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Bloomington's UDO Sparks Controversy Over Single Family Zoning Changes

Homes in the Prospect Hill neighborhood

Proposed updates to the city's UDO could allow multi-family dwellings within single-family zoned areas. (Alex Eady, WTIU/WFIU News)

Bloomington’s Unified Development ordinance is nearly 500 pages of text that creates specific regulations to carry out the city’s broader comprehensive plan.

The document was adopted more than a decade ago and the revised version will serve as a new guide for land use policy, zoning and housing development.

The multi-phase revision process began early last year, with time built in for the public to comment on the proposed document.

But some residents, including Cynthia Bretheim say important residential zoning changes are within the dense code.

“The UDO is really important; most people don’t care until their house or somebody next door is going to be changed,” she says.

Cynthia Bretheim in the Prospect Hill neighborhood.
Cynthia Bretheim is a resident in Bloomington's Prospect Hill neighborhood. She says she's concerned the change in single-family zoning districts could lead to the demolition of existing homes. (Alex Eady, WTIU/WFIU News)  

The new draft will introduce two new zoning categories, R1 and R4 which will allow the development of larger multifamily spaces such as duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes, in these single-family areas. But this comes with regulations- these new dwellings are only permitted on corner lots and would allow no more than three bedrooms per unit.

But Bretheim says this still poses a threat to traditional single-family homes, like hers in Prospect Hill.

“We’re really worried about demolition delay so that a house like mine might be demolished because for somebody, that might mean four apartments stacked up, even if it’s not very large,” she says. 

City officials say the UDO’s goal is not to threaten single family zones, but to create a balance of diverse housing options throughout the city.

Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton says part of the code is designed to prioritize affordable housing and create incentives for new developers.

"There’s no free lunch in affordability. We have to either address it through supply increases or these specific programs like giving a bonus of height or density in exchange for affordability," Hamilton says. 

Matt Flaherty, a nominee for Bloomington’s City Council at-large seat, says as he’s gone around knocking on doors and holding forums he’s heard the same concern – residents are worried how the UDO will affect their neighborhoods.

He says the city lacks what’s called - missing middle housing.

“Missing middle housing is that type of housing that would fall somewhere between detached single family homes and large multifamily complexes," he says.

Matt Flaherty outside Bloomington City Hall.
Bloomington City Council at-large seat candidate, Matt Flaherty says though the UDO may seem complex, it's important for residents to stay engaged and informed during the update process. 

Flaherty says looking toward duplexes and triplexes is one solution for filling the gap between single family units and oversized multifamily apartments.

“We’ve seen a lot of what’s called planned unit developments, PUD’s in the preceding decade or so, large student complexes often or multifamily complexes that a lot of folks don’t really like in terms of the context of our downtown development," he says. "But it’s kind of the natural outcome of when you don’t have any of that missing middle housing.”

The consolidated draft of the UDO still has a long review process ahead. The document will next go before the city’s plan commission for review and then to the city council. The public will also have opportunities to engage in the process during public meetings ahead of final adoption later this year.

But Bretheim hopes the city will keep those impacted at the forefront of the process.

“If people show up and have reasonable discussions, I think we can come up some solutions that don’t have to demolish what we have, and the good things that we have.” 

Have a question? Ask City Limits:

Our community is changing, from closing businesses to traffic and road construction to affordable housing, and we see the impact of these changes all around us.

We want to know: What questions do you have about how the Bloomington of tomorrow will impact your work, your personal life, your community and your future?

Here’s how it works: You submit a question you’d like us to explore about how Bloomington has changed over the past few decades, what you want to see for the city in the future and how ties with IU continue to shape the community.  

So: What do you wonder about how Bloomington is changing and how it impacts your life?

Interested in an ongoing conversation how Bloomington is changing? Join our Facebook group!

 

Want to contact your legislators about an issue that matters to you? Find out how to contact your senators and member of Congress here.

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