Board talks hiring consultant for zoning update

The Brown County Area Plan Commission is considering working with a consultant to update definitions in the county’s zoning ordinance following a work session last month.

For the last three years, the APC has been trying to work on improvements to the zoning ordinance and addressing more pressing items first, planning and zoning director Christine Ritzmann said this month.

There were eight items total on tha list, the last one being the modernization of definitions.

Ritzmann said that after addressing definitions at one or two work sessions, it was decided by the commission that there were so many to be improved, added or deleted that a consultant was probably the “best way to go.”

Where words like “telegraph” are used in the current zoning ordinance, definitions for words like “glamping” or “ziplining” are not included at all.

The consultant, Dave Kieser from Kieser Consulting Group LLC in Indianapolis, presented to the board during a work session on Dec. 29. Kieser is one of two consulting agencies that have offered services to the county in reviewing definitions, zoning and subdivision ordinances.

Kieser told the commission that he and his agency are planners, engineers and historic preservation specialists.

“Hopefully this process can be done to help you guys understand a lot better what words and phrases are (in the zoning ordinance),” Kieser said. “We’re very interested in working with you.”

The process would entail a review of the current zoning ordinance, subdivision control ordinance along with phrases, wording and definitions. Those items would be compared with Indiana Code as well as more up-to-date codes with which Kieser has been involved in creating for other towns and counties.

Kieser said his firm has a “great working knowledge” of the Indiana Code.

When asked about a potential timeframe for completion of the update, Kieser said his firm does not like going over nine months to one year. Anything more than that tends to be “drawn out,” he said.

Not only would a review of verbiage be a part of the service, but also illustrations to help individuals understands definitions and phrases. The end product would be updated zoning and subdivision ordinances.

The reviewing process would involve Kieser’s firm, the APC, a steering committee of four or five community members, local developers and possibly an attorney, Kieser said.

APC member Andy Voils likened the review process to remodeling a home and how there may be unexpected changes or updates that become necessary.

“You’re pitching a remodel in the bathroom but we’re going to end up tearing up the main hallway,” he said.

Kieser said his firm is small enough to devote a lot of time and investment to it.

“We’re going to meet within your budget what you currently have (for this),” he said. “This is a zoning ordinance, we have a good working knowledge of what needs (to be in one). It’s called ‘the language of zoning.’”

The budget for the project would come out of the plan consultant line in the zoning department’s budget, which is set at $10,000. Kieser offered to come under that number and is preparing something “more solid” for a future work session, Ritzmann said.

There are other consultants interested who will make proposals.

The project was advertised in early December and Kieser was “on it right away,” Ritzmann said.

APC President Randy Jones said the commission wished to focus on “workable and clear definitions” with consistency and how those definitions compare to state statute.

Kieser said he advises towns and counties to review codes every three to five years. Brown County’s comprehensive plan was updated in 2013.

The comprehensive plan includes goals and preservation for the county and it must be in agreement with the zoning ordinance. The updating of the comprehensive plan has to be initiated by the APC.

Updating the comprehensive plan is not on the table at this time, Ritzmann said, with the APC wanting to review definitions first.

With many counties creating five year plans, APC member Debbie Bartes said the county is “overdue” for revisiting a five year plan and the APC should start with updating the comprehensive plan first, which could change the zoning ordinance.

“The comprehensive plan is the foundation (of the ordinances and decisions made),” she said. “You have to have a solid foundation.”

“If we spent money on (Kieser Consulting Group), definitions are not going to help us when we’re going to redo our whole comprehensive plan,” she said. “Are we putting the cart before the horse? The comprehensive plan should be what drives the whole engine.”

Kieser said his firm can do a “cursory review” of the county comprehensive plan and that it is the “precept” of the zoning and subdivision ordinance.

APC member Kara Hammes said that the commission has already been making decisions with the definitions they have currently and said she thinks the entire comprehensive plan needs to be rewritten.

“The definitions are antiquated … It does not reflect what we’re dealing with,” she said. “We’re bound by what the ordinance allows. When it doesn’t reflect what the community actually wants to be permitted (it’s an issue).”

“I agree they (the definitions) need updated, but I feel like the bigger issue is the comprehensive plans and overall codes themselves,” she continued. “I don’t know what even is in the budget, but you’re looking at six figures of costs to do that whole thing.”

Kieser said there are grants for comprehensive plans available and that his firm writes them often.

He recommended working with their firm to update definitions with illustrations along with get recommendations on updates to the comprehensive plan, zoning ordinance and subdivision control ordinance. The subdivision control ordinance is the development code for dividing property in the county, Ritzmann said.

He said the commission could have Kieser Consulting Group identify grants to help cover the costs of those updates.

He continued that definitions need updated immediately, which could be done in a “couple of months.”

The APC did not make a final decision on whether to use Kieser’s firm for this project. Another bidder was going to be made aware of Kieser’s proposal.

Discussions on updating definitions within the zoning ordinance are set to continue. The APC will meet next on Jan. 25 at 6 p.m.