County Planner FAQ

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Mitchell Bishop,
Director

555 Michigan Avenue, Suite 203
La Porte, IN 46350
Phone: 219-326-6808 Ext. 2253
Fax: 219-324-6349

Community Survey

Planning, also sometimes referred to as urban planning or city and regional planning, is a dynamic profession that works to improve the welfare of people and their communities by creating more convenient, equitable, healthful, efficient, and attractive places for present and future generations. Planning enables civic leaders, businesses and citizens to play a meaningful role in creating communities that enrich people’s lives. Land Use Planning is a process of organizing the use of land and resources to best meet people’s needs according to the land’s capabilities. Good planning helps create communities that offer better choices for where and how people live. Planning helps communities to envision their future. It helps us find the right balance of new development, essential services, environmental protection and change. Land use planning results in the preparation of a Comprehensive Plan, which forms the basis for future growth and development in the community.  The comprehensive plan is sometimes also referred to as a twenty year plan or a land development plan as referred here in La Porte County.  Its recommendations and policies are supposed to be realized over years and updated every so often as needed.

Zoning is defined as a legislative process through which the local governing body (under power delegated it by the state zoning enabling law) divides the planning jurisdiction into zoning districts and adopts regulations concerning the use of land and the placement, spacing, bulk, density and size of buildings. The primary goal of zoning is to avoid or minimize disruptive land use patterns involving incompatible land uses and to protect public health, safety, welfare and morals of our citizens.  A zoning ordinance must be based in the concept of general welfare and serve a public purpose. The “Public Purpose” is to prevent landowners from using their site to the detriment of the community.

Through effective regulations, many objectives can be achieved through zoning, including:

  • Protecting property values by providing minimum standards for land use and preventing incompatible land uses.
  • Protecting natural resources by preventing overdevelopment of land and providing standards for protecting its natural features.
  • Maintaining harmonious land use relationships by requiring setbacks between different uses, thereby limiting nuisances.
  • Ensuring compatible uses through dividing land uses among districts.
  • Prevent overcrowding by limiting the intensity and density of development, limiting the congestion of transportation systems and other public facilities, and controlling the rate, location, and timing of development.
  • Preventing overuse of land through density limitations, setbacks and lot coverage standards

Zoning and planning both depend on one another. Neither can exist without the other. The Comprehensive Plan (La Porte Counties Land Development Plan) can be thought of as a roadmap which captures graphics, charts and text describing what a community wishes for itself. Although the plan will discuss land use, it does not regulate land use. This is the role of the zoning ordinance. In short, the comprehensive plan provides the public policy basis for drawing and applying the zoning districts, which in turn controls what happens on the land. Zoning is the implementation tool to reach the La Porte County Land Development Plans goals.

A zoning ordinance consists of two parts: a map and text. The zoning map shows how the community is divided into different use districts or zoning designations. Zoning districts common to most ordinances include commercial residential, industrial and agricultural uses.  The zoning map must show precise boundaries for each district. Consequently, zoning maps rely on street or property lines as boundaries within a district. The zoning text serves two important functions. First, it explains the zoning rules that apply in each zoning district. These rules typically establish a list of land uses permitted in each district as well as a series of specific standards governing lot size, building height and required yard and setback provisions. Second, the text sets forth a series of procedures for administering and applying the zoning ordinance. The text is divided into Articles or Sections for ease of reference.

Traffic congestion, poor access, incompatible land uses, densities and sprawl; virtually every successful individual, corporation or community should plan for the future. “Failing to plan simply means planning to fail.” What if, a company did not have a business plan? Such a company would have a hard time attracting investors and would be at a huge disadvantage in the marketplace. The same is true of communities. A comprehensive plan is like a blueprint. It allows a community to define and accomplish its objectives and goals over time. Planning is an essential process to guide a community’s progress into the future in a logical, organized, optimized manner, and zoning is a tool used to realize the goals of the County Land Development Plan.

Zoning does not take away the rights of property owners, as these rights are protected under the Constitution. Zoning still allows property owners to make home improvements; build additions, out buildings and other personal conveniences. However, in some instances, for the general welfare of the community as a whole, there may be certain limits placed on how a property can be used. Zoning, ultimately, protects property owners from incompatible and noxious uses that may actually adversely affect property values and may create nuisances and disturbances to property owners. Zoning allows for better planning of the community as a whole and allows for uses in areas that are best capable of handling growth.

Communities are not static; they are a living breathing creature. Change is unavoidable, and there are only two kinds of change relating to land use and zoning: managed and unmanaged. Land use planning is one way to mitigate and manage change. The only way to preserve rural character, to maintain the community’s unique identity and protect resources in the community, is to adopt zoning ordinances. Without zoning, anyone can build anything, anytime, with no regulations or repercussions for anyone who creates a nuisance or hazard to fellow citizens. Zoning is used throughout the United States to protect the public health, safety, welfare and morals of its citizens and to direct growth into areas that are best able to handle new development.

If you currently have a business or other use that becomes “nonconforming”, it will be permitted to continue operating and will not have to close. This provision is called “grandfathering” and allows existing businesses and other uses to continue to operate. Expansions of such businesses will require a dimensional variance approval by the Board of Zoning Appeals, a County board made up of members from our community.

Property taxes are based upon the current use of the land and current market values, not what the future use may be or what the property is zoned. It typically is sprawl, not zoning, that increases taxes. Haphazard, inefficient land uses require taxpayers to pay more for roads, sewers, schools, utilities, and other public infrastructure. This has been well researched and documented extensively.

In the vast majority of cases, sensible land use controls usually enhance rather than diminish property values. Property values rise because zoning protects the value and enjoyment of the owner’s property, improves neighborhood stability, reduces adverse impacts between conflicting land uses, and ensures quality and sustainable development and growth in the community. Case in point, visit any historic district, (which have much more restrictive controls on property owners then a normal zoned district) and compare property values in the district to property values outside the district. Conversely, try selling a home adjacent to an asphalt plant, junkyard, or another incompatible use. You will soon see zoning is critical to the protection of property values. 

The Board of Zoning Appeals, when hearing a particular petitioner, is supposed to make their rulings objectively on the following criteria prescribed within Indiana Code.

For use variances: (1) The approval will not be injurious to the public health, safety, welfare and moral of the community; (2) The use and value of the area adjacent to the property included in the variance will not be affected in a substantially adverse manner; (3) The need for a variance arises from some particular condition to the property involved; (4) The strict application of the terms of the zoning ordinance will constitute an unnecessary hardship if applied to the property for which the variance is sought; (5) The approval does not interfere with the Comprehensive Planning document.

For dimensional variances, both (1) and (2) above apply with one addition.  The third standard that is should be met is the following:  The strict application of the terms of the zoning ordinance will result in practical difficulties in the use of the property.

You can define it as a difficulty with regard to ones ability to improve land stemming from regulations of an ordinance.

 

A practical difficulty is not a “hardship,” rather it is a situation where the owner could comply with the regulations within an ordinance, but would like a variance from the Development Standards to improve a site in a practical manner. An example; a person may request a variance from a side or rear yard setback due to a tree which is blocking the only location that would meet the standards for a new garages location.

A hardship is a difficulty with regard to one’s ability to improve land initiated from the application of the development standards of a zoning ordinance, which may or may not be subject to relief by means of a variance. Self-imposed situations and claims based on perceived reduction of or restriction on economic gain shall not be considered hardships.  Self-imposed situations include: the purchase of land with actual knowledge that development standards will inhibit the desired improvements; any improvement initiated in violation of the standards contained within a zoning ordinance: any result of land division requiring variance from the development standards of a zoning ordinance in order to render the site buildable.

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