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Plan Commission Moves Ahead With Proposal Making It Easier For Duplexes To Get Approval

A photo of a row of multiplex houses in Bloomington.

(Ethan Burks, WFIU/WTIU News)

The Bloomington Plan Commission continued its debate Monday night over allowing multiplex housing in residential areas by way of making changes to the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO). 

The discussion was carried over from last Thursday when Amendment 1 of ZO-09-21 was introduced as a measure pause the use of duplexes in zoning districts R1-R3, which are commonly known as the core neighborhoods. 

READ MORE: Plan Commission Will Entertain The Idea Of Pausing Plex Amendment Adoption 

Plan commissioner and city councilmember Susan Sandberg brought Amendment 1 to the table to ensure opinions from the newly formed community organization "Going Farther Together" were properly acknowledged.

"We propose a time-limited pause on the most controversial aspects of the City’s UDO proposal— the plexes and mapping of the R4 zoning districts—in order to collect quality data, consider a variety of alternatives, and ensure meaningful community participation," said the organization in its proposal titled "Hit the Pause Button." 

But very soon into Monday night's proceedings, Amendment 1 was struck down by the Plan Commission, ending the pause. 

Some community members maintain that densifying the neighborhoods could damage their social character and encourage out-of-town investors to buy up properties.

"I don’t think this is going to be catastrophic. It is a very expensive endeavor to buy a lot, then build an expensive duplex just to rent it," said plan commissioner Flavia Burrell. 

Burrell said the city has the guidelines in place to prevent reckless development. 

"It’s not a requirement to build a duplex or a multiplex in any of these spaces. It’s not disallowing single-family housing at all. This is just expanding an opportunity to afford a different housing option," said plan commissioner, Jillian Kinzie. 

Additional amendments to ZO-09-21 that deal with duplexes in zoning districts R1-R4 were also considered:

  • Amendment 2: changes duplexes from conditional use to permitted (by-right) use in zones R1-R4
  • Amendment 3: removes separation requirement for duplexes in R1-R4

Amendment 2 is a significant change to the UDO because it no longer means each plex must go through the process of being approved by the city's Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA). Many officials believed this step was a form of compromise as the city transitioned into allowing plexes.

"By making it permitted use, it also opens up our highly desirable residential neighborhoods for more people to live and walk and be closer to what they love about this community," Kinzie said.

Kinzie is the sponsor of Amendment 2 and was even reluctant to introduce it Monday night due to its anticipated failure. But Kinzie followed through with her motion, and by the end of the discussion and public comment period, the amendment narrowly passed 5-4.

Commissioner Karin St. John ended up being the swing vote that pushed the amendment through. 

"I think it's also reversible. I don’t think the changes here will be rapidly negative," said St. John. "The UDO is living and breathing and we can change this, but if we’re going to do it, let’s give it our all and see if it works."

Amendment 3 dealt with limits put on duplexes in zones R1-R4. Plan Commission president Brad Wisler sponsored this proposal with the goal of, "increasing the opportunity for duplexes by removing the space and time separation requirements." 

The current UDO proposal states a duplex in those zoning districts must have a 150-foot buffer between them. It also prohibits adjacent properties from turning into duplexes within two years of one another. 

Amendment 3 passed by a 6-3 vote, which gets rid of those two requirements. 

There are currently no more additional plex amendments to consider, but due to the Plan Commission's time rule, a final rollcall on ZO-09-21 could not be reached.

Final comments from plan commissioners and any last second amendments are pushed to its next meeting on Thursday, April 1. 

“I don’t think plexes will solve the housing problem. It’s not enough. It’s not even close, and it will have consequences, but not all the consequences will be bad. We need more housing," said St. John.

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