Collegiate Development Group’s modified student housing proposal rejected by Bloomington city council

Bloomington’s city council voted Wednesday night on proposed zoning for a student-oriented housing development at the site of the current Motel 6 on North Walnut Street. The outcome was 3–5–1.

That is, it got three votes in favor, five against, and one abstention from the nine-member council.

That tally defeated Collegiate Development Group’s proposal for planned unit development (PUD) zoning, to accommodate a 750-bed development at the site.

The bedroom count had been trimmed, from 820, in the week since the council’s land use committee met for a second time on the proposal. The committee’s vote on its recommendation to the full council was 0-1-3. The reduced number of bedrooms was a result of slicing the top floor off one of the buildings. Based on the formula used by CDG to calculate its contribution to the city’s housing development fund, the bedroom reduction dropped the amount from $2.46 million to $2.25 million.

Other changes in the last week included the addition of a 2,000 square foot green roof and 50 solar panels that could generate 20kW of power—for common areas and the 457-space parking structure that was a part of the development.

The changes came in response to concerns expressed by members of the council’s land use committee—Steve Volan, Chris Sturbaum, Isabel Piedmont-Smith and Allison Chopra.

Between the first and second hearings of CDG’s proposal by the land use committee, parking in front of the building was eliminated in favor of a plaza for outside seating, and the building was moved closer to North Walnut Street. Removing parking to nudge the building closer to the street was also suggestion from the land use committee.

Even among councilmembers who voted against the project, a consensus emerged that the CDG had been responsive to the feedback received throughout the process.

Among the clear votes against the proposal were Andy Ruff, Isabel Piedmont-Smith, Dorothy Granger and Dave Rollo. Clear votes in favor, at least by the time of the roll call, were Allison Chopra, Jim Sims and Susan Sandberg. Hanging in the balance were Volan and Sturbaum.

Volan said he was torn. Sturbaum said during his turn to speak that he would like to see the question postponed a week so that additional information could be gathered. Sturbaum did not, at that point, make a motion to postpone—there were other councilmembers who had speaking turns coming before any vote.

The motion that was eventually made was to approve the PUD, not to postpone the question. It’s not clear if a motion to postpone would have succeeded. Ruff said he would not be able to attend next week’s meeting, and preferred an up-down vote that night. Early in the proceedings,  Chopra reacted to a remark from the other side of the room about the possibility of putting off the vote another week—she shook her head no.

Next week, without Ruff, if the vote had ended in a 4–4 tie, that would have counted as neither adoption nor rejection by the council. And because the plan commission had recommended approval (on an 8–0) vote, that would have meant the PUD had won approval by a kind of default, under the city’s code.

Procedural issues arose about the vote—when the council’s parliamentarian Steve Volan attempted without success to raise a point of order when the roll call reached him. At that stage in the roll call, the tally stood 1–4. When he had no choice but to vote, Volan joined those voting against the proposal, which put him on the majority’s side.

Under the council’s procedural conventions, having voted with the prevailing side, Volan had the right to move for reconsideration of the question, before the adjournment of the meeting, which he did.

But some back-and-forth with the council’s attorney/administrator, Dan Sherman, appeared to convince Volan that he could not eventually achieve with his motion what he hoped, which was a postponement of the question until the next meeting. So Volan wound up withdrawing his motion to reconsider.