Hoffmann to helm plan commission just until end of month, a chance UDO will wrap up by then

For his last vote at a regular meeting of Bloomington’s plan commission, Joe Hoffmann joined in the unanimous decision of the other commissioners Monday night, giving approval to the city’s proposed new three-story, 379-space parking garage to be built just west of city hall.

Hoffmann has served 32 years on the plan commission, which is the city’s land use and development policy body. Mayor John Hamilton used the commission’s agenda slot for reports and communications near the start of the meeting to issue a proclamation declaring Sept. 9, 2019 as Joe Hoffmann Day in Bloomington. Hamilton pegged the number of plan commission meetings Hoffmann had attended at around 380.

Hoffmann will serve through September. That means he still has possibly four more commission meetings to attend—they’re special meetings to conduct hearings and to make a recommendation to the city council on a new, revised unified development ordinance (UDO). And he might get a chance to vote on the final UDO recommendation that’s sent to the city council, if those four meetings wrap up the commission’s work on the UDO.

The special meetings, which Hoffmann will chair as president of commission, are slotted for Sept. 10, Sept. 16, Sept. 17 (if necessary), and Sept. 23. The commission has already held three hearings on the UDO. At their most recent UDO meeting, on Thursday, Sept. 5, commissioners declined to amend the draft UDO to allow duplexes, triplexes and quadplexes as permitted uses in core neighborhoods.

Commissioners Brad Wisler, Neil Kappas, Flavia Burrell and Neil Kopper voted for the amendment to make the various “plexes” permitted uses in core neighborhoods. Hoffmann did not cast the deciding vote in favor, saying that it seemed to him that those who supported plexes were calling for a kind of “revolution.” Hoffmann said he thought it would instead be an “evolution” that eventually gets supporters of plexes to the point they want, even if more gradually. So the UDO draft to be reviewed eventually by the city council will include plexes in core neighborhoods, but only as conditional uses.

Hoffmann told the packed chambers on Sept. 5 that whatever the plan commission does with the UDO, by way of amending the draft or recommending adoption by the city council, it will be the city council who has the final say.

The city council’s final say comes with a deadline—90 days after certification of the plan commission’s decision to the council. If the plan commission recommends adoption of the UDO, and the city council does not act to reject the UDO, or adopt it with possible amendments, then the UDO that was recommended by the plan commission is enacted by default.

What happens if the plan commission doesn’t finish its hearings on the UDO by the end of September? That would mean the plan commission makes its UDO recommendation without Hoffmann. Absent its president, the commission’s vice president, Brad Wisler, would chair subsequent meetings.

Hoffman’s replacement on the plan commission, to fill out his term through 2020, will need to come from Bloomington’s board of park commissioners, because Hoffman is the board’s representative to the plan commission. Other current park commissioners include: Les Coyne, Kathleen Mills, and Lisa Simmons Thatcher.

Hoffmann told deputy mayor Mick Renneisen after Monday’s meeting that he’s willing to continue to serve as a park commissioner. But Hoffmann said he understood that if none of the other park commissioners were willing to serve on plan commission, it might be necessary to take him off the board of park commissioners and replace him with someone who would be willing to serve on both bodies.

If the plan commission’s work on the UDO pushes past the end of September, then besides Hoffmann’s absence for the UDO recommendation, the delay will have another impact—on the chance for the city council to act on its 90-day deadline.

The new edition of the council will be seated on Jan. 1. So any delay past the end of September will eat into the time that current councilmembers have to make a decision on the UDO. Four of nine councilmembers will not return in 2020. And a UDO approved by the new edition of the council could look different from one approved by current councilmembers.

For example, Kate Rosenbarger, who will be taking Chris Sturbaum’s District 1 seat, after winning the May Democratic Party primary, has a view on plexes opposite from Sturbaum’s. Rosenbarger is unopposed in November and no election will be held in District 1, so she’ll win by default. Matt Flaherty will be taking Andy Ruff’s at-large seat seat. District 2 and District 3 seats will be determined by November’s election.

Rosenbarger spoke during public commentary last Thursday in favor of allowing plexes as permitted uses in core neighborhoods. Sturbaum spoke in favor of an amendment that would ban plexes from core neighborhoods, even as conditional uses. After the plan commission hands off the UDO draft to the city council Sturbaum could bring back the amendment he favors for a vote on the council.

The event that triggers the 90-day timeclock for the council’s UDO decision is not the plan commission’s final vote, but rather the certification of that decision to the city council. Would it be possible for the certification to be delayed just so it would be the new edition of the council that makes the UDO decision? No, Hoffmann said after Monday’s meeting, because the state statute on zoning requires that the certification happen within 10 days of the plan commission’s decision.  “There’s no hanky-panky that can happen,” Hoffmann said.

City planner Eric Greulich, standing next to Hoffmann, confirmed the 10-day deadline. Asked if the new edition of the city council could, on its own, revise the UDO after the previous council adopts it, Greulich indicated it could. But if the council initiates the change, the statute requires it to be referred to the plan commission, he said. Greulich said he was not sure if that approach had ever been used in Bloomington.

The next plan commission hearing on the draft UDO is Tuesday, Sept. 10, starting at 5:30 p.m.