Zoning Code and Comprehensive Plan

Our town is at risk from short-sighted development and an out-of-date zoning code which is currently poorly and unevenly applied. The Town and its Plan Commission attempted to address this problem over the past two years by engaging consultants to work with town planners to draft a new “form-based” comprehensive zoning code. Recently the new draft code was withdrawn from any further consideration.

Members of the Plan Commission and the Director of Economic Development and Planning have suggested that before the town considers another new comprehensive zoning code, it needs to engage in the revision of its Comprehensive Plan – which looks a decade down the road and attempts to visualize the town and its strengths, how it will function, what it will look like, and the infrastructures, environments, and commercial and dwelling structures and uses that should be encouraged for the future.

This is a good idea. Our current Comprehensive Plan has not been fully reviewed and revised for two decades, although it has had various overlays and regional plans appended to it (e.g. the Executive Airport Area Plan and the Strategic Trails Plan).

Any new Comprehensive Plan must fully engage the towns’ citizens and stakeholders. It can be expected to take two or more years to put together. It must recognize the importance of a healthy Eagle Creek watershed, the history and variety of our urban areas and buildings, and the agricultural heritage of our rural areas. The plan should prioritize pathways connecting us, and “complete streets” catering equally to all types of transportation (e.g. cars, bicycles, and pedestrians), electrifying our infrastructure, and building in climate resiliency. Questions regarding the importance of design and architectural standards, rules, and/or guidelines also have to be answered. Completing the process of creating a new Comprehensive Plan will be challenging!

For residents within current village zoning districts, I don’t believe we can wait for the completion of a Comprehensive Plan before taking action. We need to amend current zoning ordinances to resolve the lack of clarity on important and urgent issues like accessory unit dwellings (i.e. granny flats), building setbacks, lot percentage usage limits, building heights, and certain design standards. Fortunately some of the better pieces  within the draft of the Form-Based Code involved substantial input from the Village Residents Association on these very issues and could be adapted for use. The village residents have been clear about the need to prevent endless zoning variance requests on seemingly every remodel in the village.

I have experience managing complex projects that require bringing groups of people with differing goals and resources to consensus. I intend to be closely involved as these critical initiatives move forward while being a resource for District 4 residents who have concerns or questions about the process and the end-product.

Community Center

Zionsville is lacking in public indoor community and recreation facilities. Feedback from the community in long range parks planning surveys has consistently identified a desire for this resource. Fishers has announced recently the approval of a new $60 million publicly financed community and recreation center that includes a pool. Many of our neighboring communities have a public or partially public recreation or community center (or two!) with a variety of amenities and a range of construction costs. 

Designing and building a community center should be a high priority for our Town. A community or recreation center, ideally with a pool, can and should serve a broad cross-section of our community from youth, to seniors, to people who are physically or mentally challenged. I like to think of a community center as an indoor version of Lion’s Park in terms of function – a place of gathering – for fun, for fitness, for games and celebrations. Private/public financing is desirable and is a common approach to these projects.  

During my 9 years on the Parks Board, I had the distinct pleasure of being involved from start-to-finish on the land acquisitions, design, and construction of Overley-Worman Park and the extension of the Big Four Rail Trail. This is just one example of my experience in building on the work and long-range planning of predecessors, translating this into concrete plans with solid financing, and then pushing to a high-quality completion. It’s this experience and expertise that I can bring to the Town Council on projects like a Community Center.

Gateway Area Plan

To keep our historic Main Street and surrounding neighborhoods as successful, attractive and unique as possible, our Town leaders have long sought to improve the attractiveness of what has been coined the Zionsville Gateway Area (or ZGA) – essentially the south end of Main Street.

A public planning exercise for the ZGA has been underway for some time and, in fact, has produced a high-level Gateway Area Plan. This Plan correctly seeks to reconcile interests of commercial property owners, existing area businesses, and residents. The Plan provides for new mixed use and residential development, encourages new commercial development, creates a new public space, and calls for new traffic (auto, pedestrian, and cycling) improvements. 

The next Town Council must give the Gateway Area Plan urgent attention. First up is the need for a pedestrian and vehicle engineering study  – and long-avoided decisions concerning street and utility routing. Similarly important decisions are required concerning the extent of Tax Increment Financing (TIF) and zoning requirements to be applied to the larger area.

The changing of the guard to a new Town Council provides the opportunity to ask whether the ZGA Plan and vision as presented thus far are big and bold enough? The necessary compromises contained within the ZGA Plan on density, commercial development and traffic/parking are difficult, and compromise does not tend to create excitement. But it may be time to ask ourselves what else we need to stoke enthusiasm about our Village and its Main Street? This core area of Zionsville deserves such careful consideration.

For instance, the small arts community of Rockport, Massachusetts, took a crumbling building on its struggling main thoroughfare and reimagined and rebuilt it into a small but architecturally exciting performing arts center. It took town leaders, local arts groups, and merchants working together to create a masterpiece that has become a regional destination enhancing local businesses and the community at-large. See www.rockportmusic.org.

I am passionate about the potential of our Town and will work hard to bring this critical project to fruition.

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