A REPORT ON THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE CITY OF INDIANAPOLIS, METROPOLITIAN DEVELOPMENT,
MERIDIAN~KESSLER SUBAREA PLAN for LAND USE
An American Dream is in the midst of transformation. While many shared a particular desire to own a house on a cul-de-sac in a community that was a corn field just a short time ago, social and cultural trends are redefining how people want to live, shop, work, play, learn and grow. In the last ten years, more people demonstrate that they want to become members of communities where they can access urban greenways to bike to work, where they can journey along calm sidewalks to get to school or a neighborhood park, and where they can eat, drink and shop locally at corner bistros, bookstores and butchers.
The ability to live in such a place with these everyday amenities wasn’t so rare before the post–WWII era. When the lure of bigger homes, bigger car garages and bigger backyard barbecue grills beckoned, many moved to blank slate subdivisions. Some of those established corner shops closed or moved to new strip malls at the edges of the housing tracts. Specific areas of cities, through the application of mid-twentieth century zoning codes, became dedicated to specific kinds of activities. We established Dwelling Districts, Commercial Districts and Industrial Districts. And the distances between them grew. So much for walking to the neighborhood hardware store to buy a new drill bit—unless you lived in one of those rare neighborhoods like Meridian~Kessler. People who have always made MK a place for home and work have been able to enjoy a lifestyle that is both pre-WWII retro and, at the same time, suddenly on the cutting edge of trends in American urban planning.
If you have a memory longer than 10 years, and are honest in your current appraisal of all of our blocks, you’ll know that MK’s neighborhood passage from 1940s era hamlet to present urban model hasn’t been seamless nor are our current commercial districts spotless. While most of our retail nodes are healthy and becoming more attractive to new businesses every year, we can still find empty storefronts and vacant lots in both higher– and lower–profile areas of the neighborhood. Neighborhood associations including MKNA along with commercial developers and business entrepreneurs are actively generating new ideas for community renewal. Yet, the development of human-scaled, mixed-use projects that embrace visions of walkable streetscapes requires new approaches to established zoning rules.
In the series ‘An Introduction to Form-Based Codes,’ Joel Russell and Mary Madden state,
“Not only does most zoning fail to implement plans for the future, many towns and cities are also realizing that their current zoning ordinances would not even allow them to rebuild their historic centers and neighborhoods.”
Many communities seeking to develop new neighborhoods, or to renew historic urban centers, have embraced the form-based code approach to guide their vision. Tony Perez, Director of Form-Based Coding for Opticos Design, Inc. in Berkeley, CA writes,
“Form-based coding began in response to the aspirations of a few visionary architects and developers who wanted to build genuine, lasting places, based on the patterns of great local communities.
Unresponsive zoning regulations often erected insurmountable barriers to these proposals and made proposals for sprawl the path of least resistance… Today, form-based coding is a necessary zoning reform—one of several important tools that communities need to position themselves as serious candidates for reinvestment.”
All development in Meridian~Kessler is currently regulated by several sets of overlapping policies—The Indianapolis-Marion County Zoning Ordinance along with various Adopted Land Use Plans including “Indianapolis Insight: The Comprehensive Plan for Marion County, Indiana, Community Values Component (2002)” and our current neighborhood plan titled “Meridian~Kessler Subarea Plan (1979).” The introduction to the 1979 Subarea Plan includes the statement, “The plan is designed as a five year program. It is subject to review and amendment within this time framework.”
While the 1979 Plan was an appropriate response to the concerns of MK citizens at that time, it does not provide guidelines for achieving the qualities of life we want to enjoy today. Our current conditions— and the visions and values of MK residents— require a new Plan that incorporates a contemporary form-based code approach to conceptualizing opportunities for urban renewal and economic development. As a result, Meridian~Kessler initiated a process to write a new “Meridian~Kessler Subarea Plan.”
The underlying Zoning Code— currently being recrafted through the Indy Rezone process— will remain in effect. A new Meridian~Kessler Subarea Neighborhood Plan will continue to act as an “overlay” providing recommended actions in the form of visual and written standards that describe building setbacks, heights, scale, landscaping and mix of land uses. It should influence future land use and reuse decisions and catalyze infill projects by encouraging— and visually demonstrating— the types of future development that the community desires.
For example, new projects along Winthrop Avenue and the Monon Trail have already started to transform this once bleak industrial area into a vibrant commercial office corridor through effective adaptive re-use of former industrial properties. Projects including DeveloperTown, TCC Software Solutions and Bent Rail Brewery are evidence of the demand of progressive entrepreneurs to locate their businesses within livable communities. They understand that to attract the most desirable employees from a competitive labor pool, they must offer workplaces that are in or adjacent to thriving residential communities— where employees can bike to work, walk to lunch and connect their personal identity to a relevant lifestyle.
A Vision for Winthrop Avenue. Concept Images by Tom Gallagher.
By rewriting our MK Neighborhood Plan with the form-based code approach, we can provide tangible tools to influence how adaptive re-use developments continue along Winthrop Avenue and in all of our other neighborhood Character Areas.
The MK Plan speaks to the interaction between the streets, blocks, commercial and residential buildings, parking and traffic density patterns. It provides examples of best practices for creating comfortable relationships between people, properties and the street.
Being mindful of the goals of safe movement throughout our neighborhood, the form-based code approach also addresses all modes of transportation accessibility to areas of the neighborhood and the appropriateness of adding features such as bike lanes and racks, bus stop shelters and seating, new sidewalks and providing landscaping between the sidewalks and off-street vehicular zones.
In order to convene public meetings to gather feedback from all the stakeholders, the Steering Committee identified unique districts or “character areas” throughout Meridian~Kessler. The establishment of character areas reflects the recognition that there is diversity of community assets, styles, textures, functions, needs and concerns within different pockets of Meridian~Kessler. By defining the character areas— the intersection of 49th and Pennsylvania Street, a Central Avenue Corridor, College Avenue from Kessler to 52nd, College Avenue from 49th to 40th, a Monon Trail Corridor and a 38th Street Corridor divided into three segments— the process allows for the development of a plan that respects the uniqueness of areas that deserve unique form-based codes.
The meeting for each character area opened with an introduction to the concept of form-based code and an examination of photographs of the area to explore what might be a unifying “typology” of the area. Discussion of the typology served as the starting point for the community conversation where stakeholders could share why those chose to live in the area. While discussions focused upon form (architectural style, setbacks, lighting, signage, street and bicycle markings, landscaping) they also addressed land use issues, as these might have an impact upon form as well.
Stakeholders at every meeting discussed “What aspects do you not want to see change?” and “What are problem areas and how do you envision the solution?” Neighbors shared what might best suit their personal needs and also what guidelines might serve to strengthen the neighborhood as a whole. Every neighborhood meeting included an opportunity to articulate “deal breakers”— those uses neighbors feel would never be acceptable to them, followed by identification of types of businesses to be discouraged.
A narrative of each community conversation was written by facilitators and published on the MK Plan section of the mkna.org website. These notes as well as minutes from all Steering Committee meetings are presently available online. Hundreds of stakeholders including residents, business owners and representatives of bordering neighborhood associations gave feedback during eight discussions.
Patterns emerging from the feedback include a desire to improve the pedestrian experience and to keep MK a “walk-able” place through the introduction of upgrades in our infrastructure such as burying utility lines, installing new curbs, lighting pedestrian paths, upgrading storm and sanitary sewers.
Tom Gallagher, a professional urban designer and longtime neighborhood resident, actively advised the planning committee and also contributed conceptual images for the Winthrop Avenue corridor to demonstrate how the form-based code approach can affect the development of an area over time. Using data that emerged from the community process, city planning staff members Kathleen Blackham and Keith Holdsworth created a twenty-six-page draft of the MK Plan document. Ball State University College of Architecture and Planning undergraduate students Michael Gasper and Alayna Davidson created the supporting visual illustrations.
This spring, the draft of the MK Neighborhood Plan will be presented to the Meridian-Kessler neighborhood at a public meeting and on the MKNA website for review and comment. Any changes will be incorporated and a final draft will be presented again for approval by the neighborhood. The Plan will then be presented to the Metropolitan Development Commission for adoption and inclusion in the City’s Comprehensive Plan as a regulatory document.
Working together as residents and business owners through a community visioning process, and partnering with City planning and regulatory agencies, we have the opportunity to shape the quality of how we choose to live, work, shop, play, learn and grow. The development of a new Meridian Kessler Neighborhood Plan encourages all neighbors to collaborate to shape the form, texture and livability of our neighborhood for future decades— to conserve its historic architectural charms and to promote its inherent relevance to contemporary lifestyles through sensitive reuse, repurposing and revitalization.
What is Form–Based Code ?
Form Based Code is a means for regulating development to achieve a desired urban quality. It’s different from zoning.
Zoning is, by nature, general. Form-based code is rooted in a specific place.
Zoning is focused on ‘protection from bad’. Form-based code is focused on ‘getting to good’.
The form-based approach is visual; It provides not just the code but the results.
Zoning Codes focus on
Form Based Codes focus on
Process for Development of the new Meridian~Kessler Subarea Plan
January 10, 2012 — Steering Committee Launches Work on Plan
NEIGHBORS residing near non-residential properties-homeowners and those leasing
OWNERS of non-residential properties
Alicia Byers, Mary Owens, Co-Chairs
Tom Gallagher, RLA & Urban Designer
Jon Albrecht, Architect
Polly Spiegel, Department of Anthropology, Indiana University, IUPUI
Kent Pinaire, Architect
Jim Garrettson, Attorney
Scott Lacy, Realtor
Jerrey Finnegan, Engineer
Vera Adams, College of Architecture and Urban Planning, Ball State University
Karl Selm, Geographic Information Systems
Neighborhood Meeting Series
How will Meridian~Kessler look and feel in the next 20 years?
February 8, 2012 — Central Avenue Corridor Discussion: From 40th Street to 46th Street
February 16, 2012 — College Avenue Discussion: From Kessler Boulevard to 52nd Street
February 27, 2012 — College Avenue Discussion: From 49th Street to 40th Street
Tuesday June 5, 2012 — 38th Street Corridor Discussion: from College to Meridian
December 4, 2012 — Monon Trail Corridor Discussion: From 54th Street to 42nd Street
January 15th, 2013 — 38th Street Corridor Discussion: From Fairgrounds to Central Avenue
February 24, 2013 — 38th Street Corridor Discussion: From Central Avenue to Fall Creek
April 9, 2013 – 38th Street Corridor Discussion: From Central Avenue to Meridian Street
May 21, 2013 — 49th and Pennsylvania Street Discussion
June 18, 2013 — Neighborhood Discussion: Prioritizing Feedback on all Character Areas