Friday, March 28, 2008

Zoning And God

(Fishers, IN)- I grew up in Parma, Ohio- a town largely built in the post-WW2 boom, when GIs returned home and so many took the opportunity the flee the old cities and get into a new, safer, cleaner suburban community. Parma once held the claim to fame as the world's largest suburb.

There were many churches in my neighborhood, but besides the one I attended, the one that sticks out in my mind was St. Josaphat's Ukranian Church.

It's now known as the Ukranian Catholic Eparchy of Saint Josaphat. Essentially, it is a cathedral, with a Pope-appointed Bishop seated there.
St. Josaphat's Cathedral, Parma OH.

Needless to say, it's a crown jewel of the now-aging neighborhood- a thing of beauty that holds tremendous value (aesthetically, spirtually, monetarily) even as the surrounding area deteriorates a bit. It's bedrock for the community.

So it's interesting to me that my new hometown of Fishers is having a zoning debate over the height of a church. From an Indy Star report:
St. George Orthodox Church is moving from its longtime home on North Sherman Street in Indianapolis to 116th Street and Cumberland Road. The church plans to build a sanctuary more than five stories high but needs the town to make an exception to its zoning code to do so.

More than 20 homeowners who live near the church have told the town they oppose St. George's building plan. They say the size would dwarf the single-family homes in the area and disrupt the residential character of the neighborhood.
This is short-sighted on the part of the homeowners, at least if they plan on living in the community for more than three years. Back in Parma, St. Josaphat's dwarfs everything around it- until you go two blocks south and encounter my old church- St. Francis de Sales. Catch the thing I said about the bedrock of the community? Fishers is largely brand new today, just as Parma was in 1948. Fishers will deteriorate, just as surely as Parma has. Churches that are well-supported, however, are well maintained, and later serve to hold the rest of the community up as the deterioration begins around it. Why wouldn't you want that? More from the Star:
(Bob) Kehlor sees more than aesthetics involved in opposition -- it's a matter of principle.

"I asked for small variance for my property to build a driveway, and the town wouldn't let me do it,' he said. "That was nothing compared to what they want to do. The town should stick to its code, otherwise why even have it."

I can understand his very legitimate gripe. Why should one property owner be restricted while another can have the rules bent? Mr. Kehlor supplies the answer- get rid of the zoning.

As long as there is zoning, there will also be zoning appeals, and therefore variances. And, so long as variances are granted to some and not to others, the accusations of favoritism and unfair dealings will be there and will be legitimized. Zoning does unfairly punish individual property owners, who lack the kind of numbers a church can present- in terms of members-as-lobbyists, and cash for variance fees. Zoning's intent is to protect one property owner from the destructive actions of another. I doubt Kehlor's driveway would have been injurious to his neighbor. I can assure anyone that having a more grand church isn't going to injure anyone either. Quite the contrary. The problem is an overreaching government, that is well-exposed by this example.

If the Church owns the land, the Town shouldn't be able to play Land God over it, any more than it should have over Mr. Kehlor.

The old argument against zoning-free communities is that, "a hog farm could spring up next to you". In case you hadn't noticed, the hog farms in Fishers are long gone. They sold out to developers, because the land was far less valuable as a hog farm. That argument is bunk.

At the end of the day, I think that if this was a building that added assessed value to the Town, there would be no discussion. The variance would be granted- post haste. But, it will add a very different set of values to the Town, but also including property values for the neighborhood that surrounds it. Approve the darned thing!


Bobby G. said...

We suffer from the same thing on the SOUTH side of Ft. Wayne.
There are OVER 400 "houses" (think more like HOVELS) that are standing (some barely) in this part of town, and nothing is being done to make them (as you say) "ADD ASSESSED VALUE TO THE TOWN".
If someone would raze them all (many are being "sold" for $2500 to very dubious people) start anew with GOOD, solid housing with none of the section 8 "freebie" - everyone WORKS to own one, even if that means driving some nails and slapping some paint - I fully believe that THIS part of town would be a better tax source for this city (not that I like taxes, but I DO get tired of paying for everyone else).
It does have the novelty of NOT having been tried yet.

B.G. said...

Don't dare call it "commune ism"

Bud said...

I find it ironic that the city of Carmel has embraced the building and design of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church and yet the town of Fishers has a problem with Saint George's design. Holy Trinity's church when completed will give the city of Carmel something to boast about other than all their round abouts. I would wish the town of Fishers and the residents would embrace these types of building designs. I am sick of the cookie cutter subdivisions and the ‘office building design’ of all major buildings in the Hamilton County area.
My parent’s church, when they were renovating their sanctuary, had an issue with Carmel’s zoning board. They wouldn’t let the church put up a steeple over a certain height. So a lawyer on the church council drove around the City of Carmel and took photos of all the steeples in town that were over the restricted height. Needless to say they were granted their variance. But as a church you need to be careful with taking on the city or getting boughed down in legal battles. It may come back to haunt you when you need something approved like later expansion or permits. Maybe someone can point out to the Fishers zoning board that Carmel didn’t have a problem with Holy Trinity’s design and size?