Today’s Board of Zoning Appeals Division III hearing has a few interesting cases lined up. Aside from the usual “We want bigger signs” and “I want a barn in my front yard”, the Board will entertain a multifamily development along 38th St west of the Monon, a request for outdoor storage and barbed wire within Fall Creek Place and finally, a proposal from Wal-Mart of all stores for a reduction in required parking. Did I just say reduction of parking and Wal-Mart in the same sentence?
The first case, 2012-DV3-035, is a request related to the development of two multi-family buildings located at the southwest intersection of 38th St and Broadway. This specific petition includes a number of requests related to setbacks, open space and buffer yards. Most of these requests would be generally consistent with the views commonly expressed through this blog. The buildings are proposed to be located closer to the street with parking in the rear. So why is this blog worthy? To be honest, it may not be in a general public perspective, but to be honest, I haven’t really provided a blog with substance in, well, ever. The reason I include this petition is that the buildings submitted elevations fail to appropriately address the street. The main entrances to the units would front the south, or rear, portion of the site with access for residents by car.
We always ask out of frustration and perhaps even ignorance, why doesn’t anyone step in and correct these things? This post is here to let readers know that planners, including many for Indy, do work to provide the best possible option. While a developer is bound to the ordinances in place, a request for a variance or special exception are relatively discretionary. This means the Staff may work with a petition to provide conditions or commitments that will advance the intent of the ordinance and also work to mitigate negative impacts from the request. I am writing on this petition to provide a very small inside glimpse of what planners for the city do to advance causes we generally support. The updated elevation to the left depicts the proposed front facade of one of the units. While there is not a well defined common entrance, or a common entrance at all, the Staff has worked with the petitioner to provide accessible doors to the ground floor units that front the street. While this building is neither mixed-use nor innovative in addressing the public realm, it does make an improved step towards potential activation along 38th Street. I wanted to let the Staff know that small concessions like these are what can define a project and a city as we work to move forward. (Planner gushing over).
The second case, 2013-UV3-001, is also anything but a large media release. This petition requests permission to allow outdoor storage in a district that prohibits such a use along with barbed wire fencing. In full disclosure, this case has only caught my attention as it is located within my neighborhood, Fall Creek Place. I imagine similar cases occur often. My interest in this petition, aside from proximity, is how the Board will view the land use plans and goals of an actively redeveloping area. It is my belief that most decisions at this level are made based more on whether strong opposition is shown versus the strict application of the ordinance and the burden of practical difficulty or hardship. We have seen high profile cases in recent past that resulted in relatively substantial neighborhood opposition. These cases usually represent a neighborhood plan for a struggling community. Residents and civic leaders will often dust off the cover of a 10 or 20 year old plan for the community that calls for uses other than the one being proposed. In my opinion, it is hard for a Board to validate such plans when very little has been accomplished. In the case above, Fall Creek Place has seen substantial revitalization and even as we speak, a number of new single family homes are under construction or planned. The true question, is whether the Board will realize the impacts of a prohibited use on the realized and potential value of an area where development is all but imminent. The Fall Creek Board has compromised with the petitioner, located at 22nd Street and College, to limit the time frame for outdoor storage and to remove the barbed wire. It is truly the art of compromise that can validate a community. That being said, will the Board find the proposed use to place a negative impact to adjacent properties, or will the current condition and business interests win out?
The Main Event!
The third case, 2013-DV3-002, brings yet another side of the Wal-Mart empire. The petition reflects a proposed Wal-Mart store located at 4897 Kentucky Avenue. While I wouldn’t classify this as an “urban” story (shocking I know), it does have extreme relevance to our urban guidelines and the Indy Rezone program. While I have only been in the professional planning field for a few years, at least one thing has become clear. Wal-Mart pays a lot of money and has a large legal team to ensure they are always Wal-Mart-ish. The general land use model involves property selection on the fringe of the fringe, land acquisition which far exceeds their specific needs, parcelling off the land into the store and outlots, developing a massive store to the corporate model, using the realty arm of the company to sell the increased value outlots to non-competing businesses (restaurants and banks) and then to go about the Wal-Mart way, where it’s the “people that make the difference”. Did I mention that they provide their own parking and development standards for their outlots?
So there you have it, the poster child of Wal-Marts everywhere. But what does the proposed store on Kentucky Avenue have to do with anything? With only the site plan to run from, you can rest assured that the store will be exactly what you pictured from most aspects. Lots of concrete block or stucco painted in the contemporary color choice of the decade and plenty of signage to go along with it. In addition to this array of investment, you will undoubtedly find the proverbial “sea” of parking………wait! What is the Variance for? A reduction in what?!? PARKING! Really? Wal-Mart is requesting a reduction of required parking? This is the same business that surrounds itself with asphalt as a matter of pride and then forces outlots to agree to parking provisions substantially beyond a local municipalities regulations just in case they ever thought about shared parking. Wal-Wart is requesting permission to provide 165 parking spaces where 275 spaces would be required. That’s a reduction of 40%. To be clear, parking is one aspect of an urbanist’s disdain for Wal-Mart. This location is by no means urban and certainly will be centered around the automobile as all other uses in the area are. This is just outside of 465. We’re talking a stones throw from Mooresville. How can parking numbers be so far off? Has the city really been, for all practical purposes, double parking new developments? What more evidence do you need than Wal-Mart requesting less parking? I could understand a request for smaller spaces, narrower aisles and complete obliteration of landscaping requirements. It just amazes me to see The auto-based user, requesting less spaces. Hopefully this is a wake up call to Indy Rezone. If you want to lower development costs, provide incentives for improved urban development and smarter land use, this is the chance. Remove archaic parking minimums.