Planning officials are proposing to make large agricultural properties exempt from certain city laws in an effort to make annexation more attractive.
Columbus City Council will consider the first reading of an ordinance amending municipal code on Tuesday night. The meeting will be held at 6 p.m. in the council chambers of Columbus City Hall. Ordinances require two readings to be fully approved.
City/county planning director Jeff Bergman wrote in a memo to City Council that finding shovel-ready land for new homes, industrial sites and other city growth is difficult. Properties must meet several requirements, including being able to access city services and being eligible for annexation, he said.
Per Indiana law, land must be at least 12.5% contiguous with current city limits to be eligible for annexation.
“In some cases, this contiguity requirement prevents property owners from pursuing annexation and development; the inclusion of other, neighboring property owners would be needed for the area to be annexation-eligible,” Bergman wrote. “These neighboring property owners are, typically, farming their land with little-to-no intent for development in the foreseeable future. They are, therefore, likely opposed to annexation for several reasons.”
One of these, he said, is the loss of property rights such as the ability to have farm animals, burn, and hunt on their land, as these actions are largely prohibited within city limits.
The proposed municipal code revisions would exempt properties within city limits that are zoned agricultural and over 35 acres from these three prohibitions. These exemptions would apply to a single property or immediately adjacent properties under the same ownership that meet the two criteria.
However, there are some stipulations. For instance, the proposed changes state that hunting, excluding such activity done for commercial purposes, is allowed if the land meets the above criteria and is not adjacent to certain uses. These include any nursing home/assisted living/retirement facility, community centers, daycare centers, fairgrounds, libraries, schools, worship facilities, or outdoor parks and recreation facilities.
Additionally, eligible property owners who light a fire must ensure that it is attended at all times with an extinguishing source and must put out the fire if it creates an air quality problem, nuisance or hazard. Additionally, no burning will be conducted under “unfavorable” weather conditions, as determined by the fire chief or his designee. Fires will be subject to all state and federal air quality standards.
If approved, the changes would apply to both newly-annexed properties and those already within the city that meet the given criteria, Bergman said.
Where to learn more
To see a copy of the proposed changes, go to columbus.in.gov/clerk-treasurer/ and click on “City Council Agendas.” Then click on “Current Agenda.”
To see existing city code, go to the above site and click on “Municipal Code.” The database is current through June of 2023.