Zoning law changes could help spur growth in blighted Indianapolis neighborhoods

Abandoned buildings are a common sight along the Monon Trail south of 38th St.
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Plans are in the works that could change the look and feel of Indianapolis. That includes everything from how you get around, to where you live and shop.

The city is looking at overhauling its zoning laws for the first time in 40 years, and supporters say changes are needed to make it easier to grow and develop.

Those laws effect things like where sidewalks and signs go and how you renovate a building. We found an example of how zoning changes could dramatically change a neighborhood just north of downtown.

The Monon Trail is one of the most popular trails in the state, although the southern part remains undeveloped. It's mostly industrial and lined with empty lots.

"We have way too many vacant lots but that makes us really, I think, prime to get people to come back in and start from scratch," said photographer Wilbur Montgomery, who knows the challenges firsthand. He bought an old warehouse along the Monon four years ago and turned it into a design studio. He sees great potential here, especially given the area's easy access to downtown.

"I would hope that it's the next great Indianapolis area," he said.

But just as Montgomery works to fix up his property, he says it's a good idea for the city to fix or update its zoning laws.

"If you have ever had the displeasure of sitting down and reading the zoning laws, they're the most confusing thing in the entire world," said Montgomery.

For one, he'd like to see the area around the Monon, which has been zoned industrial since its railroad days, allow for mixed use development.

"I think that's the best way to bring up a neighborhood as quickly as possible is have your workers and your people who live here all in the same place," he said.

Jim Burton would like to see that too. He's lived in the area for 60 years.

"I just don't think it's suited for an industrial area. I think it's more suited for residential," he said.

Burton says the area is moving in that direction with new and rehabbed houses, the newly redone soccer fields off 16th street and this apartment complex not far from the Monon. In many ways, he'd like to see it return to the way it was.

"When we moved here, they had it. You name it. Small groceries. Dry cleaners. Theaters," he said. But all that disappeared as the economy changed over time. Some hope a recrafting of the zoning laws can help spur new growth - and bring the neighborhood back.

Read about the zoning changes here.