This November Hoosier voters will make important decisions about the future economy of our state. They will choose the mayors and council members who will determine the members of local zoning boards and planning commissions. The choices of those boards and commissions will set the course of the state for fifty or more years.

We have many examples of good and bad land use in Indiana’s past; let’s look at some recent developments.

  • Boone County and Lebanon have guided development along their portions of I-65. Warehouses, heavy machinery sales and services, retail trade, and highway traveler services will be found adjacent to the interstate.
  • Crown Point, in Lake County, has allowed housing right along I-65, north and south of the 109th Avenue (Exit 249). This breaks the line of commercial, industrial, and institutional uses adopted by Merrillville further north.
  • Kokomo and Howard County have resisted cluttering the “new” US 31 bypass with the usual array of gas stations, fast food, and sundry commercial sprawl often found at expressway interchanges. At the same time, many businesses along the infamous “old” Kokomo bypass work to attract travelers. How that works out depends on informational signage approaching Kokomo.
  • Fort Wayne/Allen County built I-469 around the south and eastern sides of the city. Significant development along that loop has not materialized. Perhaps, they learned from the past when I-69 opened around the west and northern sides of the city. As commerce moved north, downtown was put on life support.
  • In Indianapolis, a land use change is being contested where the Glendale Shopping Center once set the bar for retail trade. Virtually unused parking spaces are being eyed for a 267-unit multi-family apartment complex in seven low-rise buildings.

Homeowners in the adjoining 50+ year old single-family neighborhood are challenging the permission granted for the development by the City’s zoning board.

The development makes sense, if one is concerned about rebuilding Indianapolis. The density of population and employment in Marion County need to be increased. More people with money could help revive commerce in the area. In addition, the land in the City, with the heavy concentration of untaxed institutions, needs to produce more revenue for urban services.

The remonstrators may not object to rental units but entertain negative expectations of the imagined renters. Who will be the new neighbors?

Think of those new units as condominiums occupied by retirees with pensions. They might be folks like those now living in that adjoining neighborhood. Just folks wishing to surrender lawn and garden care to younger green thumbs.

Could the developers bar persons under age 25 or 55 from renting, buying, or living in the apartments? Many are the ways to “discriminate,” excuse me, to attract “suitable” tenants or owners. Then what happens to the neighbors’ objections?

It’s worth finding out how your candidates think about land use in your community before you vote on November 5th.

Morton J. Marcus is an economist formerly with the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University. His column appears in Indiana newspapers, and his views can be followed his podcast.

© 2020 Morton J. Marcus