Indy officials hope zoning change spurs energy-saving transport

City planners hope a change to zoning rules will encourage Indianapolis residents to travel on buses, bicycles, car shares and other methods of energy-saving transportation.

Officials want to offer significant savings to developers when they scale back the required number of parking spaces and instead offer bike racks, electric-car charging stations or other "green" amenities. The new provision is included in an overhaul of Marion County's 1969 zoning code, which will be considered by the City-County Council for final adoption.

But it remains unclear whether the change would be popular among developers, and even if it is, whether city-dwellers would be willing to stop using their cars so frequently.

"Drive, drive, drive has been the central Indiana paradigm for years and many developers still have that mentality," said Tammara Tracy, the principal city planner. "We are trying to ease them into the new urban model with carrots."

The zoning rewrite seeks to improve walkability and transportation options in the city, as well as to increase greenspace, The Indianapolis Star reported. It coincides with many of Mayor Greg Ballard's initiatives, including the Indiana Pacers Bikeshare, the BlueIndy car share and the bus rapid transit plan.

"Definitely, the intent is to diversify our transportation options," Tracy said.

The new effort also is similar to those in other cities, such as Portland and Boston, where relaxed parking requirements have seen mixed success.

Indianapolis is considered one of the nation's most drive-centric cities. Only 1 percent of Indianapolis residents take public transportation to work, compared to 11.5 percent in Chicago, 3.8 percent in Cleveland and 2.4 percent in Louisville, Kentucky, according to the most recent survey of commuters by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Developers stand to benefit from the rezoning change in Indianapolis. The average cost of creating a parking space is $2,500, so developers will save thousands, and they can use the extra space to add units or building amenities, Tracy said.

"Some developers have objected while others have embraced it," she said. "This is a pretty penny we are offering them, but there is still some resistance."

And the cost savings developers could bring in by paring back on parking spaces could be passed onto a building's tenants, said Tadd Miller, CEO of Indianapolis developer Milhaus.

"While it may seem like this zoning change is beneficial to developers, the real winner is the downtown resident and customer, who isn't burdened with paying for parking spaces (both upfront costs and ongoing maintenance) that sit empty the majority of the time," he said.

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