The “Indy Rezone” project required several years of review and evaluation, untold hours of work, and many meetings with community interest groups, citizen committees, and others. As a result, the City of Indianapolis, through its Department of Metropolitan Development, has completed an extensive revision of the zoning ordinance and subdivision regulations for Indianapolis and Marion County.
In June of 2015 the Metropolitan Development Commission approved a complete rewrite of the zoning and subdivision ordinances which had not been substantially revised since the early and middle 1990’s. Following several committee hearings and revisions, the City-County Council approved the new ordinance on Sept. 28, 2015. Then, the Metropolitan Development Commission ratified the Council’s approved version on Oct. 7, 2015. This new City of Indianapolis Consolidated Zoning/Subdivision Ordinance takes effect on April 1, 2016.
The new ordinance represents a more up-to-date model, applicable to the physical and cultural development vision of the early 21st Century. The new zoning ordinance represents a recognition of current national trends in the practice of municipal planning and zoning and development.
Basic formatting improvements in the new ordinance include the consolidation of multiple previous redundancies and a listing of virtually all currently-conceivable land uses in a relatively easy-to-read table of permitted uses. Among many other improvements and changes, the new ordinance addresses mixed use development, generally de-emphasizes automobile-oriented development, establishes elements of form-based development and new urbanism concepts, and recognizes renewable energy as a potential community resource going forward.
The new Consolidated Zoning/Subdivision Ordinance does not cause any existing zoning district for any existing property to be changed. It does not alter the official zoning maps. Previously legally-established uses and legally-established development scenarios will remain legally-established. However, future development or redevelopment will be required to comply with the use and development standards of the new ordinance.
Just a few of the changes initiated by the new Consolidated Zoning/Subdivision Ordinance include:
Mixed Use Districts:
- Although the new ordinance will not cause private or public property to be rezoned, it does provide potential for future privately (or potentially publicly) initiated rezoning to newly established districts that did not exist previously. An example would be the MU-1, MU-2, MU-3 and MU-4 districts, which are newly created zoning classifications. These Mixed Use Districts represent a zoning option which provide land use flexibility and also significant elements of form-based development standards. For example, the MU-1 district is intended to provide for a mixed use high-rise office and apartments development scenario. The MU-2 district provides for a mix of residential, office, personal services, retail, and smaller scale eating and drinking establishments. The MU-3 provides for transit-oriented, compact uses including higher-density housing, retail, employment-oriented uses and public uses. The MU-4 provides for transit-oriented mixed use development, with an existing or planned transit station required to be located in the district.
- These new Mixed Use Districts require an urban design with buildings located relatively close to the street in a pedestrian-friendly manner, with on-site automobile parking either de-emphasized or in some circumstances not required at all. Although no properties in Indianapolis/Marion County are currently zoned to any of these Mixed Use Districts, the ordinance establishes the MU district options to provide the use flexibility some private developers, and/or public officials, may wish to entertain for future mixed use development scenarios, while also requiring the development attributes desired for a modern, vibrant, and growing city.
Context Areas (Compact and Metro):
- The new ordinance establishes “Context Areas” as a means to address the character of new development within the historical context of the era when the property in question was developed originally. Areas that were generally platted and developed before 1945 have been designated as Compact Context areas, while those areas that were generally developed after 1945 have been designated as Metro Context areas. In some instances the new ordinance identifies different development standards for otherwise identical uses, depending whether the subject site is located in the Compact or Metro Context area.
Secondary Dwelling Units:
- In a significant departure from the previous zoning ordinance, and a departure from other planning and zoning jurisdictions in the metropolitan area and beyond, the new ordinance allows, as a matter of right, a secondary dwelling unit as an accessory use for a detached single-family residence. This new provision, if fully utilized, could theoretically result in a doubling of the density of single-family residential neighborhoods throughout Indianapolis/Marion County.
- The ordinance establishes the potential for a secondary accessory dwelling unit in all dwelling districts which otherwise provide for single-family dwellings, including the D-A, D-S, D-1, D-2, D-3, D-4, D-5, D-5II, D-8, MU-2, and MU-3 classifications. Depending on where the property is located in Indianapolis and Marion County, each detached single-family house in these zoning districts could be either retrofitted with a completely separate apartment unit within (or attached to) the house, or a separate outbuilding could be retrofitted (or constructed) to accommodate the addition of an apartment unit therein.
- In the Compact Context area (see above) a secondary dwelling unit is only allowed in a separate accessory building, such as a typical carriage house.
- In the Metro Context area (see above) a secondary dwelling unit is allowed in either a separate accessory building or within (or attached to) the house.
- In order to utilize the secondary accessory dwelling unit provision, the property owner is required to occupy either the primary or secondary dwelling unit, meaning that both dwelling units at a given property cannot be rental units. Additionally, the maximum size of the secondary dwelling unit is 750 sq.ft., a separate entrance is required which must be visible from the street or alley, and one additional off-street parking space is required.
- The new ordinance reduces the minimum number of parking spaces required for most office and commercial uses. Additionally, the new ordinance establishes a maximum number of parking spaces allowed, with the clear intent of addressing concerns regarding retail commercial development dominated by vast and underutilized parking lots sitting empty most of the time. Those uses which have been restricted to a maximum number of parking spaces include assisted living, day care centers, high schools, hospitals, medical offices, bars/taverns/night clubs, hotels, general offices, and retail sales.
- Locations close to a transit stop are allowed to reduce the number of parking spaces otherwise required. Many uses require bicycle parking be provided.
- In the Compact Context area (see above) a limitation is provided to restrict the amount of parking in front of a building for most commercial and industrial districts.
- The new ordinance no longer allows automobile fueling in the C-3 (neighborhood commercial) district.
- The new ordinance requires additional landscaping in most circumstances. For example, the tree planting requirement along street frontages has generally been increased from 1 shade tree for each 40 feet of frontage to 1 shade tree for each 35 feet of frontage. The landscaping width requirement along street frontages for commercial development in the Compact Context (see above) has been reduced from 10 feet wide to 6 feet wide.
- Possibly the most significant change regarding landscaping is the addition of the “Green Factor”. Essentially, the Green Factor provisions will result in an increase in the overall green space and/or environmentally-friendly improvements for new, larger commercial, industrial or special district development projects. To determine the Green Factor, a development proposal must be evaluated in terms of all the landscaping and greenspace-related elements. Broadly stated, upon application for permits for larger development projects, the number of landscaping plants (existing and proposed) and the square footage of the various greenspace areas are entered in a specific table/form for calculation purposes. This calculation will affirm that the Green Factor outcome is either adequate or not, with certain more impactful landscaping features weighted accordingly. The Green Factor provisions place an emphasis on preserving and/or creating environmentally sustainable development, with credit given for the preservation of undisturbed vegetated areas, bio-retention areas, green roofs, permeable pavement and larger landscaping areas.
- The new ordinance sets specific light level standards for various uses. Minimum permissible light levels are established for property entrances, walkways and parking areas, while maximum permissible lighting levels are established for walkways, parking areas, property boundaries, and at the street right-of-way lines. Lighting threshold minimums and maximums, to be measured in foot-candles, are established for residential uses, certain commercial uses (such as automobile fueling, liquor stores, grocery stores, and restaurants), and mixed use developments.
- To address light pollution concerns, brighter sources of light require full cutoff shields to prevent light from emitting skyward.
- The new ordinance recognizes solar, geothermal and wind energy facilities as accessory uses.
- Solar and geothermal energy facilities are allowed in all zoning districts.
- Wind energy facilities are allowed in the D-A District, the multi-family districts, heavier commercial districts, and all industrial districts.
- The new ordinance requires a formal platting process for essentially all subdivisions of land where developable lots are created in most zoning districts, except the University Quarter-One, Hospital District-One, and Park District-One classifications. Previously, only the residential districts required formal platting for the establishment of new developable lots.