City launches extensive rezoning initiative

The city of Indianapolis has launched an initiative expected to result in the first major overhaul of its zoning and development regulations since 1969.

The nearly $2 million effort, named Indy Rezone, is being steered by city planners, private developers, elected officials, architects, community activists and others. Their task is to collect public input and draft a new set of regulations by March 2014.

The new regulations could alter parking space requirements and other details developers routinely contend with. They also could include incentives for green development and make it easier to include such features as solar panels and wind turbines.

Among the goals of the effort is to remove obstacles to development while at the same time encouraging projects that are more environmentally friendly and better suited to pedestrians and multiple modes of transportation.

John Neal, a senior planner for the Department of Metropolitan Development’s division of planning, said the changes could streamline the development process by, among other things, reducing the number of zoning classifications and the need for costly zoning variances.

The city now has 17 residential zoning classifications and 10 commercial ones, Neal said. And many of its regulations were written with suburban, car-dependent development in mind.

For example, current regulations in many of the city’s commercial districts require buildings to be constructed 80 to 100 feet from the right-of-way. To bring buildings up to the sidewalk, a characteristic often found in pedestrian-friendly areas, a developer must apply to the city for a variance of development standards. “In some parts of the city it might make sense to have smaller setbacks,” Neal said.

On the residential front, in many single-family neighborhoods around the city at least 65 percent of a residential lot must be maintained as open space. To build on more of the lot requires a zoning variance. It’s possible that such regulations are an impediment to reinvestment in those neighborhoods, Neal said.

The Indy Rezone Steering Committee is co-chaired by local commercial real estate broker Abbe Hohmann and Michael Bricker, founder of People for Urban Progress, a local not-for-profit that promotes and advances public transit, environmental awareness and urban design.

Its six task forces are organized around residential development, non-residential development, signs, wellfields, parking and streets, and process and administration.

Wes Podell, a Duke Realty executive who is a member of the non-residential task force, said Indy Rezone could result in a more competitive city. “A forward-looking, flexible code and simplified process will encourage developers and companies to make investments here,” Podell said in a written statement.  

Work on the Indy Rezone initiative has been going on behind the scenes for a couple of years. The city applied to the federal government’s Department of Housing & Urban Development in August 2010 for a Community Challenge Planning Grant to fund the effort. Indianapolis was among 43 cities chosen from among 583 applicants and began planning for the process in earnest in March 2011.

The $1.2 million grant is being matched by the cost of devoting several city employees to the effort over the next two years.

Once the new regulations are drafted, they’ll require approval by the Metropolitan Development Commission and the City-County Council and a signature from Mayor Ballard.

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