Highway Heights

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Ordinance could determine the future look of I-69 corridor

By Dan Domsic

Every day, 70,000 cars honk, speed and cruise pass mile marker 205 on mainline I-69 and drive north or south, according to INDOT’s 2012 statistics, and another 40,000 motorists jump on Ind. 37 or exit at that mile marker.

But it’s what those drivers see out their windows that is the subject of an ordinance that recently went before the Fishers Town Council.

In an effort to control what types of businesses locate in the land surrounding the artery that moves a chunk of Central Indiana’s workforce through Fishers, as well as bolster a commercial tax base, the Town of Fishers crafted the I-69 Overlay District, which on May 13 went through a public hearing and second reading at the Fishers Town Council with pushback from the community and councilor alike.

At nearly six pages long, the ordinance was split into two segments by the council, with only one part receiving a vote. By the direction of councilor Stuart Easley, the public hearing focused on the one segment that would ultimately be voted on – the exclusion of not-for-profit institutional uses in the 1,500-acre district, a swath of land that Easley said accounts for seven percent of the town.

The second reading was just one step in the process that started last year. Representatives from several churches gave their opinions on the ordinance.

Dave Rodriguez, senior pastor at Grace Community Church, said the church entered into “good faith negotiations” to purchase vacant land at 106th Street and I-69.

He said the church entered into a contract for that land, knowing that under zoning sans Overlay District, the church could move on it. But, the district grew and encompassed that piece of land.

“Now, we very much understand and appreciate the town’s desire to manage the development of this valuable I-69 corridor,” Rodriguez told the council. “But for a second time now after negotiating in good faith and incurring significant expense, we find ourselves caught in and adversely impacted by potential zoning and tax issues.”

Now, the church’s leadership team is considering how to pursue its contract for the land, according to a spokesperson.

With the minuscule portion of the ordinance approved, not-for-profit institutions – churches, government buildings (such as parks and recreations), etc. – can expand on the land they already own and continue operating, but they cannot purchase more land for those uses, nor build on vacant lots where a use isn’t established.

Director of Community Development Tom Dickey said the conversation about not-for-profit institutional uses started last year with the construction of one church in town and another looking at the I-69 corridor.

Zoning in Fishers dictated that not-for-profit uses could be built anywhere, and eventually, the idea came about to see what uses already existed in the corridor and what the town wanted.

Councilor Scott Faultless criticized the town staff for not garnering public input from the start at the May 13 meeting. 

“I don’t like the idea that it got to second reading at a council meeting without property owners being asked,” Faultless said. “I think that’s not right, and that needs to be fixed going forward.”

Outside of property uses, the original ordinance has a host of standards on buildings in the zone. Stakeholders such as Edgeworth Laskey Properties, LLC, remonstrated against the original ordinance via letter.

“I think we need to talk with council more about this to determine what the appetite is for development standards,” Dickey said.

Overarching questions still hang in the air on the standards side of the ordinance – which could shape how thousands of motorists see it every day.

“One of the things we need to do is a make a determination as to whether or not now is the time to be looking at development standards,” Dickey said.

He said, in terms of building standards, the overlay district might be constricted down undeveloped land between 116th Street and 106th Street.

“Our approach is going to be to get land owners together and really begin to talk about standards that will work for everybody, that are heightened standards,” Dickey said.

According to Dickey, staff anticipates the need for further input as the process moves forward.

“I think what’s critical now is that we come to some understanding that’s probably between what the existing owners have today in rights and kind of what this vision of a perfect corporate corridor would be,” Dickey said. “Somewhere in between there is the right answer for a sustainable Fishers.”

As the town moves forward and the I-69 Overlay District’s map is redrawn in terms of standards for individual property owners and in general, one question remains.

Should an ordinance like the I-69 Overlay District been put in place years ago?

Town Manager Scott Fadness said what the council has done during the past 20 years to keep up with growth was impressive, and that the town was lucky essential services were accounted for.

“Fishers’ growth pattern is probably in the top one percentile of communities in terms of speed in which it grew,” he said. “We have the luxury of hindsight.”

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