So no plans to move to Avon or any other great suburb. I have been there and done that with no regrets... sorry if that means an alternative voice that you may not agree with.
          • 918 Ft Wayne
            Mitch Rolsky: I have no information about the specific project you're referring to and have no doubt that you love urban living and the St. Joseph neighborhood in particular. However, it's rather ridiculous to say that a 5 story building would "dwarf the homes to the west, north and east" when that includes the 6-story Renaissance Tower a half block to the west and the 15-story Lugar Tower a half block to the east. Even the 4-story Braxton, directly across Ft. Wayne from the project site, would hardly be dwarfed by a 5-story building. I would suggest opposition that focuses on the fact that, per your description, the proposed building would not provide active ground flood space when the building is in close proximity to existing neighborhood commercial activity on Alabama and Ft. Wayne.
            • 918 Fort Wayne
              My initial response was not intended to be about the fort Wayne project. I added that clarity because others raised the project. That said since the Braxton only has 3 floors and while that's across 4 lanes of traffic it's not part of St Joseph neighborhood. I also had no problem with that when it was proposed nor was there much concern from others that I heard when it was proposed. It actually did a nice job of helping to scale back/down Lugar Tower and did so in a way that included a good amount of green space and set back. And while you are correct about the 6 stories in the Renaissance Tower there is much lower structure in between the row homes on the west side Alabama and the tower to some transition. You say you are not familiar with this proposal and i would argue most reasonable people, who have seen the renderings the developer has shown to provide context with the immediately surrounding properties would i think agree that this proposed 5 story structure with ZERO set back literately overwhelms all of the 2 story townhouses that surround it as well as the abutting 1 story commercial structures on the south and northeast corner. There are some folks who would have expressed that they would prefer to see more 1st floor retail/commercial space (although others are concerned about how that would increase impact on traffic and parking in a design many feel is already deficient in parking) Personally I feel that is a chicken or the eqg debate. Even the developer shared they were not confident a true mixed used building could be leased although they wished it could since that would have a higher ROI. In fairness to the developer they have tried with their design to anticipate some of the concerns about the height. Perhaps the simplest solution is to push the parking under ground although it would add more cost to the development it would also immediately drop the structure by one floor. But many are still concerned that even 4 stories (double the height of most adjoining structures) is too much! Beyond that i have no clue what your point is as far as your theory about my "real" concern. "Ground flood space???" If Flood was supposed to be food i have already addressed that.
            • 918 Ft. Wayne
              I applaud you fighting to make this a better project and I'm really just trying to help. Unfortunately, some of the arguments being made are not very strong and I encourage you to stick to the more important issues you bring up: parking and ground floor use. Here are the things I would stay away from: (1) Zero setbacks - You're on shaky ground saying this building can't have zero setbacks when so much of Alabama and Ft. Wayne is already built with zero or very nearly zero setbacks. (2) Height - if a 5 story building will dwarf smaller homes around it, those homes are already dwarfed by other structures. It's a weak argument to say "yes, tall over here (Renaissance)" but "no, not over there (918 Ft. Wayne)." (3) The Braxton - There's no Great Wall on Ft. Wayne separating St. Joseph from the Braxton in terms of context. Whether the 4th floor is usable, the building has a pitched roof and 4th floor dormer windows. That should be taken into account when considering the massing context of this new building.
              • 918 Fort Wayne
                Again.. my post here was about indyreszone and problems i and others see there. Only starting sharing details and responding to statements regarding Fort Wayne.. Parking is from my perspective the number one issue but lowering density also lowers height and lessens parking concerns at the same time. You may not think there is a difference but being inside and outside of a historic district is huge. So to a layman it may not seem like the absence of a wall matters but i can assure there is a night and day difference including who even hears the case. I believe setbacks are also big issue which is part of why the indyrezone wants more not less. But when looking at the adjoining area.. with possibly the exception of 1-2 older buildings in St Joseph, just about every residential building including the braxton, lugar and yes the Renaissance tower have notable setbacks. But to clarify in spite of the fact that Lugar and Braxton work against your argument most i have heard from are not concerned about setback on fort wayne because there is already a green space between the sidewalk and street that hopefully will be enhanced. The concern is mainly 9th street and Alabama as far as setback. And a setback allows landscaping/streetscaping which dramatically helps to offset height of a taller building as far as pedestrian traffic. Note- The current zoning would not allow the height of the proposed new zoning so this is not a black and white issue and it's frankly a large enough project that there will typically be very diverse perspectives as to not only what should be there but how much the input from adjacent owners should be factored in. Sorry lastly let me just throw out that i don't buy the argument that the developers investment in the land requires a project of these parameters.. Most experienced developers would never purchase land without being 100% certain they could get the necessary rezoning and variances to support a purchase price. So shame on my fellow Realtor if they did not advise the developer and/or shame on the developer if he chose to ignore good advice. Regardless that is not sufficient justification for a project that many believe is not the highest and best use for the land. As a thought, while non commercial townhouses could probably support the developer's investment in the land a well designed mixed use townhome development like at 25th and Delaware or even main street in downtown carmel could add an appropriate balance while reinforcing what St Josesph is already known for which is Row Houses.
                • Avon vs Downtown
                  Thanks CorrND. Your statements make sense without beating around the bush. I am curious to hear Mitch R's thought on the development of Virginia Ave...especially in Fletcher Place? How do the newer 5 story buildings and proposals conform to the 2 story residential structures? Are these historic town homes being dwarfed to death? FT.Wayne shouldn't need a cultural trail to spur community based development. Setbacks?!?!? Hmmm...that is an interesting concern? I guess some of us want a more urban setting than others.
                • There Needs to Be Som Perspective
                  If you cannot put a 5-story building up in downtown Indianapolis, then where else can you build one? Most of Indianapolis is extremely low density. In fact, it is one of the least dense larger cities in the country. Most of Indianapolis is also single-family homes. So, it would seem if you want a low density, single-family home environment, then there is no need to "move out to the suburbs" as one poster flippantly suggested, rather you could just move to any neighborhood outside of downtown. I think it admirable and important to have people insist on good design in the local built environment, so I fully support your desire to see better treatment of the ground level space, but I do not think the proposed height of the building is an issue. No one is arguing for tearing down historic homes or for putting up an ugly building, but it seems strange to worry about a 5-story building going up in a part of downtown where there are buildings of equal or greater height just a block or so away from the proposed building site. With respect to the proposed zoning changes and the easing of parking requirements, I don't think the rezone truly calls for any dramatic changes. So, instead of one parking space required for every 285 square feet, you will need one for every 350 square feet--that is still a tremendous amount of parking. And, yes, small commercial spaces will be exempt from having to add additional parking, but so what? Most small commercial businesses opening up downtown or in neighborhoods do not build new parking lots, nor do they have big parking lots available. No one is going to build a parking lot just to open up a small restaurant or retail spot. What usually happens is that these businesses simply request a variance and get one, but it adds considerable time and expense to the development process. And, the parking issue takes away too much of the focus from every other aspect of the project--in the end, everyone just worries about the parking spaces and all the other important details of the project get too little consideration. Meanwhile, the concerns about parking are almost always overblown. I remember when there was a huge brouhaha about the restaurant Delicia in Meridian Kessler getting a parking variance to have fewer spaces than otherwise required--it even led to a very protracted lawsuit. The end result is the restaurant won the variance and the city prevailed in the lawsuit challenging the granting of the variance. Yes, the small existing parking lot fills up for the popular restaurant, but it is no issue. You can always park on the street at most a half-block away with no problem. I recently visited the restaurant with my senior citizen mother and my aunt who was recovering from knee replacement surgery. The restaurant was packed and the little lot was full, yet we easily found parking on College Street a half-block down, and even with two people with reduced mobility, it was no issue. The problem with too many people in Indianapolis is they are so lazy and overly dependent on their cars that they expect to have valet-like door-to-door service. If attitudes don't start changing, eventually, it will get to the point where residents of Indianapolis will expect to be lifted out of their cars and carried inside on a chariot like Cleopatra! I own a car, and I understand all drivers need to be able to park reasonable close to their final destination, and i certainly understand the need for compliance with ADA requirements setting aside a certain number of existing spaces for the disable, but I also belive the whole city cannot and should not be a parking lot. The city has lost so many historic buildings to vast seas of asphalt parking lots, and so much newer development in the city's outskirts consists primarily of parking lots with a few scattered buildings. It is time to rethink things, and stop requiring quite so much parking.
                • 918 Ft Wayne
                  Is there any information about the 918 Ft Wayne project online?

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                1. why oh why does this state continue to elect these you wonder how much was graft out of the 3.8 billion?

                2. i too think this is a great idea. I think the vision and need is there as well. But also agree with Wendy that there may be better location in our city to fulfill this vision and help grow the sports of hockey and figure skating in Indy. Also to help further develop other parts of the city that seem often forgotten. Any of the other 6 townships out side of the three northernmost could benefit greatly from a facility and a vision like this. For a vision that sounds philanthropic, the location is appears more about the money. Would really like to see it elsewhere, but still wish the development the best of luck, as we can always use more ice in the city. As for the Ice growth when they return, if schedules can be coordinated with the Fuel, what could be better than to have high level hockey available to go see every weekend of the season? Good luck with the development and the return of the Ice.

                3. How many parking spaces do they have at Ironworks? Will residents have reserved spaces or will they have to troll for a space among the people that are there at Ruth Chris & Sangiovese?

                4. You do not get speeding ticket first time you speed and this is not first time Mr.Page has speed. One act should not define a man and this one act won't. He got off with a slap on the wrist. I agree with judge no person was injured by his actions. The state was robbed of money by paying too much rent for a building and that money could have been used for social services. The Page family maybe "generous" with their money but for most part all of it is dirty money that he obtained for sources that are not on the upright. Page is the kind of lawyer that gives lawyers a bad name. He paid off this judge like he has many other tine and walked away. Does he still have his license. I believe so. Hire him to get you confiscated drug money back. He will. It will cost you.

                5. I remain amazed at the level of expertise of the average Internet Television Executive. Obviously they have all the answers and know the business inside and out.