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Proposed Housing Development Near Switchyard Park Gets Mixed Reviews

The property sits just to the north of Switchyard Park along the B-Line Trail at 300 W. Hillside Drive. (Courtesy: Tabor Bruce Architecture & Design Inc.)

The city council's Land Use Committee was presented with a proposal Wednesday night to develop 3.7 acres on West Hillside Drive for future housing. The site would act as a sort of extended entrance into Switchyard Park. 

The project would include seven separate buildings: 19 townhomes, 104 multifamily residences and 7,000 square-feet of commercial space. The residential capacity of the townhomes and apartments would allow for a total of 123 units and 267 bedrooms.

"A lot of the pedestrian connections that we wanted to see revolved around connecting this site to Switchyard Park, but also, it was very important to connect this site to Rogers Street to the west," said Eric Greulich, the city's senior zoning planner. 

Greulich said the site will link to Rogers Street via a tree plot and five-foot sidewalk. 

An above view that shows the proposed site's proximity to Switchyard Park. (Courtesy: Tabor Bruce Architecture & Design Inc.)

The Bloomington Environmental Commission wrote a memo to the Plan Commission earlier this year voicing its opposition to the development. 

"We cannot justify allowing such a change from Bloomington’s vetted regulations with nothing in return to benefit the community’s environmental footprint," the memo said. 

Andrew Guenther is a member of the commission and spoke out against the petition Wednesday night. He said the development has too many impervious surfaces that could increase the risk of flooding and there needs to be more room for greenspace. 

"This proposal and how it treats greenspace is unacceptable. I am here to strongly recommend denial of this petition on behalf of our membership," said Guenther. 

Guenther and the Environmental Commission also argue the development fails to meet the standards set in Bloomington's Unified Development Ordinance (UDO). The UDO states the maximum amount of impervious surface space on a site is 60%, but this site plan would contain 80%.

"Environmental standards and regulations should not be reduced to make the planning process easier," Guenther said.

But Greulich said because the site is part of an existing Planned Unit Development (PUD), it does not have to meet the requirements of the new UDO.

"We tried to make this as green as we can. I don’t think we’ve seen a PUD proposal that’s taken a site that is already almost 100% impervious, and we’re trying to cut it back at least 80% on each lot," said Doug Bruce, who represents the petitioner. 

Members of the Land Use Committee shared mixed opinions on the proposal. 

"I’m a little torn on this as far as the impervious surface. I agree with the Environmental Commission that we shouldn’t make exceptions to the standards," said Isabel Piedmont-Smith. "Then again, I also see the that we have a developer who’s trying to undertake a huge kind of revitalization project of a post-industrial space."

Piedmont-Smith said she would normally side with the environmental argument, but having a variety of housing types next to where people work and play can also be a positive. 

"Less vehicle miles will be traveled by automobile. That's also an environmental benefit," Piedmont-Smith said.

The committee will continue to discuss the proposal at its next meeting on March 24. 

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