Lawrence turns down rezoning for vacant drive-in: Developer and city working on a compromise

February 5, 2007

A developer wanting to breathe new life into a long-vacant drive-in theater along Pendleton Pike is working to change the minds of Lawrence leaders who already have said no thanks.

New York-based Norry Management Corp. is leading an effort to redevelop the 93-acre property for retail, office and industrial uses. But its plans faced a setback last month when a rezoning petition got a negative response from officials concerned about what might end up there.

Lawrence City Council members voted unanimously Jan. 3 to recommend that Indianapolis' Metropolitan Development Commission turn down the rezoning request. Although Lawrence operates independently of Marion County's consolidated government, the commission makes the final decision in all zoning cases after offering so-called "excluded" cities the chance to weigh in.

At issue is the industrial portion of the mixed-use zoning request, which would allow medium to heavy industry anywhere on the Lawrence property, including near several residential neighborhoods. Norry said at the hearing that it intended to locate the industrial buildings along 46th Street.

Residents and council members remain concerned, nonetheless, since the property plan could change before it is finalized. They don't want such industrial uses-anything from a concrete plant to a steel fabricator-next to homes.

Norry CEO Lewis Norry did not return phone calls, but his attorney said the developer is willing to compromise.

"We want to find the best way to develop the property and make sure the use is something valuable to the community, but also the potential buyer," said Andi Metzel of Dann Pecar Newman & Kleiman PC.

Lori Kaplan, Lawrence's director of public works, said the company has tweaked its plan and is returning to the City Council March 28 in hopes of persuading officials to support the updated proposal. Norry will ask council members to pass a resolution saying they've changed their minds.

Norry is willing to promise it won't bring in certain types of industry, Metzel said, but the company also wants to keep the most flexible zoning possible.

Lawrence City Council member Marion Hall said he was most concerned with the heaviest industrial grade Norry sought, dubbed I-4, which would allow uses like bulk oil or gas storage and rubber manufacturing.

Hall confirmed that Norry has talked to council members since the vote. He's hopeful a compromise will be reached before the March meeting.

"They've made some concessions and we've come closer together," he said. "We just want to have the right fit because there's residential all around [the parcel]."

Kaplan wants something to happen at the site, which has been vacant since the drive-in closed in 1993.

"We see it as a great opportunity to be an anchor for the [Pendleton Pike] corridor," she said. "A mixture of uses of retail, office and light industry would be a good fit for that land."

Indianapolis' Metropolitan Development Commission is scheduled to discuss the Lawrence project at its Feb. 7 hearing, but it could be postponed until after officials there revisit the issue in March. Just in case, Norry also has appealed the Lawrence recommendation.

Lawrence soon may have some additional power in its redevelopment efforts. The Indiana General Assembly last year gave excluded cities in Marion County the freedom to set up their own redevelopment commissions, which can help plan economic development and establish tax incentive zones.

Speedway and Lawrence have jumped out in front in taking advantage of those measures. Speedway already has established a redevelopment zone and tax increment financing district, and the Lawrence City Council is set to vote on its version Feb. 5.

Even so, rezoning cases will continue to go through the Indianapolis commission, an extra layer Kaplan said is cumbersome.

"It's a bone of contention for the citizens of Lawrence that they don't always have final say-so in their planning matters," she said.
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