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Monday, December 11, 2023

Smaller Lots, More Opportunities?

Vanderburgh County Commissioners make big changes to homebuilding rules

Updates to Vanderburgh County’s residential building requirements will allow smaller lots and the construction of more homes, county government officials say.

In a 3-0 decision on Sept. 26, county commissioners President Cheryl Musgrave, Vice-President Justin Elpers, and member Ben Shoulders abolished the minimum land size requirement for housing construction on platted lots. The action applies only to land outside the municipal limits of Evansville and Darmstadt.

In addition to doing away with the minimum lot size, other changes to the county’s code book include eliminating minimum rear yard requirements, expanding maximum height and lot coverage allowances, and a reduction in minimum lot width requirements.

According to county commissioners, under previous regulations a home in the county’s unincorporated areas required a minimum lot size of 6,000 square feet, restricted height to no more than 35 feet, and capped lot coverage at 30 percent.

Under the amended rules, the minimum lot size requirement is removed, the maximum height restriction of 35 feet is lifted entirely, and lot coverage is expanded to 75 percent.

This type of regulatory reform is being advocated by homebuilders across the U.S., says Bill Pedtke, executive director of the Southwestern Indiana Builders Association.

“The changes mean a developer can get a piece of ground and divide it into more lots,” Pedtke says. “The point from the developer’s standpoint is the cost to develop land has gotten so expensive that the end result is pricing some people out of buying new homes. We’ve been battling this for some time, several years. The regulations on developers from the Clean Water Act alone continue to add cost, sometimes from simple delays in project approvals.”

Smaller lot sizes reduce the developer’s cost burden, and those savings can be passed on in the form of more affordable home prices, Pedtke says.

He adds that new homes still will be built with all new water lines and sewers pipe, as well as roads adhering to today’s standards, and the building code’s energy standards offer significant savings for households. But the bottom line, Pedtke says, is that smaller lots mean more buyers can enter the market.

County Commissioners, in a news release, cited some other potential benefits to the new rules.

Musgrave says the changes mean that “families now have the opportunity to make the most use of their land, whether it’s for new construction or adding to existing homes.”

Elpers says the panel’s unanimous decision will give property owners “greater freedom to build on existing lots,” while Shoulders says the action reflects “a commitment to curbing urban sprawl by allowing smaller lots and without the need for time-consuming variances.”

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