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Ask The Mayor: Bloomington's Hamilton On UDO Zoning Changes, Hospital Site Redevelopment

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Unknown Speaker
Well let this load Just a second. Hello, everybody. This is ask the mayor on Wi Fi you We do this every week with Columbus Mayor Jim lindop. Terre Haute Mayor do Bennett Bloomington Mayor john Hamilton today and then next week we'll join DAX Norton, the municipal consultant over in Nashville, Indiana. Love to take your questions you can submit them at news at Indiana public media.org or on Twitter at ask the mayor Fun fact Mayor Hamilton the Twitter handle for us as the mayor is used nationally, people think that we're the Twitter handle for every mayor in the country, I guess. So we get questions for the New York Mayor. We get questions for many different mayor's Lucky you. But of course today we want to hear from Bloomington Mayor john Hamilton. Thank you so much for having us today.

Unknown Speaker
Joe, it's great to see you again. Thanks for doing this. Appreciate it.

Unknown Speaker
I let's just start with PI the big news last night today. WINTER STORM WARNING ended this morning at 7am Bloomington I think got about seven inches of snow many closings today. How about an update on roads and snow crews? How many are out plot plowing and what are the shifts like?

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, thanks, Joe. I think given that we had some snow over the weekend too. I'm told about eight to 10 inches came in the Bloomington area depending exactly on where you lived. And we've been. We've been busy, busy busy since the weekend. salting and plowing. All of our crews have been everybody on board. We're actually now in the kind of marathon cycle where you you you run your plow and then we send you home for eight hours to get sleep and then you come back for a double shift and, you know we're trying to we expect potentially some more snow Wednesday night overnight as well. So we're having to make sure we have people doing ready for that. So at the moment, we've actually got people preparing to do a whole city wide run again, I think report I got today was the arterials the main roads most in the city are down to pavement. Some of the back streets are not down to pavement that most of them have been plowed at least once through. But you know, we're gonna keep we're gonna take a whole whole city wide run again in the next 24 hours. And then also be ready for potential not as big but potential more snow. Wednesday night. I appreciate everybody's patience. You know, this community does a great job shoveling your own sidewalks. That's the responsibility of property owners. Being careful when you're out driving that you watch for pedestrians or people who may be in the street who normally wouldn't be Why haven't heard a big power outages or other issues like that. But everybody's just gotta be patient Watch out for your neighbors because this super cold temperature can be very dangerous too.

Unknown Speaker
And if you're watching this slide here on a Tuesday afternoon, just got word from Monroe County that the travel warning has been downgraded to a travel watch. So now essential travel only. I do know Bloomington has an ordinance sidewalks have to be cleared or face a fine.

Unknown Speaker
Yes, we have a city ordinance that requires you to clear your sidewalks within 24 hours after the precipitation event stops. So that's coming up soon for the last precipitation event overnight tonight would be your 24 hours as soon as you can. If you're if you're a property owner, or if you're a renter in your responsibility. We do ask that you you clear the sidewalk we pay particular attention to that. I will say in terms of enforcement. First downtown in the urban area center trying to make sure handicap ramps are accessible in those things. But you know i people need to get around with strollers and wheelchairs and and making sidewalks basketballs a challenge but it is the responsibility of the property owner.

Unknown Speaker
All right, let's move on to want to get to the UDL the unified development ordinance for a lot of comments going on on the city's zoning map to make this question brief because I want people to understand but to be a little confusing. The city was aiming to add higher density zoning and core neighborhoods to allow for multiplexes. So it was a two story three story housing complexes to increase density and affordable housing. But then many people in the public came forward saying Well, here comes more IU student housing, loss of parking kind of that not my backyard mentality. So the city responded just this past week. How was that amendment now changing?

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, Joe, thanks for asking about it. And it's a long, there's a lot of context to all this. It really began five plus years ago, when the comprehensive plan that's the first step is the city and the City Council plan, commission city council adopt a comprehensive plan, which is kind of the 25 year vision for what the built environment of the city should be like, and that was done in 2018. And once that plan is done, then it's time to convert that into zoning, the specific rules about each tract of land and each site in the city, how it should be what what zoning regulations apply. And that's been a three year process that we're coming near to the end of and that three year process includes setting up a new zone, there's a new zone called our for residential for which is denser than any zones that we've had before for kind of the basic residential areas. And it also includes things like working on what some call the missing middle. Many cities developing particularly after World War Two, you saw a lot of two kinds of things you saw single family homes, in in neighborhoods with full of single family homes, and you saw multifamily apartment buildings 16 are bigger, something like that, but not a lot in between. You didn't see a lot of what used to be built before World War Two a lot with four flats or eight flats or small apartment buildings or triplexes, or those kinds of things. And so the zoning, UDL unified development ordinance developed a new approach to encourage that middle, middle missing middle, if you will. Some neighborhoods think that's a good thing. And some people in some neighborhoods don't think it's a good thing. So in October, we presented a proposal. In just as you mentioned, last week, we tweaked that proposal in response to public comment and basically did two things. One we reduced the amount of that new are for so that new, denser zoning is limited more now to corridors. Certain intersections and others. And the second thing was we we decided to take a little more incremental approach on those plexes, the duplexes, triplexes, etc, and make them all conditional, which means they all have to go in front of a board of zoning appeals to get approved. And also added a couple things like density like in some in most areas, you can't have a new duplex within 150 feet of another new duplex in a two year period. So it kind of stages things that'll go in front of plan commission, and then City Council in the next two or three months. And there'll be discussion continuing. But overall, I think Bloomington is continuing to evolve, continuing to explore how to help more people live here, more people be more sustainable, and all those values that I think we share.

Unknown Speaker
What's the reaction been like from the public since the tweaks have been presented? And I'm pretty sure there hasn't been a meeting, though in between now and that as they're

Unknown Speaker
correct? No, it's just, you know, it's hard to tell I think, I think people generally are, are, some are pleased and some aren't pleased, I guess I would say that, you know, they're there. I think, from my perspective, what the tweaks will do, what the changes revisions will do, is they'll give everyone comfort that we all should have a little humility. Nobody knows exactly what will happen. Nobody knows exactly how the future will unfold. And this kind of assures that we're doing it a little more incrementally, and we can tweak it as we go. I like to call the UDL unified development ordinance a three ring binder. Because if there's a part of it that we don't like, and it's not doing what we want, then we could rip that page out in a year, put in a new page, you know, fix it as we go. One of the problems was the UDL we're working with and the plan that we were working with, we're over 15 years old, and they just hadn't been changed. They need to be changed. But they also need to be regularly updated in a more incremental way. And I think that will help us do that.

Unknown Speaker
And you've used that three ring binder analogy many times on the show. One last quick question on that, because I know we have lots to get to in a short amount of time today. But how do you respond to that notion that people were saying that they would fill with student housing and lower property value and developers would come in, swoop in and buy up all that land?

Unknown Speaker
Well, they're perfectly fair questions and concerns. Nobody wants an overwhelming change in our neighborhoods, we want incremental and continual change. Of course, half of our half of our population, our students and and more of our population are related to you, faculty, and, and staff of IU. And so they live all all throughout the city. And that's as it is one new change. I didn't mention in the UDL is an actual designated student zone, where we're encouraging real dense student almost, you know, apartment, focused on students development near campus in ways that really make a lot of sense that we haven't had before. So I think I think, look, everybody wants our neighborhoods to be great places to live, we want to make sure people can keep coming into our neighborhoods, whether you're a student or not. We want to protect homeownership, we want to protect the mix of, of vitality in these places. And I really do think the UDL will help us move in that direction. And if there are directions that are tilting the wrong way we can we can tweak them as we keep going.

Unknown Speaker
I believe the next meeting is March 8. And so we'll look forward to that.

Unknown Speaker
The planning commission meets on March 8, and that will begin the formal process for them to approve the map and the new new amendments to the unified development ordinance.

Unknown Speaker
Housing be a part of the plan for the hospital development site. The new hospital off the bypass, I believe is slated to open late this year. But the final report of the redevelopment was presented. Are you happy with that process? And now what happens next? Yeah, Joe,

Unknown Speaker
I'm really excited. You know, that's a once in a century kind of opportunity. We spent most of last year with a great group of people and advisors, thinking about what do we want to see in the current hospitals site, that's a five or 10 year project probably to redevelop that. And I think we have a wonderful skeleton of a plan, a master plan of street grids and green space and density and design. There's a ton of decisions and work to be done about individual approaches. A lot of private investment we'll be trying to collaborate with that this year will be much of that infrastructure planning to start that off, because after the hospital leaves and there's a period of demolishing the existing building, and we're going to be working with affordable housing people market rate housing, commercial space, public space, but anybody interested please take a look at that massive Your plan, I think it's a really exciting blueprint for a new neighborhood in our community's future.

Unknown Speaker
Talk about new neighborhood new homes new housing. Jen writes in an email that the city will be the original land owners, can they make covenants that the site be owner occupied and just REITs need affordable homes.

Unknown Speaker
It's a it's a big deal that we are going to be the owner, we're going to own 24 acres, which lets us steer that development. I personally think the city may want to retain rights to those lands over long periods of time, even if we lease out to different uses. And we absolutely can steer it towards certain kinds of uses affordable housing on homeownership, probably a mix of ownership and rental is appropriate in that spot. And we'll look forward to to that. There'll be a lot of engagement about how we do that going forward.

Unknown Speaker
A question about just an annexation update, have the city's lawyers, officials have any new information about if or when annexation will continue?

Unknown Speaker
Well, folks may remember that it was in December, and it was finally formalized just last month that the Indiana Supreme Court ruled that the legislature's actions now four years ago were unconstitutional, illegal in stopping the annexation. So were, we I I've said, and I'll continue to say I believe annexation is important. We've been doing it for 180 of our years, and we need to keep as cities grow and expand and population increases, it's natural for the boundaries to increase. It's complicated. It's a very formal process. We don't have a new update this week, or month, but it is something we're continuing to look at. I'm continuing to talk to county officials. I have another meeting this week to talk with them about it. And you know, I look at Healthy City grows and annexation is how a city grows. And I think we need to continue to figure out how we can do that most effectively.

Unknown Speaker
We had a comment here someone email and wanting to know, what will annexation do besides raise taxes and get garbage pickup? Will anything really change?

Unknown Speaker
Well, if this is for a person who lives outside the city, if that's what they're asking, yes, yes, join. If you join the city, you do get a bunch of services from the city from police and fire though that's a little complicated, but definitely police and sanitation and streets and park services and economic development services and housing. We inspect apartments in the city that are not inspected outside, there's many services that are that way. Plus you get to vote you're you're a member of the city and you can help pick who the leadership is from city council to clerk to Mayor. But I understand that, you know, people who live right next to a city the taxes are different depending on inside and outside the city. But those are the taxes that support the great parks and great services that benefit our whole region. Frankly.

Unknown Speaker
There's a bill working through the Indiana State House that says a city can't regulate design elements of residential structures. And I'm pretty sure there are design elements in Bloomington a comprehensive plan or the UDL. I've been in some of those meetings with the plan commission and city council go by what do you know about this bill and the effect that it could have on Bloomington?

Unknown Speaker
Well, I think it's a terrible bill being proposed. Joe, it's an example of the legislature on the one hand talking about keeping government close to the people in local control. And then on the other hand, frankly getting lobbied by some developer interests and others who want have carte blanche to build what they want to build. And most communities and certainly Bloomington communities have standards of how to protect the quality of life, the visible infrastructure that we all enjoy that that do make a real difference in what your city feels like and looks like. We at the local level are the ones who are accountable to our public accountable to everybody here on those decisions. And I think it's a terrible, terrible kind of leap of grab of power by the state legislature based upon some lobbyists who said, we don't want communities of people to have standards of the kinds of buildings built in their communities. That's just I think it's a terrible idea. And it reflects some of the worst part of the legislature overreach.

Unknown Speaker
But where is that line between a city and then in a way kind of dictating, you know, how a developer designs a more strict building could mean higher cost and less affordable housing?

Unknown Speaker
Absolutely. And I think those are really important balancing that communities have to make all the time we we have rules about greenspace when you develop or trees or or permeable pavement impact on the stormwater you're going to have what kind of facing to the street? Are you going to be a pedestrian friendly feel on the streets that we all invest so much to make a beautiful streetscape that encourages commerce encourages people to be there. Are you going to have a nobody? I don't think many people would want a giant brick wall that that you had to walk next to that felt like you're in a tunnel. That's because the physical environment, we're all in matters. And absolutely, it affects affordable housing and other costs. And those are local decisions. I've we've built nearly 1000 units of affordable housing in my tenure with mostly private sector bill. But we partner with them to do that, because that's a really important goal. But we don't want affordable housing that looks terrible, or that looks like it's not meant to be high quality housing. So we want to we want to protect the quality of the built environment. It's really important for sustainability. It's really important for the quality of life and the economic vitality of the city. Having the state legislature decide that for every community in Indiana is a terrible idea. They should not be a Uber plan commission that sets all these standards.

Unknown Speaker
I have an email from Alyssa she wants to know what actions is the city's what actions is the city's plan commission taking to manage the empty buildings around Bloomington? What plans are in the works to attract businesses to college mall? She says I have revenue and community positive ideas documented to share, how would I share?

Unknown Speaker
Great Well, we welcome sharing that the Planning Commission does look at those kinds of decisions or the planning department, you can just reach out directly there. There are definitely some things going on. COVID has obviously had a dramatic impact over the last 12 months and how we will come out of that. Is there a lot of unknowns and uncertainties about that? Also the whole question of retail brick and mortar stores, for example, referencing college mall or other brick and mortar stores. There's a lot of evolution that there's evolution in the commercial office markets where how many people will continue to work from home? And what will the office markets look like? So those are some of the things that we do look at in the in the comprehensive plan. And in the unified development ordinance. For I'll just give you one example we are looking at what I should say is I Bloomington doesn't really have a kind of empty office or empty buildings problems like many communities do, we have very high occupancy rates. But there are some components. Where that's an issue. We're looking now at whether we should relax some of the first floor commercial requirements to allow affordable housing to replace that for a few years at least, given that given the context. And we welcome ideas about how to do that well and make sure the space is being used productively and consistent with our approach.

Unknown Speaker
And we just have a couple minutes left, I'll fit this email in from Virginia says we are in Florida and we need our second dose of the COVID-19 vaccination while we are here. How can we get it? And I just thought you can answer the the state to state if you're in one state, can you get the second dose in another? And if you have any other testing vaccine updates as well, to kind of close this off? Go ahead and give those to Peter?

Unknown Speaker
Well, Joe, it's kind of significant that we haven't talked about COVID on this meeting yet, which indicates we're getting used to this and we're in the middle of things. Overall, the the the key indicators of case loads, hospitalizations, and death rates are all continuing to go down in the good direction locally. And in our state. We still have a lot of concern about variants that may show up that could change some of those dynamics are you doing it's mitigation, testing has gotten very good 0.2% kind of positivity rate, which is terrific. So we're going to continue to keep our eyes on the prize. vaccinations hundreds of people a day are being vaccinated, we want to we're using every dose of vaccine that gets delivered locally very well. We want to get more of those so we can accelerate that. I do understand that if you're an individual that had one dose in one location, whether it's a town or a city, or state and you go to another location, you should be able to use your card that shows which which kind of vaccine you got. Because if you started with Pfizer, you want to get the second visor if you started with dirty you want to get to second Madonna, you should be able to present that wherever you live now under their rules to get access to that second shot that's happening here some, but you know, that's the key, keep keep masking, keep distancing. And anybody who's eligible, please do get vaccinated because that's how we're going to get out of this in the end.

Unknown Speaker
I didn't realize that if you look for an appointment, and let's say you're in Monroe County, and they're taking appointments in March, you could go to a different county that maybe not as populated and get the vaccine maybe a month or two earlier.

Unknown Speaker
You can we have people shopping for appointments. And that's okay to do. I know my colleagues would urge me to remind you, if you get multiple appointments, cancel the ones you're not going to use, because that hurts the ability to distribute to everybody. If you get us if you get an earlier appointment. cancel your later when, when you go forward for that.

Unknown Speaker
That was all I had. Did you have any announcements or anything else you'd like to say?

Unknown Speaker
Joe? No, thanks. I appreciate it. Just everybody be careful in this weather. And I will say if people want to tune in to a week from Thursday on February 25, we'll be doing our state of the city kind of updating on the extraordinary past year of 2020. And looking forward and that's a good way to catch up on a lot of things going on in the city if people want to pay attention at 7pm on Thursday, February 25.

Unknown Speaker
All right, thank you so much for your time. Thanks for everybody for watching, listening participating. You can always send an email to us at news at Indiana public media.org or on Twitter at ask the mayor of course we have all of our past episodes in this current episode at wF iu news.org Thanks for watching.

Unknown Speaker
Thanks, Joe.
Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton

Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton on Facebook Live Tuesday. (Zoom)

Plexes are more restricted after changes to the UDO amendment, city crews are working on getting secondary roads cleared, annexation is still on pause, and a structure design bill could hamper community standards.

On this week’s installment of Ask The Mayor, Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton addresses these issues and more during a Facebook Live Zoom event Tuesday. Listen to the full conversation with Indiana Newsdesk anchor Joe Hren by clicking on the play button above, or read some of the questions and answers below. A portion of this segment airs 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. Wednesday on WFIU. Here are some highlights.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

Hren: Let’s start with an update on roads and snow crews. How many are out plowing due to the winter storm?

Hamilton: I'm told about 8 to 10 inches came in the Bloomington area depending exactly on where you lived. All of our crews have been everybody on board. We're actually now in the kind of marathon cycle where you run your plow and then we send you home for eight hours to get sleep and then you come back for a double shift and, we expect potentially some more snow Wednesday night overnight as well.

I think the report I got today was the main roads most in the city are down to pavement. Some of the back streets are not down to pavement, but most of them have been plowed at least once through. I appreciate everybody's patience.

Hren: The city has an ordinance too, shovel your sidewalk or face a fine.

Hamilton: Yes, we have a city ordinance that requires you to clear your sidewalks within 24 hours after the precipitation event stops. So that's coming up soon. If you're a property owner, or if you're a renter it's your responsibility. I will say in terms of enforcement, first downtown in the urban area center trying to make sure handicap ramps are accessible. But people need to get around with strollers and wheelchairs too.

A screenshot of Bloomington's revised UDO map for 2021.
The new map shows the previously proposed R4 zones in Blue compared to the revised version in Green.

Hren: I want to hit the UDO, there’s been a lot of comment on the city zoning map. The city was aiming to add higher density zoning in core neighborhoods to allow for multi-plexes… so two story, three story, housing complexes to increase density and affordable housing – but there was public outcry saying here comes more IU student housing, loss of parking, and not in my back yard – so the city responded just this past week. How is that amendment changing?

Hamilton: You didn't see a lot of what used to be built before World War Two, a lot with four flats or eight flats or small apartment buildings or triplexes, or those kinds of things. And so the zoning, UDO Unified Development Ordinance developed a new approach to encourage that missing middle, if you will. Some neighborhoods think that's a good thing. And some people in some neighborhoods don't think it's a good thing.

READ MORE: Bloomington Discusses Multiplex Housing In Ongoing UDO Forums

So in October, we presented a proposal. As you mentioned last week, we tweaked that proposal in response to public comment and basically did two things. One we reduced the amount of that new R4 so that new, denser zoning is limited more now to corridors, certain intersections and others. And the second thing was we decided to take a little more incremental approach on those plexes, the duplexes, triplexes, etc., and make them all conditional, which means they all have to go in front of a board of zoning appeals to get approved.

And also added a couple things like density - in some areas, you can't have a new duplex within 150 feet of another new duplex in a two year period. So it kind of stages things that'll go in front of plan commission, and then City Council in the next two or three months. And there'll be discussion continuing.

Hren: How do you respond to the notion that people were saying that they would fill with student housing and lower property values and developers would swoop in and buy up all that land?

Hamilton: Half of our population are students and more of our population are related to faculty and staff of IU. And so they live all throughout the city. I didn't mention an actual designated student zone, where we're encouraging real dense apartments focused on student development near campus in ways that really make a lot of sense that we haven't had before. Everybody wants our neighborhoods to be great places to live, we want to make sure people can keep coming into our neighborhoods, whether you're a student or not. We want to protect homeownership, we want to protect the mix of vitality in these places. And I really do think the UDO will help us move in that direction. And if there are directions that are tilting the wrong way, we can we can tweak them as we keep going.

IU hospital redevelopment
Courtesy: City of Bloomington

Hren: Talking about new neighborhoods... Jen writes an email that the city will be the original land owners of the downtown hospital redevelopment site, can they make covenants that the site be owner occupied?

Hamilton: It's a it's a big deal that we are going to be the owner, we're going to own 24 acres, which lets us steer that development. I personally think the city may want to retain rights to those lands over long periods of time, even if we lease out to different uses. And we absolutely can steer it towards certain kinds of uses; affordable housing on homeownership, probably a mix of ownership and rental is appropriate in that spot. There'll be a lot of engagement about how we do that going forward.

READ MORE: Final Draft For Hospital Redevelopment Site Presented To City Council

Hren: There’s a bill working through the Indiana Statehouse that says a city can’t regulate design elements of residential buildings. I believe there are design elements in Bloomington’s comprehensive plan or the UDO that the plan commission and city council go by. What do you know about this bill and the effect it could have?

Hamilton: Well, I think it's a terrible bill being proposed. Joe, it's an example of the legislature on the one hand talking about keeping government close to the people in local control. And then on the other hand, frankly getting lobbied by some developer interests and others who want have carte blanche to build what they want to build. And most communities and certainly Bloomington communities have standards of how to protect the quality of life, the visible infrastructure that we all enjoy that do make a real difference in what your city feels like and looks like.

Hren: I have an email from Melissa, she wants to know what actions is the city's plan commission taking to manage the empty buildings around Bloomington? What plans are in the works to attract businesses to college mall? She says she has revenue and community positive ideas documented to share.

Hamilton: Great, we welcome sharing that. The Planning Commission does look at those kinds of things, you can just reach out directly there. COVID has obviously had a dramatic impact over the last 12 months and there are a lot of unknowns and uncertainties about that. Also the whole question of retail brick and mortar stores, for example, referencing College Mall or other brick and mortar stores, there's a lot of evolution in the commercial office markets where how many people will continue to work from home? And what will the office markets look like?

Bloomington doesn't really have empty office or empty buildings like many communities do, we have very high occupancy rates. But there are some components where that's an issue. We're looking now at whether we should relax some of the first floor commercial requirements to allow affordable housing to replace that for a few years at least. And we welcome ideas about how to make sure the space is being used productively and consistent with our approach.

For the latest news and resources about COVID-19, bookmark our Coronavirus In Indiana page here.

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