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Residents, Bloomington City Council Discuss UDO Use Regulations

UDO Meeting 10/22

Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce Director of Advocacy and Public Policy Mary Morgan gives her thoughts on Chapter 3 of the city's Unified Development Ordinance during the Oct. 22 meeting of the Bloomington City Council (Mitch Legan, WTIU/WFIU News)

The Bloomington City Council introduced Chapter 3 of the proposed Unified Development Ordinance at Tuesday night’s special session at City Hall.

Seats were hard to come by in the City Council Chambers, as residents spoke for hours on Chapter 3 of the UDO, the document that lays out the rules for land use and development in Bloomington.

Chapter 3 covers use regulations, which are the city’s rules concerning what land uses are permitted by right, or with conditional approval – and under what conditions.

Tuesday night’s session was the second of four scheduled meetings that will make up one long public hearing on the UDO.

The incorporation of multifamily units, or plexes, into core single-family neighborhoods unsurprisingly dominated discussion, with members of the public speaking both for and against the issue.

Advocates believe allowing single-family homes to be turned into plexes will create more housing diversity for people who are unable to purchase their own.

Those who pushed for plexes referenced the recent Regional Opportunity Initiatives housing study, which predicts Bloomington will need to add 2,236 more housing units by 2030. The study projects the city will have a population of about 90,300 by then.

 “That’s ten years from now,” says Mary Jane Hall, president of the Bloomington Board of Realtors. “To accommodate our population growth - not current needs. Our growth. Based on our current building strategy, 2,000’s a lot of units. While we do not believe this change [allowing plexes] alone will add all of the 2,000 units – nor do we believe it will solve the entire problem – we do think it is an opportunity to expand housing choice for those who do not currently have it.”

Assistant Director of Planning and Development Scott Robinson estimated there are currently about 700 plexes in the city.

Opponents of making Bloomington denser with plexes were concerned about the possibility of outside developers coming in and making huge changes to neighborhoods with multifamily units.

Former Planning Director Tim Mueller was in attendance and gave his thoughts on the possibility. Mueller served as director from the mid-1970s to the mid-90s.

“In the early ‘70s the city made a change to allow five unrelated people in a single family home, as opposed to the previous three,” Mueller says. “That caused a wave of investor purchases of single-family homes in our central neighborhoods. Whole blocks turned over from home ownership to rentals, along with all of the adverse effects of rentals. This seems déjà vu to me – I think we’re treading on those grounds again.”

There was some discussion on whether developers from outside the city had already been inquiring about purchasing properties, even with the UDO still in development.

“I’d just like to share a couple of datapoints with you on the issue of whether or not developers are interested in buying here,” says Bloomington resident Steve Brewer. “We’ve owned a house for 27 years in the core – on a corner lot on Henderson street – since 1987. Since the news started coming out [about possible plexes in core neighborhoods] back in the Spring, we’ve received four offers to buy from out of town developers.”

Resident Bill Baus said he's found himself in a similar situation.

“In over 30 years I haven’t received solicitation to buy these properties,” Baus says. “Since the new UDO became public, I have received two [offers] already from developers who want to buy my property.”

The most notable changes to Chapter 3 include:

  • New duplex, triplex and fourplex housing uses were added in order to promote the creation of more housing and to diversify housing stock.
  • Although originally proposed to be allowed by right in the R2, R3, and R4 zoning districts, duplexes and triplexes are now proposed to be conditional uses in the RE R1, R2 and R3 zoning districts. That means they would require a public hearing to be approved. Fourplexes are only allowed in the RM, RH and new R4 districts. Occupancy for each unit is limited to no more than three unrelated adults and their relatives.
  • The Plan Commission recommended that duplex and triplex uses be allowed by-right for properties that are rezoned to R1, R2 or R3 that were not designated in one of those districts prior to the effective date of the UDO. Example: if portions of the old hospital site are rezoned they would not require conditional use hearings to build a duplex or triplex. The same goes for fourplexes in places rezoned to R4.
  • The creation of a new Student Housing/Dormitory use, in response to public concern about the size and number of student housing projects in downtown. Any multi-family development with four or more bedrooms, or more than 33 percent three-bedroom units, is treated as student housing.
  • Student Housing/Dormitory developments are limited in size and height and are required to be separated from each other in all zoning districts except the new MS Mixed-Use Student Housing zoning district.
  • Because the current requirements for the construction of ground-floor retail space have created an oversupply that is mainly unused, those requirements have been reduced and the number of downtown blocks where new ground-floor retail space is required has been limited.
  • Standards for noncommercial urban agriculture were clarified and updated.
  • The Plan Commission recommended that the one-bedroom maximum for Accessory Dwelling Units be increased to two bedrooms. Doing so would provide more housing flexibility.

The City Council will discuss chapters 4 and 5 of the UDO at Wednesday night’s council meeting, which is at 6 p.m. at City Hall.

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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