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Bloomington Council Amends Ordinance On Chain Restaurants

Standardized businesses, or "chains," would be allowed in areas like the University Village overlay provided they meet certain criteria in an effort to maintain the character of the area.

The Bloomington City Council on Wednesday night amended an ordinance that would have limited the ability of chain restaurants to move into the city’s downtown, particularly in the area near Kirkwood Avenue and the courthouse square.

The amendment, which was unanimously approved, expands the regulations to all “standardized businesses,” not just restaurants. But the amendment also loosened the criteria those businesses must meet in order to gain zoning approval.

Council President Darryl Neher proposed the change, in collaboration with Mayor Mark Kruzan’s office and Director of Planning Tom Micuda.

Neher says it was born out of what he called “an ambiguity of language” in the ordinance that had initially alarmed council members, members of the business community and other stakeholders.

“When you talk about concentration of standardized restaurants, or you talk about a balance of local, regional and national, the question about how do you evaluate those criteria, and the ambiguity was a concern for many people,” Neher said.

The amended ordinance will create a classification called a “standardized business.” Under that classification, the city’s zoning board will approve the business based on the building’s planned exterior look.

An earlier version of the ordinance required the zoning board to use additional criteria such as the distribution of local and national restaurants.

Neher says the council’s aim is not to keep standardized businesses out of the courthouse square and University Village overlay areas (the area surrounding Kirkwood Avenue), but rather to preserve the aesthetic character of those areas.

Jeb Conrad, President and CEO of the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce, praised the amendment.

“We appreciate the fact that we had the ability to express the concerns of our members in the chamber to members of the city council, the mayor and the city administration, and that those concerns were taken into consideration to come to a compromise,” Conrad said.

The council will hold a special session on June 11 to vote on final action on the amended ordinance.

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