As Gertrude Stein might have said, a plan is a plan is a plan is a plan—unless it’s not. Take, for example, new initiatives in two quite different parts of Midtown. One is recognized as a plan of record while the other is not.
On May 10, the Great Places 2020 initiative partners unveiled strategic plans for three areas that were designated “Great Places” in late 2014 as part of a city-wide revitalization strategy. A quarter-mile radius extending from the intersection of 38th and Illinois streets defines an area now dubbed Maple Crossing.
On June 1, Meridian-Kessler Neighborhood Association culminated a three-and-a-half year effort to update and replace the 1979 Meridian-Kessler Subarea Plan when the Metropolitan Development Commission (MDC) adopted the Meridian Kessler Neighborhood Plan. Five days later the City-County Council affirmed the MDC decision, and the plan is now an element of the Comprehensive Plan for Indianapolis and Marion County.
Both plans articulate community aspirations for the respective areas as captured during public meetings, and each plan lays out a series of recommendations and guidelines for development. But only one plan has legal standing, according to Brad Beaubien, the long-range planning administrator for the City of Indianapolis Department of Metropolitan Development (DMD).
“By state statute, the only plan of record is the Comprehensive Plan, which is solely developed by DMD and adopted by the MDC,” Beaubien said. “All plans that DMD does—commonly known as land use plans, neighborhood plans, or corridor plans—are adopted as pieces of this Comprehensive Plan.” Thus, the MKNA Plan has standing by virtue of having been adopted through existing legal channels.
Beaubien said the City recognizes the value of what he termed “third-party prepared plans” that include the Great Places plans and various quality-of-life plans, even though they are not official city policy and are not directly adopted into the Comprehensive Plan. “DMD is currently building a process by which the increasing number of third-party plans can have a pathway to amending the most relevant pieces of the Comprehensive Plan, such as the land use plan, to align with their desires,” he said.
“We are building a certification process to insure that these plans, prepared by outside entities, have gone through a legitimate and comprehensive community engagement process and align with other components of the Comprehensive Plan.”
DMD director Emily Mack said she and Beaubien have been working on the certification process. “I’ve already reviewed a draft version, and long-range planning staff is working on a revised version right now,” she said, adding that the goal is to have something later this year.
Beaubien added that even if this process had already been in place, the three new Great Places plans are less than a month old. “It takes longer than that to update plans,” he said. During public hearings for variance of development standards, he said, DMD staff may use the Comprehensive Plan as the primary information source, while state statute lays out rezoning criteria. The Comprehensive Plan is only one of five things to be considered. “Other parties at the public hearing are free to bring whatever other testimony they have, including privately prepared plans,” he said.
That bodes well for the Great Places plan for Maple Crossing, which includes elements that are not part of neighborhood plans like MKNA’s: a demographics assessment that looks at social and economic factors as well as a commercial space market analysis. Both plans highlight significant areas worthy of careful scrutiny. MKNA’s plan designates 17 critical areas and gives more detailed recommendations for land use in them. Maple Crossing’s plan lists assets and opportunities within the focus area and lays out a thorough “Vision for Future Development” for implementation by 2020.
The City of Indianapolis is an implementation partner for the Great Places initiative. Beaubien said that most of the City’s support has come in the form of providing preference points for community development dollars in areas like Promise Zones, areas adjacent to planned rapid transit lines, and the Great Places areas. “As we amend the Comprehensive Plan, Great Places plans will be an ingredient,” he said.
The strength of the Midtown initiative’s comprehensive community development strategy lies in successfully connecting stronger markets like Meridian-Kessler with weaker markets like Maple Crossing. Existing tools such as quality-of-life plans for the mid-north and northeast parts of Midtown, along with adopted plans like the Envision Broad Ripple Plan (PDF) and the North Midtown Economic Development Plan (PDF), are augmented by the two latest plans to continue the district’s healthy evolution, growth, and prosperity.