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Saturday, February 25, 2006

Ind. Law - Several interesting zoning stories this week

"Property rights versus farmland protection at issue in Porter County rezoning" was the heading to an ILB entry dated Dec. 16, 2004, quoting from a very good report in the Chesterton Tribune, written by Vicki Urbanik. That story, which is still available online, began:

A pending rezoning in south Porter County highlights the dilemma facing a growing county with rich farmland: At what point is a landowner’s right to develop outweighed by the goal of preserving one’s rural heritage?

That issue will be among the many to be hashed out in the months ahead as county planners work to overhaul the zoning and subdivision control ordinances affecting the unincorporated areas. The current land use plan calls for farmland preservation, but that plan is only a guide. It will be up to the rewritten ordinances to spell out precisely how farmland can be protected in the face of development.

This week, more than a year later, Ms. Urbanik has two more reports on zoning in the Tribune. The first, from Wednesday, was headlined "Commissioners nix residential rezoning of agricultural land for subdivision." It begins:
It was the classic rezoning case, pitting a farmer who wants to develop his property for a new subdivision against neighboring residents who say they want to maintain their rural quality of life.

In the end, Porter County Commissioners John Evans and Robert Harper both voted Tuesday against the petition of Keith Freyenberger, who wanted to rezone his agriculturally zoned land off Ind. 8 to Rural-Residential in order to develop a 22-lot subdivision on the 40 acres.

Though the case involved land in Pleasant Township, the arguments raised and the impact of the decision have countywide implications, since the case is one of many in which county officials must weigh the sometimes conflicting issues of the rights of property owners to develop, the impact on the county’s current zoning and land use plan, and the rights of neighbors fighting for their community.

Several of those who spoke against the rezoning say they are long-time residents of the area or that they moved to the community for its rural quality -- complete with the pig farm and the large-scale cattle operation nearby. They also said residential subdivisions ought to be built in or closer to established towns and cities.

Roger Hefner said people who have recently moved to the area have complained about the goats and donkeys at one farm and about the use of fertilizers. “They want to come to the country, but they don’t want the country,” he said.

Other residents said they find it a shame that so much good farm ground in Porter County is being turned into subdivisions. Daryl Jarnecke said property just north of Freyenberger’s is for sale, and that he fears that if the commissioners rezone his parcel, others would want to do the same, resulting in many more subdivisions.

The second, posted Friday, is headlined "County's new zoning ordinance now open for public review." Some quotes:
After about a year of work, Porter County Plan Commission officials have completed their proposed overhaul of the county’s zoning ordinances, resulting in a document that’s much more comprehensive than the 23-year-old rules now in effect.

Plan Commission Executive Director Robert Thompson said the current 1983 zoning ordinances incorporate uses that date back to 1959 -- such as listing telegraph offices among the permitted uses.

He describes the new “Porter County Unified Development Ordinance” as a major change in Porter County’s rules. “We needed a major change,” he said.

The draft ordinance will be the subject of public hearings tentatively set for April at various sites throughout the county. The ordinance must be adopted by the Porter County Commissioners before it can take effect.

Among other things, the draft ordinance establishes new zoning categories and building standards, but doesn’t address where these zones would be. That process will take place later with the development of a zoning map. Thompson said he first wanted to go through the public input process to see how the public feels about the changes in the underlying definitions, categories and uses.

The draft ordinance is on-line, and Thompson said he urges the public to look at the document in preparation for the upcoming public hearings.

The ordinance helps bring the zoning categories in sync with the land use plan adopted several years ago. That plan was never codified but has served as a guide for planning officials. In general, it encourages higher density housing closer to cities and towns and agricultural use and low-density housing in the more rural areas. * * *

Also new are the AG categories. The A1 (general agriculture) zone would cover general farming operations, ag-businesses, and sales of produce and products; it would require a lot size of at least 10 acres. The A2 (prime agriculture) zone is aimed at the “significant protection” of agricultural operations, and would require lots of at least 20 acres. The A3 (intense agriculture) zone is geared toward the industrial side of agriculture, such as confined feeding operations. * * *

The 442-page Porter County Unified Development Ordinance can be accessed on line [here is the direct link].

Meanwhile, at the other end of the state, the Louisville Courier Journal reports today, in a story by Alex Davis, that begins:
A new zoning ordinance for Floyd County is expected to be finished in the next 60 days, giving the county its first overhaul of zoning guidelines in four decades.

The document will replace an ordinance that has changed only slightly since it was approved in 1967. For the first time ever, it will give the county zoning categories such as commercial and industrial for a large swath of suburban and rural areas.

"It's what we've needed for a long time," said Carol Tobe of the Save Our Knobs citizens group, which focuses on planning and zoning issues.

Tobe said the county's existing zoning -- which consists of a single generic category called "agricultural/residential" -- offers no guidance on sensitive matters such as the best place to build a subdivision or commercial development.

Instead, a landowner who wants to make almost any modification to a property -- from a new building to a lease with a prospective tenant such as a shopping center -- must seek a "conditional-use" permit.

Don Lopp, the county planner, said the steps required to obtain that permit are part of a "very long process" that includes public meetings, paperwork and the approval of the county's Board of Zoning Appeals. * * *

The new zoning ordinance will establish a series of categories, including three types of commercial districts, four types of residential districts and two types of industrial districts.

Lopp said the categories generally will be based on existing uses and infrastructure. A commercial district, for example, would most likely need sewer and water service, along with high-capacity roads. Rural areas would be targeted for lower-density residential or agricultural categories.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on February 25, 2006 05:42 PM
Posted to Environment | Indiana Government | Indiana Law | Indiana economic development