Senate committee approves bill to take away zoning control from Indianapolis

An Indiana Senate committee has approved a controversial bill that would strip most of the zoning control for Marion County away from the city of Indianapolis.

Senate Bill 392, authored by Republican Sen. Mike Young of Indianapolis, would give each township in Marion County—except for Center Township—its own board of zoning appeals. Speedway, Lawrence, Beech Grove and Southport would also have zoning boards.

The city of Indianapolis Board of Zoning Appeals would be limited to oversight of properties within Center Township. If the bill becomes law, 13 zoning appeals boards would make land use decisions within Marion County.

That’s a dramatic shift from the current structure. Indianapolis has three divisions within its Board of Zoning Appeals, plus Lawrence, Beech Grove and Speedway each have a board that the Indianapolis Metropolitan Development Commission staffs.

The Indianapolis BZA divisions oversee the areas outside of Lawrence, Beech Grove and Speedway. Each division has five members appointed by the Metropolitan Development Commission, the mayor and the Indianapolis City-County Council.

Young said he’s trying to give the communities that are excluded from the Unigov structure in Indianapolis more control over developments. And, he said, the people who live in the communities where a zoning appeal has been filed should be the ones voting on the petition.

For example, a division of the Indianapolis Board of Zoning Appeals could include members from the east side of the city but make a decision about a project proposed on the west side of the city. Young said he wants to change that.

He said the townships and excluded cities would still be required to abide by the comprehensive zoning plan approved by the city of Indianapolis. That plan outlines acceptable land uses for different areas of the city and acts as a road map for future development. The Indianapolis Department of Metropolitan Development updated that plan in 2019.

“They have to follow the same rules, same procedures,” Young said. “They’re just asking that they get to appoint the variance boards.”

The township boards created under Young’s bill would have five members—three appointed by the township trustee and two appointed by the township board.

The boards for Speedway, Lawrence, Beech Grove and Southport would also have five members, all appointed by the city or town councils.

Sen. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, questioned why Young couldn’t just file legislation to require each of the Indianapolis variance boards to have members from each of these communities instead of creating a new structure.

“Why not do that?” Taylor asked.

“Why not do this?” Young replied.

City officials say they had no idea the senator had a problem with the current board of zoning appeals structure.

Scarlett Martin, director of the Department of Metropolitan Development, said she thinks the bill “would create a fragmented, inconsistent approach to zoning and economic development, and the unintended consequence would be the loss of opportunities for all townships.”

Matt Pleasant, administrator of the Division of Current Planning for DMD, said it would stretch the city’s staff too thin, because theoretically, it would be expected to work with all of the new township variance boards.

“I’m not even sure logistically how this would play out,” Pleasant said. “I think there’s too many questions in the air.”

Officials from Speedway and Lawrence encouraged lawmakers to support the bill, because they believe it would give them more control over land use within their communities.

Katie Culp, president and CEO of KSM Location Advisors, said the bill would put Indianapolis at a competitive disadvantage for future economic development projects because it would complicate the approval process.

“It’s going to be one of the cons in the pros and cons list,” Culp said.

Culp said currently, a company can work directly with the Metropolitan Development Commission on zoning issues, plus tax abatements or other project incentives. If this bill became law, a company would have to seek zoning variances from one board and incentives from another.

“It would be another group that you have an uncertain outcome from,” Culp said. “Just because the MDC liked your abatement request doesn’t mean the Pike Township BZA is going to like your zoning request.”

Taylor said he’s tired of state lawmakers trying to take away control from the city of Indianapolis and urged the committee to defeat the bill.

“You’re going to have buildings that can be built that don’t comply with the master plan,” Taylor said. “This is just flat-out wrong.”

The Senate Local Government Committee passed the bill on a 6-4 vote on Thursday. It moves to the Senate Appropriations Committee for further consideration.

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26 thoughts on “Senate committee approves bill to take away zoning control from Indianapolis

    1. Maybe it would be run better if there was a functioning Marion County Republican Party that offered ideas and candidates for local office in Sandlinville (the new name for Indianapolis, in honor of Sen, Sandlin).

      If the cities want to bail from Unigov, that’s one thing. But more township government in Marion County? As Mark said, no one wants more township government. They should be abolished in Marion County, not enhanced.

      Republicans were for government consolidation when it benefited them with Unigov. Now they’re introducing more layers of government to make it harder to do business in Sandlinville, the economic engine of the state.

    2. Hopefully, the bill fails, and if not, at least Holcomb has enough common sense to veto it. It looks is NOT the job of the General Assembly to run local municipalities or meddle in local affairs. If a city is “poorly run,” it is up to local voters to vote in new leaders. It is time the GA members do their jobs and focus on state matters—they truly make up the nation’s worst legislature. At least Indiana has a competent governor who can shut down these yahoos with a stroke of his pen.

    3. Breaking down big Gov is needed! Getting a permit in Marion County can take up to 6 months and is very painful on small businesses!

    4. Shawn G., you are the type of sucker the corrupt yahoos in the General Assembly bamboozle every election–they don’t care about you and they aren’t going to make your life better. This bill has NOTHING to do with “breaking up Big Government,” and everything to do a partisan attack to dilute city control of its own zoning and also empower the NIMBY contingent. Think it is hard to get a permit now? How about NEVER getting your plans approved in the first place? The intention is to STOP development, not facilitate it. You’re being reeled in, hook, line and sinker, and you’re going to end up flopping around, gasping for air, and wondering what the heck happened.

  1. If Mike Young wants to change the local government structure and administration of ordinances in Marion County and Indianapolis, why doesn’t he run for the City-County Council? Sounds like he has a grudge somewhere.

    1. He needs his gerrymandered State Senate district to have any hope of being elected to a political position.

  2. We’ve had State and Local Republican administrations, included a blue-star commission recommendation on Township Government (Kernan-Shepherd report) that encouraged and informed in great detail why we should be eliminating township layers of government….not ADDING additional layers of government. It’s for this same reason that the republicans when in control of Indianapolis, eliminated at-large positions on the council. Those at-large positions were also an additional voice for constituents that may not be heard, but they decided to get rid of that. Way to add additional red tape to the process when the excluded cities already have their own staff working on these requests. Oh an the residents who may not like a staff decision, can remonstrate, go to a public meeting and voice their opinion or reach out to their councilor. Because there are multiple layers of having your voice heard and represented already – lets just go ahead and add an additional layer to add confusion and to politicize things even more. It’s development and zoning – if you don’t like the appointments now – then work to change the rule on whos appointed and staffed on the excluded cities BZA and MDC appointments ordinance.

    1. It’s not about proper zoning or planning, it is about diluting the city control.

      If it made sense, then the proposal would have been to move planning and zoning to the township level state wide.

      Mike Young has his position because he is in gerrymandered senate district, and would never have a chance of influencing Indianapolis politics, because he could not get elected otherwise.

  3. “Officials from Speedway and Lawrence encouraged lawmakers to support the bill, because they believe it would give them more control over land use within their communities.”

    They already have their own BZAs. How would this proposal change anything for the excluded cities? Or does it allow them to actually adopt their own zoning ordinances?

    1. They get to pick the members instead of the city of Indianapolis. I can understand this part of the bill. For the townships? The township trustee would get to pick a majority of the members.

      (Boy, I wonder where this could go wrong.)

      So the township trustee goes from being entrusted with minor tasks like taking care of old cemeteries to now being able to decide what does and doesn’t get approved from a development standpoint.

      Did you vote for your township trustee knowing he or she would have these responsibilities, and evaluate them based on the record or how they would execute this job? I know I didn’t.

    2. The excluded cities already get to pick 3 of the 5 BZA members, with the MDC (Indy) appointing the other two.

    3. Thank you for the correction. But the real question I now have is – are these cities still allowed to rename themselves or do they have to ask permission from Indiana Senate Republicans first? All these bills have left me unclear on when and where local control is appropriate.

  4. Can anybody say Government over reaching legislation by a conservative Republican legislator? It is hard to say and seems like an oxymoron. Any way, I’m very confused.

    1. Sandlinville is being punished for not electing Republicans. It’s very simple, Republicans in Sandlinville have the state of Indiana do their bidding for them since they can’t run serious candidates in elections.

      It’s the inverse of what happens at the state level. I mean, Jim Merritt’s campaign for mayor was every bit as incompetent and pitiful as Woody Myers’ campaign for governor.

      It’s sad because Republicans like Bill Hudnut and Dick Lugar were foundational to the success of the capital city with big ideas … not clowns like Mike Young and Jack Sandlin and Aaron Freeman who only have things they don’t want the residents of Sandlinville to do.

  5. This is state government overreach trying to undo Marion County/Indianapolis Unigov. Both as a private citizen and President of the Town Council of The Civil Town of Spring Hill, I strongly oppose this unwanted intrusion by the State of Indiana.

  6. This is state government overreach trying to undo Marion County/Indianapolis Unigov. Both as a private citizen and President of the Town Council of Spring Hill, I strongly oppose this unwanted intrusion by the State of Indiana.

  7. Roll all the separate towns back into marion county, fire and cops become part of same. Rid ourselves of local bureaucrats, and councils, mayors. Just have township bureaucrats, same as the rest.

  8. This is beyond stupid. 13 boards and additional
    layers of bureaucracy?! “Small government” my ass! This stinks to hell of slimy corruption (it’s Young, so no surprise there. Dude is a career grifter).

  9. What happened to the Republican platform for smaller and less government? If this is good for Indianapolis, why is it not good for the 92 other counties? Let’s create township zoning boards for the entire state?

    Pure Republican power grab. Republicans lost almost all of the seats in all of the council districts, so lets punish them by taking away planning and zoning.

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