Spark

August 4th, 2015
Managing Change

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Change is an important part of keeping a community healthy and vibrant. The Meridian~Kessler Neighborhood Association (MKNA) is constantly working to encourage growth, development and interest in its homes, commercial areas, programs and services. The association is also working to manage that change to ensure it is in line with Meridian~Kessler’s past and the vision for its future. Other entities help manage change as well, and together, they offer property owners the opportunity to enjoy the many benefits of historic neighborhoods while addressing their desire for modern-day lifestyles. Below is a description of some of these entities and their roles in our community.

Meridian~Kessler property owners should note that only one of the regulatory bodies listed below, the Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission (IHPC), offers protection against teardowns, so-called “McMansions,” inappropriate additions and new construction that is not consistent with surrounding homes or the overall character of Meridian~Kessler. While MKNA strives to protect and enhance the unique neighborhoods it serves, it is bound to the law, which— without IHPC oversight— offers very little protection at all. Thus, property owners, builders and developers are essentially free to do as they like with the property. This includes building five new homes where two homes (including a 100-year-old residence) stood or building/altering homes without input or review from neighbors or experts in city planning, architecture or historic preservation. Over time, these changes significantly change the neighborhood and erode the character that has defined it for more than a century.


National Register of Historic Places

The National Register of Historic Places is the official list of the nation’s historic places worthy of preservation. Authorized by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places is part of a national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate and protect America’s historic and archeological resources. Four Meridian~Kessler neighborhoods are on the National Register: Washington Park, Oliver Johnson’s Woods, Forest Hills and Meridian Street.

To become a National Register District, buildings or neighborhoods must submit an application stating their historic significance. The process typically begins with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (in.gov/dnr/historic), where the criteria, forms and other considerations are housed. Generally, buildings or neighborhoods must document that they are old enough (more than 50 years old) and their integrity is primarily intact (i.e., it still looks the way it did in the past.) The applicant must also document the building or neighborhood’s significance, such as events, activities or developments that were important in their past, architectural history, landscape history or engineering achievements and their potential to yield information through archeological investigation about its past.

Once a neighborhood is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it has a certain prestige and may receive associated publicity. It is an honorary designation, that allows property owners to apply for federal grants-in-aid and permits the use of investment tax credits for certified rehabilitation. It also provides protection from federally funded projects. In other words, property owners can do whatever they want with the property as long as there are no federal monies attached to the property. National Register designation does not restrict the sale or use of a property, nor does it protect any of the architecturally or historically significant aspects of the home(s) or neighborhood. In fact, the National Register of Historic Places has almost no bearing on zoning, land use or demolition, unless there are federal funds, permits or approvals required.


Meridian~Kessler Neighborhood Plan

MKNA recently spent more than three years developing a Neighborhood Plan, which folds into the City’s Comprehensive Plan. The Plan provides guidelines for residential and commercial redevelopment, advocates for sustainable and attractive neighborhoods, and promotes the area’s unique historic character. The neighborhood plan is also a guide for making a decision about the use of a property and is used to evaluate rezoning applications, to project future population and employment concentrations and prioritize capital improvements.


MKNA Land Use Committee

Property owners who want to make changes to an existing building or develop new construction (e.g., new home or garage), must adhere to building ordinances. If plans call for something inconsistent with the current building ordinances, owners must petition the MKNA Land Use Committee. The Land Use Committee makes recommendations to the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) regarding variances of the zoning ordinances. The MKNA Land Use Chairperson often testifies for or remonstrates against zoning variances on behalf of the neighborhood.


Indianapolis Board of Zoning Appeals

Property owners who want to make changes to an existing building or develop new construction (e.g., new home or garage), must adhere to building ordinances. If plans call for something inconsistent with the current building ordinances, owners must petition the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA). The BZA makes decisions on: variances of the zoning ordinances, special exceptions specifically allowed by the zoning ordinances, appeals of administrative decisions and approval petitions for modifications of previously approved petitions.

Many variances are related to setback, the distance from a curb, property line or structure within which building is prohibited. Setbacks are building restrictions imposed on property owners.

Local governments create setbacks through ordinances and building codes, usually for reasons of public policy such as safety, privacy and environmental protection. Setbacks prevent landowners from crowding the property of others, allow for the safe placement of pipelines and help to preserve wetlands.

All actions of the BZA require a public hearing. Indiana law requires petitioners to give public notice at least 10 days before the date set for a hearing. The orange yard signs are placed in public view to notify property owners in the designated vicinity. At the hearing, each party may appear in person, by agent or by attorney. The planning staff and any other persons may appear before the Board at the hearing and present evidence in support of or in opposition to the request.

Most of the BZA’s efforts are devoted to hearing variance requests, but the BZA is under no obligation to grant those variances. It is only required to hear the requests and to render decisions based on its findings. Variances can sometimes significantly change the character of an area, and are, therefore, carefully considered. That does not mean that variances are inherently bad. Since zoning regulations are applied broadly across the community, they don’t always apply to specific circumstances. Variances allow some degree of flexibility to zoning regulations.


Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission

In 1967, the Indiana state legislature passed a law that established and empowered the Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission (IHPC) to preserve the character and fabric of historically significant areas and structures. The IHPC protects areas through local designation and through providing technical assistance on the restoration and rehabilitation of historic structures or areas. To date, there are 17 historic areas with a preservation plan implemented and enforced by the IHPC—none of which is within the Meridian~Kessler neighborhood.

The Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission (IHPC) is a nine-member board appointed by the executive and legislative body of the consolidated city, with design and zoning review jurisdiction in the locally designated historic districts and conservation districts. Since 1976, the IHPC has had a professional staff that functions as a division of the Department of Metropolitan Development of the City of Indianapolis. The IHPC provides design and zoning review and approval for locally designated historic districts, conservation districts and individually designated properties.

Because the IHPC values property owners’ involvement in designating historic areas, it has developed a collaborative district designation process that encourages property owner participation. Property owners have the opportunity to suggest which aspects of a building’s or neighborhood’s character-defining attributes need protection. The preservation plan may include specific architectural features or attributes that must be preserved. Every preservation plan is unique and tailored to the community’s needs. Some communities have preservation plans that regulate many aspects of the buildings or structures, while others are more general, such as in IHPC Conservation Districts. Unlike National Register designation, neighborhood plans and building ordinances, local historic designation provides protection against changes that are not consistent with surrounding homes or the neighborhood.

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