Thursday, February 16, 2012

Yesterday's Zoning Case - Its About Far More Than a Parking Facility

Quite candidly, I have not been blogging for the past week because of the pending zoning hearing that was held yesterday for 2.5 - 3 hours.  It was all I wanted to talk about, but I did not want to jeopardize the ultimate outcome by posting.  That outcome was too important to my community.  But, now that it is over, I will lay out all of the strangeness that latched on to what should have been a dull and routine rezoning of 15 acres of land.  Readers of this blog will recognize that the themes that permeate this rezoning spectacle are exactly the themes I bring up all the time - TIF districts, taxes, government overreach, and public input into the decisions made by government.  I think once you hear the full extent of what culminated in yesterday's hearing, you will agree that liberal or conservative, there are things we can all agree are appropriate actions of government and things we can all agree are inappropriate.

I am going to break this up over several blog entries, as I do not want to rush through the important pieces of the puzzle, nor to I want to impose on my readers a thesis length single blog entry trying to cover it all.  For today, I will hit the peaks, then tomorrow and after I'll look at each mountain.

First of all, here are some links to excellent reporting by Mary Milz of Channel 13 and Anthony Schoettle of the IBJ.  I will also add a link to the WCTY, government channel, archive of yesterday's hearing once it is posted.

Second, I want to thank the Commissioners for siding with the community by a vote of 6-2.  I want to thank Councillors Jason Holiday (our district Councillor), Bob Lutz (whose district takes in the north side of the airport), and Zach Adamson (one of our At-Large Councillors) for taking the time to come downtown and speak out in support.  A thanks also goes to Councillors Steve Talley and Jeff Cardwell for sending in letters of support.  Last but not least, a stout and hardy thank you goes out to all of my fellow Decaturites and other supporters who attended the hearing.  Our butts may have become numb during the hours of the prolonged hearing, but the impact of visible community support cannot be overestimated.

So, here's the overview.

Ameriplex is a 1200 acre industrial park here in Decatur.  The airport and I-70 abut it to the north.  It extends in places to Kentucky Avenue with carve-outs of several abutting neighborhoods.  There are also hundreds of acres south of I-70 held by the airport for a future runway that make the outline of Ameriplex strangely angled on the northern perimeter as well. (I uploaded a land use map of the park to Google docs - click here).  The vast majority of the park and the vast majority of the current development is in the TIF district set up for the long gone United Maintenance deal at the airport.  This TIF district continues to be problematic for the Decatur community.

Ameriplex wanted to locate a park and fly facility on a 30 acre block within Ameriplex that was convenient to the traveling public at the first stoplight south of the I-70/Ameriplex Parkway interchange.  This area is also outside of the TIF district and there would be no tax abatement sought for the project.  Now, everyone I have talked to had the same reaction I did upon hearing this news.  "Oh, really?  I don't like that one bit".  But, once you listened to what was being proposed, you changed your mind (or 90% of the people did).

This was to be a Fast Park & Relax facility.  This is a family business with off-airport parking at a dozen airports around the Country.  They are not typical of this genre.  They are environmentally progressive - with canopies over every parking spot; lights hanging from the under side and solar panels atop.  They capture rainwater and reuse it on site.  They insist on ample landscaping and screening.  Their shuttles run on alternative energy.  This green approach is instructive in that it demonstrates that when something is important to you, not only can you make it work, you can build a thriving business at the same time.

The block chosen was of mixed zoning uses - half would allow the Fast Park and half would not.  So, Ameriplex sought the zoning change.

Enter the Plainfield Park Fly & Ride off-airport facility, otherwise called the "Indy Park Fly & Ride".  This is part of a network of 50 off-airport parking facilities around the Country.  They hired a lawyer to derail the zoning.

At the eleventh hour who enters but the 800 pound gorilla known as the Indianapolis International Airport, who decides that it does not like having another competitor for the parking business it runs.  Mayor Ballard agrees and joins them in their opposition.

All Marion County residents should be alarmed at what the Indy Airport is up to.  I have blogged on it before and I'll go into it again later, but the Airport, which touts itself as an economic engine, has morphed into a tax-free business entity whose business model will bring much harm to legitimate private sector development and competition.  In an ironic twist, by trying to kill off zoning for a private, reasonably located business enterprise on private property, they may have helped illuminate just what they really are now all about.

The hearing yesterday should have been about land use for 15 acres of a 1200 acre industrial park on the southwest corner of Marion County.  While that was noted, the hearing was really about whether or not a private company and a governmental unit should be allowed to keep out another private competitor simply because the did not want that competition eating into their bottom line.

The meeting was run quite well by Chairman Tim Ping.  Although he did not vote with us, he did allow all of the points to be thrown out onto the table.  The information did not flow in a linear fashion, but I do believe it all got out.

On the side trying to kill the project was the Airport, represented by Bob Duncan, former Attorney for the Airport as well as its former Executive Director, the Mayor's Office, represented by Mike Huber, Deputy Director for Economic Development (quite the misnomer yesterday), and Indy (really Plainfield) Park Ride & Fly, represented by attorney Brian Tuohy.  About a dozen Decatur residents  attended, who represent the 10% of the nearby homeowners opposed to the project.

On our side we had Ameriplex and Fast Park, represented by attorney Murray Clark, and the huge support of 5 Councillors (Holiday, Lutz, Adamson, Talley, and Cardwell) who provided an important counter balance to the weight of the Airport and Mayor's Office.  I'd guess about 45 or more Decaturites who support the project attended.  At least half were residents of the nearest neighborhood and they represented the 90% who live in the area and support the project.  Not insignificant to me, we had the support of the Decatur Township Civic Council and the Marion County Alliance of Neighborhood Associations.

The vote of the Commission was 6 - 2 to approve the rezoning.  That was a resounding affirmation that the Airport should not be able to limit private enterprise simply because the Airport would prefer not to have competition.  It was a fair result and an important result for Decatur Township.

More on the individual pieces of this story as the days go on.


Jon said...

Is the airport going ahead with the installation of solar panels? Why doesn't the airport return the non airport used land back to the tax base?

Had Enough Indy? said...

You know Jon, I do not know the status of the solar panel array project.

Your second question is at the heart of what the airport is up to. They fully intend to keep the land and lease it tax free to developers, who can then build tax free structures to support non-airport related businesses. These businesses will likely be afforded abatements and incentives as well, all in the false name of economic development. These businesses will have an unfair advantage over those located on private property, as there 'lease payment' will likely be smaller than their property tax bill would have been.

I have tried to make the argument that by not turning the land back onto the tax rolls, they are essentially trying to take in property taxes (by calling them lease payments) and not even share them with other taxing units of local government. Meanwhile they continue to brag that they are not supported by property tax dollars.

Had Enough Indy? said...

Sorry, I meant 'their'. I know at least one person who I just drove crazy ;o)

Anonymous said...

Remember, it wasn't actually a rezoning, but merely a shifting of use categories within an existing zoning district.

Had Enough Indy? said...

anon 6:54 - yes, that is technically true. However, I am trying to communicate here and only a fraction of my readers will be familiar with an approval or modification petition. Ultimately, the result is that the permissible uses changed on the parcel; most folks understand that to be a rezoning. I'm not inclined to get into the technical weeds on the Ameriplex zoning. There are more important fish to fry, so to speak. So, please indulge me in this.

guy77money said...

It seems to me that all of our local government agencies are doing everything in their power to generate income. The parking meter and the water company deal generated a ton of money up front. Throw in all the money from the TIF districts they are spending and I wonder if the city is using all of this income to prop up their budget. The way Marion County is going through cash I would suspect Indy will be getting close to being tapped out.