City planners hope to send Indy Rezone to council next month

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – Indianapolis has drastically changed over the past 50 years, becoming more urban and downtown-focused. Now, the city says it is laying the groundwork for the next 50 years of growth.

The Department of Metropolitan Development is almost done with “Indy Rezone,” which revamps Indy’s zoning ordinances. It’s something the city said hasn’t happened since the 1960s.

The DMD said it hopes to get the Metropolitan Development Commission’s approval, and send Indy Rezone to the City-County Council next month. One of the biggest goals in Indy Rezone is to make all of Indianapolis more sustainable and encourage new development.

The city said part of that is making Indy more compatible with mass transit. Under this new ordinance, the city would decrease the requirements for parking downtown, especially at big businesses that employ a large amount of people.

By decreasing the amount of parking, the city hopes they can force more people to use mass transit to get to work. The new code will also remove some of the regulation to make it easier to build more “green” methods of transportation, like the Cultural Trail.

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As more people want to live in walkable areas, the city plans on allowing more mixed-use buildings, which allow apartments on top levels and retail space on bottom levels.

“Downtown is the only area really where mixed-use is authorized and encouraged. What we’re doing in creating these new mixed use districts is allowing that type of marriage of activity at other locations throughout Marion County. Places like Broad Ripple, the Glendale area, University Heights, Irvington – those are mixed use areas that we want to embrace, encourage and allow that redevelopment to happen easier,” said Tammara Tracy, with the Department of Metropolitan Development.

Tracy said planners are largely focusing on the outdoors, because right now it’s very expensive and time-consuming to get permits to build things like the Cultural Trail or even outdoor restaurants.

“We expect an environment that we can be comfortable in, safe in, and enjoy both inside and outside. Where back in the ’60s, it was pretty much you go inside and that was it. Everything was inside. The only thing that was outside was the car. The advent of sidewalk cafes, outdoor recreation – as evidenced by the Cultural Trail, the bike sharing – the outdoor built environment in the public realm is being demanded to be better,” said Tracy.

The new zoning ordinances would also aim to make filling vacant or abandoned buildings easier. Authorities have said those buildings encourage crime. If a building is vacant for five years, the new code would allow more options to fill the space.

“If you have a vacant building in that particular district, if it’s been vacant for five consecutive years, you have a few other uses that you can put in that building that you otherwise would not have. For instance, if you have a vacant commercial building, you would be able to put in a dwelling unit. Which usually isn’t the preferred mix. If it’s vacant, there’s obviously something’s going wrong in the market and maybe it’s time for it to roll over into a residential type use,” said Tracy.

Tracy said if Indy Rezone is approved, Indianapolis will be the first city in the country to try this approach to solving its vacant building problem.

This new code has been in the works for more than four years. The city said this was a desperate need, since Indianapolis has become so much more urban since the 1960s. If the MDC and Council approve Indy Rezone, the city hopes to enact it on Jan. 1, 2016.

After the DMD and City-County Council are finished with Indy Rezone, they say they will address the digital billboard issue in Marion County.