Analysis: Amendments to Bloomington’s unified development ordinance to be debated, decided next week and beyond

Annotated R Map ZONING Zoningxxxx
Much of the debate on the updated unified development ordinance has focused on whether duplexes and triplexes should be allowed in areas zoned as “residential core” and “residential single family” (or R3 and R2 in the updated zoning scheme). They’re circled in red in this zoning map.

The Bloomington city council’s hearing of a proposed update to the unified development ordinance (UDO) has already stretched across four separate evenings recently, starting with the first one on Oct. 16. It was followed by meetings on Oct. 22, Oct. 23 and Oct. 30.

The hearings each night on the city’s basic land use and development document consisted of staff presentations, councilmember questions, and opportunities for citizens to sway their elected representatives.

Next up this week are possible amendments to the UDO draft, which was recommended for approval by the plan commission’s 9–0 vote on Sept. 23.

Several amendments—starting with duplexes, triplexes, accessory dwelling units, and payments in lieu of providing onsite affordable units—are a part of the information packet for the council’s Nov. 13 and Nov. 14 meetings.

The 90-day window for city council action started a few days after the plan commission’s vote, when the outcome was certified to the council.

Based on the Sept. 26 submission date indicated on an amendment co-sponsored by councilmembers Chris Sturbaum and Dave Rollo, the first of the council’s amendments was submitted just about as soon as the plan commission’s draft was certified to the council.

Duplexes, Triplexes

The Sturbaum-Rollo amendment would prohibit duplexes and triplexes in areas of the city that are zoned R1, R2, and R3 in the draft UDO update.

The R1 (large lot) designation in the draft UDO update is new, with no areas yet drawn on the map—that’s a future phase of the rezoning process. The R2 (medium lot) and R3 (small lot) designations correspond to “residential single-family” and “residential core” zoning in the current UDO.

The draft UDO update allows duplex and triplexes in R1, R2 and R3 areas, but only as a conditional use. In the draft UDO, the concept of “conditional use” is one kind of limitation on allowed uses. Conditional use means that before the property can be used in a particular way, say as a duplex, it has to go through a public review process including a meeting with neighbors.

Other kinds of limitations on uses are “use-specific standards” that have to be met, in order to use the land in a particular way. In the draft UDO, for example, a duplex must, among other things, have separate entrances each facing a street, separate utility meters, and similar design features to existing single-family houses on the same block face. They can have no more than six bedrooms total.

Just removing the “conditional use” limitation for duplexes and triplexes, thus making them “by-right,” would leave the use-specific standards in place.

That’s what an amendment submitted by councilmember Steve Volan on Nov. 4 proposes to do. So Volan’s amendment is in direct opposition to the one offered by Rollo and Sturbaum.

A key claim in support of the Sturbaum-Rollo amendment is: “Existing core neighborhoods should not be the focus of the city’s increasing density.” Volan’s amendment counters: “The purpose for allowing duplexes, triplexes, and fourplexes as permitted uses in these districts is to encourage a variety of housing options, to increase housing density, and to promote compact urban form.”

Whichever amendment is considered first, if is also approved, it would almost certainly make the other one moot. It’s also possible that neither amendment succeeds, and the outcome is to leave the UDO draft as the plan commission recommended it.

Which amendment will be considered first? The packet indicates: “The order of consideration of these two amendments will be decided Wednesday night by a motion of the Council.” If a show of hands revealed that neither amendment had clear majority support, one option available to the sponsors would be to withdraw their amendments.

Possibly factoring into the ordering mix for amendments on “plexes” are two submitted by councilmember Isabel Piedmont-Smith. Her amendments focus not on the conditional use limitation, but rather on the limitations reflected in the use-specific standards.

One of Piedmont-Smith’s amendments would reduce the maximum number of bedrooms in a duplex from six to four and in a triplex from nine to six. The purpose of her amendment is: “…to limit the number of bedrooms in duplexes and triplexes in existing residential neighborhoods in response to public concerns about increased density.”

The second of Piedmont-Smith’s amendments on “plexes” would allow a duplex/triplex only if not too much of the original structure is demolished and the new duplex/triplex is not too much bigger than the original structure. The purpose of the amendment is “…to assuage concerns of many residents in core neighborhoods that the allowance for duplexes, triplexes, and (in the new R4 district) fourplexes will lead to demolition of existing single-family houses. ”

It’s conceivable that Piedmont-Smith’s amendments, if approved at the start, could make “plexes” palatable enough to persuade a fence-sitter to back Volan’s amendment, or stand pat on the plan commission’s recommendation, instead of supporting the Rollo-Sturbaum amendment. But if the Rollo-Sturbaum approach doesn’t have majority support anyway, those who support “plexes” might not see any reason to make a concession in the use-specific standards, if they don’t need to.

Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs)

Two amendments have been submitted on accessory dwelling units, one each by Volan and Piedmont-Smith. Volan’s amendment removes the conditional use limitation, which means that an ADU would not need to go through a public review process. Volan’s amendment also removes the use-specific standard that requires an ADU to be owner-occupied. The intent of of the amendment is “…to make this housing option more accessible with fewer burdens on those wanting to utilize ADUs. ”

Piedmont-Smith’s amendment overlaps with Volan’s in that it removes the conditional use limitation. But it leaves the owner-occupied standard intact, and cites it as a key reason that ADUs have been successful under as a conditional use for the last two years:

The City has now allowed ADUs as a conditional use for over 2 years, and there have been no negative impacts of such approved uses as far as I know. I think this is largely due to the owner occupancy requirement. The conditional use process is an unnecessary burden for homeowners who want to add an ADU to their property…

Other Amendments

Also included in the packet are amendments on the planned unit development (PUD) option of payment in lieu of providing affordable housing on site. The amendment, sponsored by Piedmont-Smith, says:

Constructed affordable or workforce housing units are more valuable for our community than a contribution to our Housing Development Fund. Therefore, developers seeking an exception to the underlying zoning through a PUD should contribute to the high community need for affordable/workforce housing by including actual affordable units and not by making a monetary contribution which may or may not result in actual housing units within a reasonable time frame.

Another amendment, sponsored by Volan, at the request of planning staff creates a definition for “cooperative housing” and adds use-specific standards for the cooperative housing use.

Amendment Links

At the council’s meetings the amendments are typically referenced by number, and will generally be introduced in sequence, but not necessarily. It’s unlikely the council will address all of these amendments by the planned 10 p.m. recess on Nov. 13 and the council will take up on Nov. 14 wherever it left off. By a vote of the council, the meetings on Nov. 13 and 14 could go longer than 10 p.m.

The council has also set aside Nov. 19 and Nov. 20 for deliberations on UDO amendments.

Here’s a list of amendments set for Nov. 13 and Nov. 14 with links to just the extracted pages containing that amendment:

  • Am 01 (Sturbaum and Rollo) prohibit plexes
  • Am 02 (Volan) allow plexes by-right
  • Am 03 (Piedmont-Smith) change use-specific plex standards—bedrooms
  • Am 05 (Piedmont-Smith) change use-specific plex standards—demolition, size
  • Am 06 (Piedmont-Smith) allows ADUs by-right
  • Am 07 (Volan) allows ADUs by-right and removes use-specific owner-occupied ADU standard
  • Am 08 (Piedmont-Smith) eliminates payment in lieu of construction of affordable units on site
  • Am 09 (Volan, at staff request) creates definition of cooperative housing

[Note: The snippet descriptions and named sponsors in the body of the council’s packet (on the agenda) don’t appear to match the numbering/sponsorship/content of the full-length amendments attached to the end of the packet. On initial publication, for the list above, The Beacon followed the snippet descriptions in the body of the packet. As they appear now, as of 8:33 a.m. Nov. 10, the descriptions in the list above are intended to match the content of the amendments to which they link.]