Bloomington’s plan commission sends revised unified development ordinance (UDO) to city council with 9–0 recommendation to adopt

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Plan commission chair Joe Hoffmann got interrupted briefly at Monday’s meeting by other commissioners who gave him a round of applause to recognize his 32 years of service on the plan commission. It was his last meeting, special or regular, as a plan commissioner.

Bloomington’s plan commission voted 9–0 Monday night to recommend adoption of a revised version of the city’s unified development ordinance (UDO) to the city council. That starts a 10-day clock ticking for the commission’s action to be certified. Once certified, the city council has 90-days to act on the commission’s recommendation.

The 19 hours and 9 minutes worth of hearings held by the commission, starting in late August, were on occasion punctuated by contentious remarks delivered from the public podium. Particular points of controversy were duplexes, triplexes and quadplexes in core neighborhoods, as well as accessory dwelling units.

The recommended UDO that the city council will take up, probably starting in mid-October, makes accessory dwelling units conditional uses. An amendment approved by the planning commission in the last couple of weeks changed them from accessory uses to conditional uses.

The updated UDO recommended by the plan commission allows the du- tri- and four-plexes only as conditional uses. A plan commission amendment to make them by-right failed. City planning staff prepared an amendment that would prohibit plexes in core neighborhoods, but none of the plan commissioners moved it for consideration.

When he voted against the plexes as by-right structures, plan commission chair Joe Hoffmann said that he thought some public speakers were looking for a “revolution” when an “evolution” might eventually get the community to the same place. It was a sentiment that a few plan commissioners echoed Monday when they talked about the fact that the updated UDO might not be as “bold” as some in the community, or even they themselves, would have liked. Overall, though, the updated UDO that commissioners forwarded to the city council enjoyed strong support from the group.

The city council’s representative to the plan commission, Susan Sandberg, said at Monday’s meetings:

These are not easy issues, and as people bring forward various evidence and research and facts, our job now becomes really examining that to make sure that the intent of this document, is going to get us the results that I think, it’s fair to say, that the community wants—more housing, more housing in affordability ranges, more opportunities for us to use our land in a very wise and a very fiscally responsible manner. The final discussion is still ahead.

The council’s approach to its hearings and procedures on amendments to and adoption of the UDO is expected to get hashed out in a work session this Friday, and get settled at a special meeting next Wednesday (Oct. 2).

The revised UDO itself doesn’t include revisions to the zoning map. Those lines will get drawn later. So the newly defined Mixed-Use Student Housing (MS) district does not yet correspond to a precisely drawn area of the city. An amendment to the proposed UDO, which was adopted by the plan commission over the last few weeks, describes the area for the MS district in general terms: “…such as the area located directly west, southwest, and northwest of Memorial Stadium.”

The general area proposed for the MS district includes the site of the Collegiate Development Group’s 750-bed PUD, which the council recently approved, after reconsidering its previous rejection. Councilmember Steve Volan was a key actor in the project’s reconsideration and approval, but the MS designation could see resistance from Volan, when the updated UDO is considered by the city council.

At the council’s land use committee meeting on the CDG project, Volan said:

…so many people in this room and who think about projects like this, do not seem to realize that this is the willful separation of students from the rest of the city. I deplore the student housing zoning idea, and I’m going to be fighting against it in the UDO, looking to remove it. Dorms treat students like children and that is not what we want for our city, in my opinion.

When the city council takes up the UDO, it appears likely, based on comments he made at the start of the regular meeting on Sept. 18, that councilmember Chris Sturbaum will make an effort to amend the plexes out of core neighborhoods, even as conditional uses. Sturbaum also spoke at plan commission hearings against plexes in core neighborhoods.

Sturbaum signaled at the start of the city council’s Sept. 18 meeting, during the time on regular meeting agendas reserved for reports from councilmembers, that he was not content with the UDO’s conditional status of duplexes, triplexes and quadplexes in core neighborhoods. He does not want them as available as an option, even as conditional use.

In Sturbaum’s remarks, he addressed home owners:

You bought with the confidence that your local government wouldn’t change the zoning after you made your lifetime commitment to that neighborhood—so sad, too bad… Locally in our college town, it’s homeownership that provides safe and stable homes for families and a chance to build equity and family security. Turning local ownership into more rentals is the long-term reality of the proposed changes to single family zoning.

Sturbaum called a change that would allow plexes in core neighborhoods a new “urban renewal project.”

Allison Chopra responded a couple minutes later during her report time with a critique:

[Councilmember Sturbaum] kept talking about homeowners—this is bad for homeowners. … Should we be more concerned about the homeowners or should we be be concerned also about those people who work at low-paying jobs inside our city very near the downtown and serve us every day at the library or at restaurants?… The key word in that argument is ‘homeowners’—this is bad for homeowners, bad for the ‘haves’ but not for the ‘have nots.’ That’s why we need to change the densities in those neighborhoods.

Sturbaum mentioned critically in his remarks a U.S. House bill that had been introduced the previous day. The “Yes In My Backyard Act” would require recipients of federal Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), like Bloomington, to submit a report at least once every five years that states whether the city has implemented each item on a list of land use policies. The list includes allowing plexes.

Co-sponsor of the House bill is Trey Hollingsworth, who is representative of Indiana’s 9th Congressional District, which includes Bloomington. The bill was sponsored by Representative Denny Heck (D-WA). Besides Hollingsworth the bill has other, bipartisan co-sponsorship: Representatives William Lacy Clay (D-MO), Virginia Foxx (R-NC), Mike Quigley (D-IL) and Jaime Beutler (R-WA.)

Sponsor of a virtually identical Senate bill, which was introduced three months ago, on June 20, is Indiana’s Todd Young, cosponsored by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI).

Compared to the text of the Senate version of the bill to the text of the House version is mostly the same, but is different in a couple of places.

The Senate version says that a CDBG recipient has to provide “the reasons why the recipient has not adopted the policy in that jurisdiction.” The corresponding House versions says, “the ways in which adopting the policy will benefit the jurisdiction.”

Here’s the list of land use requirements the Senate bill wants a CDBG grant recipient to report on, annotated with the way the House version differs:

(A) Enacting high-density single-family and multifamily zoning.
(B) Expanding by-right multifamily zoned areas.
(C) Allowing duplexes, triplexes, or fourplexes in areas zoned primarily for single- family residential homes.
(D) Allowing manufactured homes in areas zoned primarily for single-family residential homes.
(E) Allowing multifamily development in retail, office, and light manufacturing zones.
(F) Allowing single-room occupancy development wherever multifamily housing is allowed.
(G) Reducing minimum lot size.
(H) Reducing the number of buildings protected by historic preservation. [House version: “Reducing the impact of historic preservation on housing production and affordability.”]
(I) Increasing the allowable floor area ratio in multifamily housing areas.
(J) Creating transit-oriented development
(K) Streamlining or shortening permit-
ting processes and timelines, including through one-stop and parallel-process permitting.
(L) Eliminating or reducing off-street parking requirements.
(M) Reducing impact and utility investment fees. [House version: “Ensuring impact and utility investment fees accurately reflect required infrastructure needs and related impacts on housing affordability are otherwise mitigated.”]
(N) Allowing prefabricated construction.
(O) Reducing or eliminating minimum unit square footage requirements.
(P) Allowing the conversion of office units to apartments.
(Q) Allowing the subdivision of single- family homes into duplexes.
(R) Allowing accessory dwelling units, including detached accessory dwelling units, on all lots with single-family homes.
(S) Legalizing short-term home rentals. [House version omits this item.]
(T) Legalizing home-based businesses. [House version omits this item.]

Both the House and Senate bills have been referred to committee but have seen no further action.