Indiana Municipal Law – Update on the Specificity Required in Zoning DecisionsBy: Jeremy L. Fetty

The specificity requirements of Indiana zoning decisions were discussed in The Kroger Co. v. Plan Commission of Plainfield, 953 N.E.2d 536 (Ind. Ct. App. 2011). In that case, Kroger wanted to construct a gas station next to its retail store. Kroger submitted a zoning petition seeking approval to begin construction, but the Plan Commission denied Kroger’s petition. Kroger sought judicial review. Both parties filed motions for summary judgment, with the trial court granting the Plan Commission’s motion for summary judgment. Kroger appealed, arguing that the denial did not satisfy the specificity requirement of the Zoning Enabling Act and also arguing that the Commission’s findings were not sufficient to support the denial of Kroger’s petition to construct a gas station.

The court looked at the language of the Plainfield Zoning Ordinance and concluded that it did contain the needed specificity “to provide landowners with fair warning as to what the governing body will consider when formulating its decision.” The court did determine, however, that the Planning Commission, in this instance, did not provide sufficient findings to inform Kroger why its proposed plan did not satisfy the zoning requirements. The Commission stated the proposed development was not appropriate to the site, was not consistent with the intent and purpose of the ordinance, and would create a safety hazard. The Commission failed to “clearly explain,” though, why the plan was not appropriate, why it was against the intent and purpose of the ordinance, and why it was a safety hazard. Without this needed information, Kroger would not have the opportunity to amend its proposed plan in a way that could potentially comply with the ordinance. The court also took time to remind the Commission that approval of such a petition meeting the zoning requirements constitutes “a ministerial as opposed to a discretionary act.”

Jeremy Fetty is a partner in the law firm of Parr Richey Obremskey Frandsen & Patterson with offices in Lebanon and Indianapolis. He often advises businesses and utilities (for profit, non-profit and cooperative) on organizational, human resources, and transactional matters and drafts and reviews commercial contracts.

The statements contained herein are matters of opinion and general information only and are not to be considered legal advice and should not be construed to form an attorney-client relationship. If you have any questions regarding this article, please contact an attorney.