Amended less than two years ago, the city's landscape ordinance looks to be headed for another round of changes, these aimed at making the requirements less burdensome to local businesses.
In 2018, at the urging of former city council member Duane Chattin, the ordinance requirements were tightened with the goal of improving the city's “curb appeal.”
City council members Tim Salters and Brian Grove opposed the changes then, and they are both now in favor of loosening the requirements.
Dennis Kordes, a longtime member of the city's Tree Board, spoke to the council Monday night at City Hall, 201 Vigo St., about making changes that would cut in half the amount of trees and shrubbery now required of a business, while at the same time calling on the business to volunteer to meet 100% of the former requirements.
He called the ordinance as it now reads “well intended” but too restrictive, saying it limits development in the city because the requirements are impractical.
Kordes suggested the ordinance be amended this time to “make a little more sense” and not hinder those looking to expand existing business or bring new businesses to the city.
But in 2018, during discussions on amending the ordinance to make it more strict, Kordes had said of the new requirements that “any competent builder” should be able to “look at this ordinance and develop a plan that would be in compliance,” that most plans which came before the board then actually exceeded the guidelines, and that the hope was local businesses would see how the additional green space called for by the amendments would actually help them.
“Curb appeal is important,” Kordes said at the time in arguing for the changes, which the Tree Board supported.
Now his view had changed 180 degrees.
On Monday there was some disagreement over whether development was, in fact, being discouraged by the existing ordinance — especially as it didn't appear the ordinance in its current form was being enforced at all.
If it wasn't being enforced, how could it be hurting development?
Marc McNeece perked up when he learned only three plans had been addressed by the landscape committee in recent years.
“We've had all this development the last few years and there have only been three plans submitted for consideration?” he asked. “How's that possible?”
Ryan Lough, too, was curious about lack of compliance. He asked whether the new Hobby Lobby at Kimmell Pointe off Main Street had submitted a plan for its parking lot.
No, he was told.
“So maybe we're looking at a bigger issue here,” Lough said. “What else isn't being enforced that should be, and why isn't it.”
Lough was no stranger to the landscape ordinance, which actually dates back to the late 1970s and was intended to be a way to improve the appearance of the city by requiring parking lots to include trees and shrubbery.
In the summer of 2018, Lough served as president of the Tree Board; he worked in the landscape industry, then serving as director of operations at Perk-A-Lawn Gardens.
He is now the first grounds assistant at Vincennes University, where he also teaches classes in landscape design, horticulture and pest control.
Lough also brought up the issue of lack of enforcement in 2018. What was the point of making the requirements more stringent if the current requirements weren't being enforced?
Now, he said, it's the same scenario: changing an ordinance that wasn't being enforced in the first place.
McNeece, too, questioned the purpose of having any city ordinances on the books if they we're going to be enforced.
“If we're going to have these rules and regulations, then we need to enforce them,” he said. “If we need to tweak them or change them in a major way, then we need to do that.
“But we can't have ordinances we don't enforce.”
McNeece asked where the landscape applications go, “where do they land?”
The city inspector's office, he was told.
From there they are to be passed on to the Tree Board for approval. Appeals are handled by the city's Board of Zoning Appeals.
Properties in the city's Historic District are exempt from following the ordinance requirements.
Lough suggested an “audit” of the city inspector's office to see what else is not being processed properly.
Mayor Joe Yochum assured Lough and the other council members the new city inspector, Brad Snider, who took over last December after Phil Cooper retired, wouldn't “overlook” such applications in the future.
Yochum also said Snider, city engineer John Sprague and Lough would review possible changes presented by Kordes and report back to the council.